Saturday, October 17, 2009

Fghting delegitimization

From Ynet News 17/10/09, by Roni Sofer:

...Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu convened a special ministerial forum Friday night following the UN Human Rights Council's decision to turn the Goldstone Report probing Operation Cast Lead in Gaza Strip over to the Security Council.

"We will delegitimize the delegitimization," he said. Jerusalem is reportedly gearing to propel its vexation over the decision into diplomatic action, mainly on the allied US, UK and French fronts.

...The prime minister instructed the forum to prepare for a "lengthy fight"; one that would include an extensive campaign explaining Israel's right to defend itself against terror, as well as taking diplomatic, legal and other steps in order to undermine those who wish to delegitimize Israel's actions.

"We are now setting out to delegitimize those who try to delegitimize us. We will not tolerate it and we will respond on a case by case basis," he said...

One-sided, Unjust UNHRC decision

From THE JERUSALEM POST Oct. 16, 2009:

Following the UN Human Rights Council's endorsement of the Goldstone Commission Report in Geneva on Friday, the Foreign Ministry in Jerusalem stated that Israel rejects the "one-sided decision" and calls on "all the responsible states" not to accept it.

..."The council's decision undermines efforts to safeguard human rights in accordance with international law, as well as the efforts to advance the peace process in the Middle East," the Foreign Ministry said in a statement. "The decision encourages terror groups in the whole world and undermines world peace. The decision also ignores the fact that the IDF took unprecedented measures to avoid harming civilians, and [ignores] the terrorists' use of civilians as human shields."

Although the Goldstone report also accuses Hamas of war crimes, the five-page resolution adopted in Geneva explicitly mentions only Israel...

...Judge Richard Goldstone himself also criticized the wording of the UNHRC draft resolution, saying it was wrong to target only Israel while failing to condemn Hamas.

"This draft resolution saddens me as it includes only allegations against Israel...There is not a single phrase condemning Hamas as we have done in the report. I hope that the council can modify the text..."

Gaza report endorsed by UN commission

From The Australian, October 17, 2009, by John Lyons, Middle East correspondent:

BARACK Obama's attempts to resume Middle East peace talks looked doomed last night after a UN committee endorsed the Goldstone report into the Gaza conflict, which accuses Israel and Hamas of war crimes.

...The resolution passed 25-6, with developing countries mostly in favour and the US and five European countries opposing. Eleven mostly European and African countries abstained, while Britain, France and three other members of the 47-nation body declined to vote.

US diplomat Douglas M. Griffiths told the council Washington was disappointed with the vote. The US had wanted the report to stay in Geneva, and is likely to veto any action in the Security Council.

The resolution - which also condemns recent Israeli actions in the Palestinian territories and East Jerusalem - endorses the report's recommendation that both sides in the conflict should show the Security Council within six months that they are carrying out credible investigations into the claims of abuse.

Before the vote, Israel warned that any endorsement of the report would endanger the Middle East peace process.

...Mr Netanyahu was reportedly rebuffed by British Prime Minister Gordon Brown, who told him Israel could avoid being criticised by the UN if it held its own independent inquiry.

...Last night's vote means the Goldstone report can now be passed to the UN General Assembly and possibly the International Criminal Court, where charges could be brought against Israeli politicians or military officials in charge of the war.

...Mr Netanyahu said once the "automatic majority" at the UN was mobilised, Israel usually lost any vote. ...

Self-Defense is not a Crime of War

From a UN Watch Oral Statement, delivered by Colonel Richard Kemp, 16 October 2009, UN Human Rights Council: 12th Special Session:

Thank you, Mr. President.

I am the former commander of the British forces in Afghanistan. I served with NATO and the United Nations; commanded troops in Northern Ireland, Bosnia and Macedonia; and participated in the Gulf War. I spent considerable time in Iraq since the 2003 invasion, and worked on international terrorism for the UK Government’s Joint Intelligence Committee.

