In recent days, one political leader in the Middle East has acknowledged an important truth, while another has mangled it beyond recognition.
Shortly after Turkey and Israel signed a reconciliation agreement late last month, ending six years of official estrangement. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan blasted the Humanitarian Relief Foundation (IHH), the Istanbul-based organization which dreamed up the ill-conceived, ill-fated maritime mission to break Israel’s naval blockade of the Gaza Strip.
Toward the end of May 2010, the Mavi Marmara, the mother ship of a six-vessel flotilla, set off for Gaza, which has been ruled exclusively by Hamas since June 2007. The Israeli government had strongly advised the organizers to deposit their cargo in the port of Ashdod, a short drive from Gaza, but IHH balked, determined to provoke an international incident on the high seas in order to stick it to Israel.
Israeli commandos boarded the Mavi Marmara and were met by a barrage of dangerous projectiles. The Israelis opened fire and nine of the resisters, all ethnic Turks, were killed. Turkey downgraded its ties with Israel, ending a golden chapter in Israeli-Turkish relations.
After years of on-again, off-again negotiations, Israel and Turkey finally signed a normalization accord. On June 29, the Israeli security cabinet formally ratified it, with seven out of 10 ministers approving it.
Predictably enough, IHH, which had touched off the needless crisis in the first place, sharply criticized the rapprochement between Israel and Turkey, complaining that Israel’s siege of Gaza was still in place. Turkey had demanded the lifting of the blockade, which is intended to interdict weapons and munitions bound for Hamas, but Israel refused. Instead, Turkey will be allowed to send supplies to Gaza by way of Ashdod, a reasonable compromise.
Annoyed by IHH’s critique, Erdogan pointedly said, “Did you ask for my permission before setting off on the flotilla?” He noted that Turkey had been delivering sufficient quantities of aid to Gaza before IHH roiled the waters.
Erdogan’s rejoinder, though lamentably belated, was totally appropriate. As he suggested, IHH’s reckless disregard for the lives of the passengers aboard the Mavi Marmara was the main cause of the incident which ruptured Turkey’s bilateral relations with Israel.
Turkey could have stopped the flotilla from leaving Istanbul, thereby forestalling the confrontation. Erdogan, of course, did not address this under-reported dimension of the crisis, but at least he publicly exposed the IHH’s provocative role in it.
By sharp contrast, the president of Iran, Hassan Rouhani, lied his way through a speech on the same day Erdogan lambasted the IHH.
Speaking to his cabinet prior to an anti-Israel rally in Tehran, Rouhani accused Israel of orchestrating the strife that convulses the Middle East today. “Zionists” are “creating conflicts” in the region to distract attention away from Israeli “crimes” against the Palestinians, he charged.
We have heard this blather before from Rouhani. Three months ago, he described Israel as the “main source of violence and extremism” in the Middle East. He was presumably referring to the civil war in Syria, the rise of Islamic State and the turmoil in Yemen and Libya.
It’s true that the Arab-Israeli dispute is an incubator of Palestinian radicalism and violence. But to suggest that Israel is to blame for the array of troubles that beset Arab states is nothing short of arrant nonsense.
The instability that has toppled one Arab regime after another since the outbreak of the Arab Spring rebellions in 2010 is rooted in the dysfunctions, inequalities and culture of corruption that beset Arab societies. And the success Islamic State has enjoyed in countries like Iraq and Syria is essentially a function of the same ills.
Rouhani is keenly aware of the root causes of Arab discontent in the 21st century, but being an arch cynic and master manipulator, he ascribes the problems in the Arab world to Israeli machinations.
Beyond pleasing his followers and flattering some Arabs, the mindless conspiracy theories Rouhani spouts are of no material use to anyone.
He can rant and rave, but Arab nations continue to sink deeper into the slough of despair.