Using Syrian crisis, Israel hits Palestians

Using Syrian crisis, Israel hits Palestians

Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdoğan is paying his first visit to Egypt this weekend since President Mohamed Morsi took power through the Tahrir revolution. It was during his last visit to Cairo in September 2011, following the fall of Hosni Mubarak, that Erdoğan made his surprise statement praising the secular system in Turkey, despite describing himself personally as not being secular.

Morsi is probably a better moderate Islam model for the Arab world and Erdoğan is not likely to deliver another secular-but-Muslim speech, but the agenda is a totally different one now anyway.

Had Israel not started a new military operation against Hamas in Gaza and also threatened Fatah in Ramallah (if it does not withdraw its Palestine recognition request at the U.N.), the agenda would again have been different. It would probably just have focused on the Syrian situation on the regional scale and joint ventures in Africa on the bilateral one. However, now there are two leaders - Morsi and Erdoğan - who are really angry because of what Israel is up to.

If it was simply the killing of the top Hamas militant Ahmed Jabari and the hitting of rocket stores, Israel could stick with its propaganda line that this was a purely anti-terrorist opposition, but it is not. By threatening to topple Fatah leader Mahmoud Abbas and scrap the Oslo agreement if he does not withdraw the Nov. 29 U.N. recognition vote, Israel demonstrates that it has moved to secure a greater territory in which Palestinians could only have a lesser status.

Trying not to leave anything to chance, Israeli strategists have probably been waiting for the right time since Hamas decided to evacuate Damascus almost a year ago, when the civil war there had began to flame up. The weakening of Syrian and Iranian support for Hamas in Gaza and the weakening of its Lebanon links - again because of the Syrian civil war - offered a golden opportunity to Israel to change the rules of the game.

Egypt has immediately withdrawn its ambassador to Israel in reaction to the Gaza operation. Turkey has had no ambassador there since the failure to normalize relations through talks and the lack of an Israeli apology for the killing of nine Turks in 2010, when the civilian Mavi Marmara ship tried to break the Israeli blockade on Gaza.

Turkey is one of leading countries trying to secure 110 votes for the Palestinians in the Nov. 29 U.N. vote. Egypt is likely to do the same. The voting could deepen the divides between Turkey, Egypt and Israel further; all of which are allies of the United States in the Middle East. This is not a comfortable situation for Barack Obama, who rightfully underlines Israel’s right to defend itself, but does very little - if anything - to uphold the Palestinians’ right to live.

There is little room left for optimism that the Middle East can evade worse in the near future.