Mr. President, based on my knowledge and experience, I can say this:

During Operation Cast Lead, the Israeli Defence Forces did more to safeguard the rights of civilians in a combat zone than any other army in the history of warfare.

Israel did so while facing an enemy that deliberately positioned its military capability behind the human shield of the civilian population.

Hamas, like Hizballah, are expert at driving the media agenda. Both will always have people ready to give interviews condemning Israeli forces for war crimes. They are adept at staging and distorting incidents.

The IDF faces a challenge that we British do not have to face to the same extent. It is the automatic, Pavlovian presumption by many in the international media, and international human rights groups, that the IDF are in the wrong, that they are abusing human rights.

The truth is that the IDF took extraordinary measures to give Gaza civilians notice of targeted areas, dropping over 2 million leaflets, and making over 100,000 phone calls. Many missions that could have taken out Hamas military capability were aborted to prevent civilian casualties. During the conflict, the IDF allowed huge amounts of humanitarian aid into Gaza. To deliver aid virtually into your enemy's hands is, to the military tactician, normally quite unthinkable. But the IDF took on those risks.

Despite all of this, of course innocent civilians were killed. War is chaos and full of mistakes. There have been mistakes by the British, American and other forces in Afghanistan and in Iraq, many of which can be put down to human error. But mistakes are not war crimes.

More than anything, the civilian casualties were a consequence of Hamas’ way of fighting. Hamas deliberately tried to sacrifice their own civilians.

Mr. President, Israel had no choice apart from defending its people, to stop Hamas from attacking them with rockets.

And I say this again:

the IDF did more to safeguard the rights of civilians in a combat zone than any other army in the history of warfare.

Thank you, Mr. President.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Hezbollah: let them try

From The Wall Street Journal, 16/10/09, by RONEN BERGMAN:

On Monday, a secret Hezbollah munitions bunker in South Lebanon blew up under mysterious circumstances ...the second such incident in recent months. ...Hezbollah immediately pointed fingers at the Mossad.

Whether or not Israel was to blame, the explosion caused Hezbollah considerable discomfort by proving that it was in flagrant violation of U.N. Security Council Resolution 1701...The U.N. issued a strongly worded rebuke and sent representatives to investigate. But their efforts were thwarted by Hezbollah fighters, who, with the assistance of Lebanese troops, prevented the foreigners from examining the site. This caused further embarrassment to Lebanon, as it exposed the army's lack of neutrality and the active aid that it extends to Hezbollah.

...The specter of renewed fighting between Israel and Hezbollah looms as large today as it has at any time since the end of the Lebanon war in August 2006. ..."By all means, let the Hezbollah try," one officer told me .... "The welcome party that we are preparing for them is one that they will remember for a very long time." That sentiment is shared by many of his colleagues.

...Hezbollah has stockpiled its weapons throughout Lebanon, but particularly near the Israeli border. According to current Israeli intelligence estimates, Hezbollah has an arsenal of 40,000 rockets, including Iranian-made Zelzal, Fajr-3, Fajr-5, and 122 mm rockets (some of which have cluster warheads) and Syrian-made 302 mm rockets. Some of its rockets can reach greater Tel Aviv. Hezbollah also has a number of highly advanced weapons systems, including antiaircraft missiles, that constitute a threat to Israeli combat aircraft.

But all is not rosy for Hezbollah. After the war, considerable dissatisfaction with the organization was voiced inside Lebanon. Many blamed its leader, Hassan Nasrallah, for Israel's retaliatory bombardments that caused widespread damage. Nasrallah stated that had he known Israel would respond as forcefully as it did, he would have thought twice before ordering the abduction of the two Israeli soldiers—the act that sparked the conflict.

Harsh criticism of Hezbollah also came from an unexpected source: Tehran. The Iranian strategy calls for Hezbollah to play two roles. One is to instigate minor border provocations. The other is to launch, on Tehran's command, a full-scale retaliatory attack should Israel target Iran's nuclear facilities. The 2006 war met neither criterion, and, as the Iranians complained, merely served to reveal the extent of Hezbollah's military capabilities.

