Turkey ‘should not’ be left alone in ISIL fight

Turkey ‘should not’ be left alone in ISIL fight

İpek Yezdani - ipek.yezdani@hurriyet.com.tr
Turkey ‘should not’ be left alone in ISIL fight

Israel’s consul-general to Turkey, Shai Cohen, has called all related parties to support Turkey in fight against ISIL. HÜRRİYET photo, Murat ŞAKA

Israel’s highest ranking diplomat in Turkey, newly appointed Consul-General Shai Cohen has said the fight against ISIL should not be left to the Turkish government and Turkish security forces alone. “There should be an international cooperation on that and all of the relevant states should be involved in this fight,” Cohen told daily Hurriyet in a recent interview.

Cohen, the new Consul-General of Israel had been the Head of the Counter-Terrorism and Regional Security Department in the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs before his appointment to Istanbul. Cohen spoke with Hurriyet following Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan signing his executor.

It has been five years since the Israeli “Cast-Lead” operation on Gaza and four years after the Mavi Marmara incident, Cohen said. “It is not a secret that there is some kind of a stalemate in the normalization process between the two countries. In this period of the last 4-5 years, there has been a decline in the relations between the two countries, especially in the political and strategic fields. On the other hand, in the last 7 weeks that I have been here in Turkey, I have seen that there is a lot of opportunity to develop relations in other fields. But our general approach is, we preach normalization between the people of the two countries,” he added. 

Erdoğan signed the executor

Cohen said there were many aspects that might postpone the normalization process between the two countries; however, the fact that Erdoğan signed the Consul-General’s executor was a message to continue business as usual.

“It might now be a very delicate period in many aspects: Israeli internal affairs, Turkish internal affairs, regional situation, etc. So there are many aspects that might postpone the normalization process. On the other hand, we look at the fact that the president himself signed the executor of the new Consul-General as a message that we want to continue business as usual in all of the civil fields of cooperation,” he said.

Cohen said during his former post in the Israeli Foreign Ministry, he had to deal with counter-terrorism issues frequently, including the issue of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL). “I want to emphasize that the war against jihadist terrorism, especially here, in the Turkish-Israeli proximities, should not be left only to the Turkish government and Turkish security forces. There should be an international cooperation on that and all of the relevant states should be involved in this fighting,” he said.   

Cohen emphasized the importance of Turkey’s 1,250-kilometer border with Syria and Iraq, adding that international cooperation is needed in order to make the fight more effective against the jihadist threat in the region.  “Now everybody knows those two borders are covered with jihadist elements like ISIL and the al-Nusra Front from the Syrian and Iraqi sides. We know what it means to protect the border in Israel very well. You need the most advanced technological measures, unmanned vehicles, satellites, know-how, training and on top of all of that you need a lot of money, because this is a very expensive task. As long as the border is longer, the expense is higher. Therefore our message in the last year or so has been it is not only Turkey’s responsibilities, it is the international community’s responsibilities to make sure those borders are actually monitored to the best that the international community can provide in technological terms.”

3000 fighters from Europe

Cohen also said the influence of the ISIL phenomena in Western Europe was “devastating.”
“We estimate there are already around 3,000 Western European foreign fighters either about to leave for the fighting zones or already fighting in Syria and Iraq. Around 30 percent of them have already managed to go back to their homelands.  That means you have hundreds of ticking bombs moving around the world at all times,” he added. 

Cohen said Turkey has a very important role here, because jihadists go in and out from Turkish soil to the fighting zones. “But it is not only Turkey’s responsibility,” he added.  “It is everyone’s responsibility who is concerned, including the original state where the jihadists come from. These states should be responsible for taking care of monitoring these jihadists before they leave and after they come back. Without comprehensive international cooperation, the goals will not be achieved quickly,” he added.

Hezbollah is the biggest threat to Israel

Cohen also said ISIL was not the biggest threat in the region to Israel. “The main threat to Israel is still Hezbollah. Hezbollah has more than 100,000 rockets and missiles, with more than 50 percent of them are already operational with ranges up to 700 kilometers. We have the international community’s interest through ISIL; there is a process right now to include ISIL onto Israel’s terrorist list.  And we are willing to cooperate with everybody against the ISIL threat,” he said.

Replying to the question if “everybody” included Turkey, Cohen said “If and when relations between Israel and Turkey allow such cooperation, of course.”

Concerned about Arouri’s presence in Turkey

Cohen said the Israeli government was concerned about Saleh al-Arouri, one of the leaders of Hamas, being present in Turkey. “Especially after he admitted to being responsible for the murder of the three youth in the West Bank ... They have offices here in Istanbul. I am quoting his own words, he said that while in Istanbul, he was trying to reestablish Hamas’ military command and presence in the West bank,” Cohen added. 

Peak in commercial relations

Cohen also said commercial and economic relations between Israel and Turkey reached a peak in 2014. “We reached $5 billion of trade volume in 2013 in bilateral trade and we are looking at a growth of 5 percent in 2014. This was the largest amount of trade between the two countries in years. The growth from 2013 to 2014 is 4-5 billion. So there was 25 percent growth in one year. Dozens of Turkish businessmen are going to Israel for business each day,” he added.  

Basics of Israeli cuisine is based on Ottoman culinary traditions

Cohen said this month they were going to organize an Israeli-Turkish Culinary week in Turkey. “I see these types of events as a real opportunity to re-establish confidence between the two peoples. We will take the best examples of Israeli food and display it here. A lot of basics of Israeli cuisine are based on Ottoman culinary traditions. There are a lot of common cultural, social, religious and archeological backgrounds between the two countries. Israel had Muslim influences for more than 1,000 years. Especially in the last 550 years, since the Ottoman Empire’s rule of the territories, the Ottoman Empire’s influences on Israel up to date are very relevant,” he said.