Sunday, February 1, 2009

Fireworks at Davos

Benjamin Netanyahu, Israel's leading candidate for prime minister, said Saturday that Iran "will not be armed with a nuclear weapon":

In an interview with Israel's Channel 2 TV, Netanyahu said if elected prime minister his first mission will be to thwart the Iranian nuclear threat. Netanyahu, the current opposition leader and head of the hardline Likud party, called Iran the greatest danger to Israel and to all humanity.

When asked if stopping Iran's nuclear ambitions included a military strike, he replied: "It includes everything that is necessary to make this statement come true."

Iran has denied it is seeking to acquire nuclear weapons and says it is pursuing nuclear power for peaceful uses. It also denies it is engaged in terrorism, instead accusing Israel of terrorist policies against the Palestinians in Gaza and the West Bank, which were occupied by Israel after the 1967 Mideast War.

The Channel 2 TV broadcast interviewed all three candidates for prime minister ahead of the Feb. 10 election. The three did not debate each other and appeared one after the other to answer questions posted by Israelis in YouTube videos.

Tzipi Livni of Kadima and Ehud Barak of Labor were both asked about how they intended to deal with the continuing rocket threat from Hamas militants in Gaza. Both took a hard line.

"Hamas was hit like it was never hit before," Barak, the defense minister, said. "If they try us again, they will be hit again."

Israeli launched a massive three-week offensive against Gaza militants on Dec. 27 to stop eight years of near-daily militant rocket fire at southern Israeli towns. Nearly 1,300 Palestinians were killed in the fighting, about half of them civilians, according to the Palestinian Center for Human Rights. Thirteen Israelis were also killed, three of them civilians.

Livni, the foreign minister, said if Hamas "hasn't gotten the message yet" Israel would strike it again.

Regardless, she said Hamas could not be negotiated with and called on the people of Gaza to overthrow their regime.

"I do not intend to reach any agreements with Hamas. Agreements I make with people who accept my existence," she said. "They do not recognize Israel and do not renounce violence and terrorism. They will not be a party to an agreement and therefore the people of Gaza have to expel the Hamas from within them."

The crisis in Gaza spilled over at Davos, Switzerland where Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan stalked off the stage on Wednesday at the World Economic Forum in Davos, after sparring with President Shimon Peres over the fighting in Gaza.

Markos N. Kaminis of the Wall Street Greek blog wrote an excellent comment yesterday, Blood Money in Davos - Gaza, Erdogan and Peres:
After the dust settles, despite the powerful corporate news that moved the market this week, and regardless of the record setting lows seen in nearly all the period's economic data-points, what I will remember most about the week just passed will be the fiery exchange of words between an Israeli President and a Turkish Prime Minister.

The mysterious annual meetings that occur in Davos, Switzerland among the world's elite of power and wealth offered the perfect platform for an affluent discussion of a geopolitical powder keg. As a panel that included Shimon Peres, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Ban Ki-Moon and the Secretary General of the Arab League, Amr Moussa, erupted into a devastating, yet contained explosion, I wondered how many who viewed it understood its future significance.

The United Nations' Secretary General blankly called for peace and ceasefire, as would be expected from his position, and he noted the UN's kind direction of $613 million in aid to Gaza. Arab League boss and influential Egyptian political head Amr Moussa noted the sum would not be nearly enough to undo the destruction caused by the "unbalanced" reaction of Israel. However, the most interesting point made by the ember-filled Moussa was an implication of ultimatum. His face withholding knowledge, his voice echoed that if the current situation stood unchanged a year from now, there were other options for the Arab League, including those involving "guns."

Erdogan held back nothing in his defense of the Palestinians, while Shimon made an equally compelling case for Israel's right to ensure the security of its people. Erdogan recalled the fallen children, while Shimon reminded him of the nightly terror of those Israeli citizens who live within range of Gaza's regular rocket fire. The futility of the ageless argument was as clear as day. What makes this problem so difficult to resolve is that both sides are right in the basis of their complaints, and what destroys hope is the muddle of their actions. The true solution can only come through tolerance, generosity and love, not to mention amnesia.

However futile the pandering panel's purpose, the administrators of it in Davos committed a dangerous mistake in my opinion. Being a Greek, I know my Turkish cousins intimately, and I realized quickly the development of scorn before me. Mr. Shimon was given opportunity at the end of the discussion to make Israel's case. Sitting awkwardly to his right, Erdogan seemed to take Shimon's words as sharp personal dagger to his side, and he clearly felt a sincere passion for his Palestinian brethren.

Perhaps equally compelling him to wage his crusade was an awareness of the group before him, men and women of power and might, wealth and insight, a group he sought acceptance from. So he nervously took notes to rebut Shimon, but the administrators were more interested in keeping to their schedule than in allowing these two influential and powerful individuals to air grievances that might lead to some mutual understanding. Instead, the naive administrators who feared the oysters in the hall might sink into a mush of ice and water, failed to note Mr. Erdogan's Turkish pride.

When Shimon finished, Erdogan swiftly spoke up and steadfastly held his ground. He was insistent for the opportunity to stand up to Shimon's judgments against his wisdom. Shimon had challenged Erdogan, his intelligence and his comprehension of global affairs, and like every Greek knows, when you engage a Turk or Greek, you had better be prepared for his full acceptance of that challenge and his response to it.

As the annoying mediator from the Washington Post, David Ignatius, kept at interrupting, perhaps never aware of how precariously close he was to the Turkish blade, Erdogan attempted to shorten his response, as a civilized man might. Still, it took all the composure he could muster to withhold the demon within himself. His rebuttal to Peres included recollection of past Israeli strikes and Muslim deaths, which the hypocrite labeled as barbarism. God perhaps saved the ears of that congregation by not inviting me to Davos, lest I had reminded the Turk of the barbaric murders of more than a million Armenians, some one million Greeks and thousands upon thousands of Kurds and Georgians in the ethnic cleansing that rid Asia Minor of Christians. No Turk can ever credibly use the word "barbaric" until those crimes are acknowledged, and reconciliation attempted.

So ironically, the Turk who still fails to recognize those past atrocities as crimes against humanity, who attempts to keep the voices of the slaughtered silenced even to this day, was himself silenced. Erdogan offered last rights in passing, warning the crowd he might never return to the unjust gathering. Groups of sympathizers walked out of the meeting in concert as a mediator attempted to read the united words of religious leaders.

Take note, Prime Minister Erdogan's pride was badly scathed, and he will forever relate the painful injury to Israel and the West, and its cause to the defense of his holy brother. Scorn was born before the world in Davos, a scorn that might one day place Turkish troops alongside those of Iran. No matter how off-plan or even unfair the concession might have been to allow the Prime Minister an extra word, that's a scenario worth missing a meal to avoid.

Besides Erdogan's angered tantrum, the world might take careful note of the quiet warning of the Arab League Secretary General, and of the hero's reception the Turk received upon his return home. A stew is brewing in the Middle East, already cooked and served over decades, but coming to a boil once again with new ingredients and spices. The polished palettes of Davos got an early tasting, and the world awaits its indigestion.

You can watch the YouTube video above to listen to this very heated exchange. It reminds us that the Middle East will continue to be a source of geopolitical strife that will likely deepen the global economic crisis.

I sincerely hope that Israel will avoid war with Iran, but as Likud takes the lead in the Israeli election, we might be on the verge of a dangerous new chapter in the Middle East conflict.

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