Then, in February 2008, Imad Mughniyeh, the organization's military commander and Nasrallah's close associate, was killed in a car bomb in Damascus. ....a severe blow to morale, as well as to Hezbollah's strategic capabilities. Nasrallah was convinced that the Mossad was responsible, and vowed to take revenge "outside of the Israel-Lebanon arena."

...But as of today, Hezbollah has not exacted its revenge....Israeli officials raised four possible reasons for Hezbollah's failure to act, all of which reflect its current weakness.

First, no replacement has been found for Mughniyeh, whose strategic brilliance, originality and powers of execution are sorely missed by Hezbollah.

Second, Israel's intelligence coverage of Iran and Hezbollah is far superior today to what it was in the past. Planned attacks, including one targeting the Israeli Embassy in Baku, Azerbaijan, have all been foiled. The Israeli security services have warned Israeli businessmen abroad of possible abduction attempts by Hezbollah. They also shared information with Egyptian authorities that led to the arrest of members of a Hezbollah network who intended to kill Israeli tourists in Sinai. The arrest of these operatives resulted in sharp public exchanges between Egypt, Hezbollah and its Iranian masters, when Nasrallah admitted that these, in fact, were his men.

Third, Nasrallah cannot afford to be viewed domestically as the cause of yet another retaliation against Lebanon. ...Israel has made it clear that because Hezbollah is part of the Lebanese government...any Hezbollah action against Israel would be viewed as an action taken by the Lebanese government. Thus Israel would regard Lebanese infrastructure as a legitimate target for a military response.

Finally, there are the Iranians. Their primary focus is on proceeding with their nuclear program without unnecessary distractions. Tehran's main concern is that a terror attack that can be linked to Iran would result in the arrest of its agents overseas, who are currently procuring equipment for its uranium-enrichment centrifuges.

Tehran has avoided direct involvement in foreign terrorism ever since 1996, when a group of Iranians were convicted in Germany of murdering political opponents of the Iranian regime. And unlike in the past (as, for instance, in the case of the 1992 bombing of the Israeli Embassy in Buenos Aires in retaliation for the assassination of Nasrallah's predecessor), it is now reluctant to place intelligence resources at Hezbollah's disposal. This is a serious blow to Hezbollah, which is not yet able to function as a full-fledged independent operational organization internationally.
Hezbollah is also clearly aware of the severe blow in terms of power and prestige that the Iranian mullahs suffered as a result of the massive protests following June's presidential election. Automatic support from Tehran is no longer a certainty. For now, at least, the Iranian hardliners have troubles of their own.

In short, despite the fact that Hezbollah today is substantially stronger in purely military terms than it was three years ago, its political stature and its autonomy have been significantly reduced. ...There are some experts in Israel who believe that even Hezbollah's retaliatory role in the Iranian game plan is currently in question.

Whether or not this is the case, all of this is being considered in Jerusalem as part of Israel's calculations about whether to strike Iran's nuclear facilities.

How Israel was set up by the Red Cross

From Ynet News, 16/10/09, by Moshe Dann:

Agree with it or not, the Goldstone Report has set new parameters for future conflicts between Israel and Arab terror organizations and armies. And, as long as those parameters are used, Israel will be condemned. But neither Goldstone nor the UNHRC established them; that was done by the International Committee of the Red Cross.

Based on what the ICRC calls International Humanitarian Law, the assumption of Goldstone's Report is that a clear differentiation was not made between civilian and military targets; even when the civilian population is sympathetic to and involved with the enemy and is used, willingly or not, as shields, the IDF has no right to attack.

According to the ICRC, Article 51 of the UN Charter does not allow Israel to act in self-defense against terrorists because "they are not a state but organized individuals among the population it occupies." Terrorists, according to this interpretation, may be "criminals – (but) not military targets," unless they are directly engaged in carrying out a terrorist act at the time; if not, they should be arrested and are entitled to due process in courts of law.

Such a position is obviously absurd in reality. In the context of modern urban warfare, terrorists deliberately imbed themselves within civilian populations in order to take advantage of humanitarian concerns.

Following these restrictions would endanger the lives of soldiers in favor of protecting the "rights" of terrorists. Yet the ICRC has determined the law and the UN uses this to condemn Israel, regardless of what caused the conflict, or the danger posed by terrorists.

This bias is explicit in the latest ICRC/Red Crescent Magazine (January, 2009) which contains an article entitled "Gaza, civilians in the firing line." Highlighting the suffering of Gaza residents, with graphic pictures, the article does not mention the cause of the conflict - years of rocket attacks against Israeli civilians. It suggests that Israel deliberately targeted civilians and civilian targets.

Using statistics supplied by Hamas, the article notes, "1,380 people have been killed and 5,640 wounded... a particularly high proportion of the victims were women and children."

As in the Goldstone Report, no attempt was made to determine how many of the casualties were terrorists, or how many were killed or injured by Hamas; nor, in citing the destruction of thousands of homes and other buildings, how many were blown up by booby-traps, or were used by Hamas as military positions.

Rules only applicable to Israel
The ICRC also charged that "there was a lack of respect for (Red Crescent) medical teams." ("One volunteer was killed and six medical workers were injured.") There was no explanation of the circumstances, their identities, or efforts by IDF medical teams to help those in need. Nor is any proof offered for these charges.

To appreciate the impact of the ICRC's position and involvement in the conflict between Israel and Arab "Palestinians," one must understand that the ICRC is not just another NGO; it is the official "guardian" of the Geneva Convention. That means, for many, their word is law. Perceived as impartial, neutral and authoritative, their decisions are cited in international courts.

Following ICRC's rulings and interpretations, the UNHRC mandate, and using Hamas' propaganda, Goldstone concluded that Israel was guilty of "war crimes" and "crimes against humanity." That, however, was already decided in Geneva.

The IDF's use of overwhelming firepower against Hamas was justified militarily, to save soldiers' lives and to eliminate terrorists; but, even with extensive aerial documentation, there is no way of proving that the destruction of what appear to be civilian targets was necessary, thus creating a moral and humanitarian dilemma.

Moreover, these rules seem applicable only to Israel. There is little or no appreciation of Arab "Palestinian" terrorism as the context. Nor has the UN applied these rules to other conflicts, for example, in Sri Lanka, to protect the Tamils, the allied bombing of civilian targets in Belgrade, or anti-terrorist actions in Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan in which civilians are killed.

Israel, and Jews are held to a different standard, and that message needs to be exposed as bigotry. The IDF is the most moral army in the world; Israel is fighting for its life; we have no choice. But these valid assertions don't stand up to criticism like that in Goldstone's Report because the conflict isn't about who is right, but by who is fighting whom.

Arab terrorists will always be portrayed as victims, "freedom fighters," "militants," and "activists." The challenge for Israel is to present the conflict in such a way that Arabs are on the defensive. That can't be done, however, as long as the ICRC sets the rules, finding Israel guilty before anything happens.

As long as Israel accepts the ICRC as the final arbiter, it will lose the PR battle. Goldstone's Report is an example of this inevitability.

Hamas stands to gain most from Goldstone

From THE JERUSALEM POST, Oct. 16, 2009, by Herb Keinon:

Regardless of how the vote turns out Friday in the UN Human Rights Council - whether the Goldstone Commission Report is sent to the UN Security Council, the General Assembly, or both, and what the council's final resolution says - one thing is certain: Goldstone is going to be with us for a long time, and the report will have significant ramifications on a wide range of issues.

This issue is a marathon, not a sprint, and Israeli policy-makers will have to adjust and recalibrate depending upon developments over which they have little control.

...If the Human Rights Council sends the report to the Security Council, the Security Council could theoretically then refer it to the International Criminal Court in The Hague (ICC), the worst scenario from Israel's perspective, and one that could conceivably lead to indictments against Israeli leaders or officers. The likelihood of that happening is slim, however, since it is widely expected that the US would veto such a resolution.

...however ...the ICC's prosecutor may be able to take up the issue independently.

The more likely scenario is that the issue will be taken up by the General Assembly, which, because of the automatic anti-Israeli majority in that body, will likely kick the issue over to the International Court of Justice in The Hague (ICJ), the body that took up Israel's construction of the security barrier and issued a decision against the fence in 2004.

Though it does not have the jurisdiction to issue criminal indictments, a negative ruling by the ICJ could bite Israel in other ways - for instance, it could give a strong tail wind to various groups in countries where there is universal jurisdiction, and where it is possible to try people for crimes committed elsewhere. These groups could use the ICJ's ruling, or even the Goldstone Report itself, as support to get local authorities to prosecute Israelis.

And that's only in the legal sphere.

In the diplomatic sphere, the ramifications have already been felt, and could have a deadening impact on the diplomatic process.

First of all, Netanyahu has made clear that if the Goldstone Report is adopted, Israel would think twice before taking risks again and making concessions for peace. His argument is that Israel can only take risks if it believes that the world would back its right to self-defense, a right that Goldstone is eroding.

But ...the Goldstone Report has ...[also placed] Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas in a no-win situation.

While it is very good for Abbas politically to be seen fighting for the adoption of the Goldstone Commission recommendation, paradoxically it would be very bad for him in the long run to actually win that fight, since a process that would end up dragging Israel before either the ICC or the ICJ - at Abbas's behest - would undoubtedly further poison the atmosphere between the PA and Israel and make the prospect of negotiations more remote than they already are.

The conventional wisdom for the past three years, since Hamas took over the Gaza Strip, is that the only way Abbas will be able to gain the upper hand from Hamas among the Palestinian public is for there to be a diplomatic process that can improve the situation for the Palestinians. Abbas cannot compete with Hamas when it comes to resistance to Israel. His calling card is being able to achieve Palestinian aims through negotiations and a diplomatic process. But if there is no diplomatic process, Abbas will have nothing relative to Hamas.

In other words, if the Goldstone Report deep-freezes an already cold diplomatic process, Hamas could very well end up the biggest beneficiary.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Hamas absolutism

From Ynet News, 11/10/09, by Ali Waked:

Mashaal: Abbas leading us to doom
... Hamas head in Damascus Khaled Mashaal accuses Abbas of lying, 'taking bribes from the Americans'

Hamas politburo chief in Khaled Mashaal ...accused the PA of "cooperating with Dayton (the American general who trained the security forces) against us, and is taking bribes from those that wish to force on us policies that harm the resistance in exchange for financial benefits for the Palestinians in the West Bank.

"This is a group that ...cooperates with the crushing of the Palestinian resistance," he said.

...'Abbas illegal president'
According to Mashaal ...Abbas is holding on to his seat in office illegally. "His term ended in January 2009," Mashaal said, after refraining from addressing the matter up until now "so as not to harm reconciliation efforts."

Now, Mashaal claims, "We cannot trust the current leadership with Gaza's blood, as it gives free service to the Israelis, persecutes the resistance and turns a blind eye to settlements.

"How can we believe that it will fight for Jerusalem and the right of return? This leadership must be prosecuted," he said, calling for the establishment of a new Palestinian leadership and the rebuilding of the Palestinian Liberation Organization.

..."...the Palestinians must go back to their original demands," he said. "We must say: Palestine from the sea to the river, from the west to the occupied east, and it must be liberated. As long as there is occupation, there will be resistance to the occupation," he concluded.

Israel rethinks arms sales and support for Turkey

From Ynet News, 12/10/09, by Roni Sofer:

Deputy foreign minister: Avoid crisis with Turkey
Day after tensions with Turkey reach new level with cancellation of joint air force drill, ...Deputy Foreign Minister Daniel Ayalon says, 'Our interest is not to reach friction, crisis with Turkey, who we consider important strategic partner'

...Despite the deputy minister's comments, senior official in the defense and foreign ministries said the drill's cancelation should not be overlooked. "The incident occurred. We cannot accept this, and we should also maintain our national pride. We should follow closely and see what Ankara is doing, in the formula of 'respect him but suspect him'," a source said.

Ayalon hinted that the Turks also have something to lose from the move: "The commitment to strategic partnership is two-sided. It is important for both sides to maintain the meaningful strategic bond in Israel's ties with the Turkish government, which has proven to be moderate in the past."

Ayalon's comments reflect the growing perception in Jerusalem, and while the Prime Minister's Office and the defense minister's office, as well as the Foreign Ministry are displeased with Turkey's behavior in recent months, officials now hope to calm the storm...

...Jerusalem officials have preferred to view the glass as half full, despite the cancelation of Sunday's drill, and said it must not be forgotten that Turkey remains a veteran member of NATO and that Recep Tayyip Erdogan's government continues to push forward with its efforts to join the European Union.

...In addition, the officials said it the real threats should not be forgotten. "Iran is not just a threat to Israel, and NATO – with Turkey included – is well aware of this. We must find a way to restore relations," a source said.


While Israel kept a low official profile Sunday on Turkey's cancellation of a joint military exercise, defense officials said advanced weapons sales to Turkey would now be reviewed, and a leading academic expert on Israeli-Turkish relations suggested ending support for Turkey on the Armenian genocide issue in Washington if the deterioration in ties continues.

According to defense officials, several Turkish requests are currently under consideration by the Defense Ministry's Foreign Defense Assistance and Defense Export Organization (SIBAT). These will now need to be reviewed due to the change in the diplomatic ties between Jerusalem and Ankara...

Ephraim Inbar, head of the BESA Center for Strategic Studies at Bar-Ilan University in Ramat Gan, who has written widely on the Israeli-Turkish relationship, said that while someone high up in the Turkish decision-making hierarchy has decided to "teach the Israelis a lesson," Ankara still needed Israeli influence in Washington to prevent the passage in Congress of a resolution declaring the killing of Armenians during World War I a genocide...

...One senior Israeli diplomatic official, meanwhile, counseled against taking this type of drastic action, and said that while Israeli-Turkish relations were "getting complicated," Israel should not do anything "abruptly."

"There is room for quiet diplomacy, and not to take actions that would move things beyond repair. The situation can still be mended, nobody wants to push Turkey into the hands of Iran," he said.

This advice was heeded by the Foreign Ministry over the weekend, which instructed diplomats to make no comment on the matter, but rather to refer all queries to the defense establishment...

...The only official to discuss the matter on Sunday was Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon, who...described Turkey as "the antithesis to Iran. Here is a Muslim country that is both a democracy and tolerant, living in good relations with Israel because it is in the interest of both countries to do so."

But Inbar said that a change was taking place in Turkey, and the incident over the military exercise should be seen within the context of the country slowly distancing itself from the West, and becoming more Muslim in tone and character...

Turkey at the crossroads: Islamism or The West?

This important paper from BESA Center Perspectives Papers No. 92, October 11, 2009, by Efraim Inbar, professor of political studies at Bar-Ilan University and the director of the Begin-Sadat (BESA) Center for Strategic Studies, is posted here in full:

After a long run of arguing the benefits of AKP rule in Turkey, the author fears his critics might have been right. Worrying trends by the current leadership, such as invitations to radical leaders and defense of Hamas, show a possible "loss" of Turkey to Islamism. The author appeals to his Turkish friends and colleagues to stop Turkey's slip towards the Middle East and maintain its alignment with "secure" Western powers.

For years I have been active in Israeli-Turkish relations, traveling often to that beautiful country, writing about it and establishing strong friendships there. The Begin-Sadat (BESA) Center for Strategic Studies, which I direct, pioneered Israeli-Turkish academic dialogues and through symposia and lectures, educated Israelis about the nature and the strategic importance of Turkey. Over the years, BESA welcomed Turkish academics, journalists, and political and religious leaders. I believe that the Israeli-Turkish strategic partnership is of utmost importance and value to both countries, and to the West. As result of being a philo-Turk, some Israelis have even called me, "Mr. Turkey."

As a true friend of that country, today I am greatly concerned. The Turkey I have learned to admire seems, unfortunately, to be sliding in the wrong direction.

In contrast to many in the West who were suspicious of the Islamic credentials of the ruling AKP party, I welcomed the ascendance of the AKP in Turkish politics. I argued that traditional Kemalist secularism needed a religious corrective to help Turkey find a delicate synthesis between rich religious tradition and modernity. I believed that an AKP-led Turkey had the potential to become a true model of moderate Islam for the Islamic world; a world that is grappling, mostly unsuccessfully, with the challenges of modernity.

Looking today at AKP foreign and domestic policies I am tentatively coming to the unpleasant conclusion that I was wrong.

Turkey under the AKP is increasingly succumbing to Islamic impulses; relegating its political and cultural links to the West to a secondary priority. For example, Turkey welcomed the despicable President of the Islamic Republic of Iran, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, for a formal visit in August 2008. No Western country has issued such an invitation to the Iranian leader.

Moreover, in contrast to its Western allies, Ankara announced recently that it will not join any sanction efforts aimed at preventing Iran from going nuclear.

Similarly, Turkey has deviated from the Western consensus by inviting Sudan's President, Omer Hassan al-Bashir, who was charged with war crimes and genocide in Darfur. Befriending such international pariahs, Ankara's moral stature is deeply hurt.

Turkey's defense of Hamas, a terrorist organization, also indicates that Turkey has sacrificed its moral compass for a very primitive Muslim brotherhood. Even pro-Western Arab states supported Israel's struggle against Hamas. The Turkish premiere's vehement and deeply insulting denunciation of Israel during Operation Cast Lead also grated heavily on my ears. We cannot simply chalk up his criticism to cynical domestic public opinion needs.

At home, traditional Ottoman and Turkish tolerance is gradually being replaced by pressure to conform to Muslim mores and by intimidation to comply with government policies. Several friends in the business community confessed that sipping a glass of raki (the Turkish equivalent of ouzo or arak) in public could hurt ones chances of receiving government contracts.

A sensational trial of former officers, government officials, journalists, businessman and academics, accused of plotting against the AKP government (known as the Ergenekon affair), continues to occupy Turkish attention since 2007, and seems to play a role in intimidation of political opponents too.

Similarly, the recent exorbitant fine of $2.5 billion imposed by the tax authorities on the Dogan Media Group, which dared to adopt a critical attitude toward some government-sponsored activities, smacks of an attack on the freedom of press. Colleagues in academic institutions speak openly about leaving the country if the situation gets worse.

The AKP-led government is still playing mostly by the democratic rules of the game. It garnered only 35 percent of the popular vote and it could be replaced if the fragmented Kemalist camp organizes and nominates a decent political leader. Such a scenario is unlikely, however, in the immediate future, despite decline in support for the AKP in the March 2009 municipal elections.

The current negative tendencies in Turkish domestic politics and foreign policy orientation push it away from the West. Does Turkey really want to become more similar to Middle East countries? It is the job of my Turkish friends of all political hues to put a stop to this.

Turkey is amidst the throes of an identity crisis, trying to find a successful accommodation between its Muslim roots and the challenges of the twenty-first century. It is at an historic crossroads. Hopefully it is not too late to choose the right path, despite the many signs that Turkey is slipping into Islamist retrogression.

I sympathize with my many Turkish friends – secular, traditional and religious – who are fully aware of the dangerous waters their government is navigating. Hopefully, Turkish democracy is strong enough to choose the progress and prosperity that only a Western anchor can grant. The "loss" of Turkey to Islamism would be a great strategic blow to Israel and the West. But first and foremost it would be a tragedy for the Turks.