Friday, January 04, 2019

Spurning Erdogan’s Vision, Turks Leave in Droves, Draining Money and Talent

From NYT, 3 Jan 2019, by Carlotta Gall:

A commuter train in Istanbul passes an election poster for President Recep Tayyip Erdogan last June. Mr. Erdogan won re-election with greater powers, but the economy has faltered since then.

ISTANBUL — For 17 years, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan won elections by offering voters a vision of restoring the glories of Turkey’s Ottoman past. ...Last year, the economy wobbled and the lira plunged soon after he won re-election with even greater powers. As cronyism and authoritarianism seep deeper into his administration, Turks are voting differently — this time with their feet.

They are leaving the country in droves and taking talent and capital with them in a way that indicates a broad and alarming loss of confidence in Mr. Erdogan’s vision, according to government statistics and analysts.

In the last two to three years, not only have students and academics fled the country, but also entrepreneurs, business people, and thousands of wealthy individuals who are selling everything and moving their families and their money abroad.

More than a quarter of a million Turks emigrated in 2017, according to the Turkish Institute of Statistics, an increase of 42 percent over 2016, when nearly 178,000 citizens left the country.

Turkey has seen waves of students and teachers leave before, but this exodus looks like a more permanent reordering of the society and threatens to set Turkey back decades, said Ibrahim Sirkeci, director of transnational studies at Regent’s University in London, and other analysts.

“The brain drain is real,” Mr. Sirkeci said.

The flight of people, talent and capital is being driven by a powerful combination of factors that have come to define life under Mr. Erdogan and that his opponents increasingly despair is here to stay.

They include fear of political persecution, terrorism, a deepening distrust of the judiciary and the arbitrariness of the rule of law, and a deteriorating business climate, accelerated by worries that Mr. Erdogan is unsoundly manipulating management of the economy to benefit himself and his inner circle.

...Mr. Erdogan has tried to make Turkey more conservative and religious, with a growing middle class and a tight circle of elites who are especially beholden to him for their economic success.

The flight of capital and talent is the result of this conscious effort by Mr. Erdogan to transform the society, said Bekir Agirdir, director of the Konda polling company.

...Ilker Birbil, a mathematician who faces charges for signing the peace petition and left Turkey to take up a position at Erasmus University Rotterdam in the Netherlands, warned that the country was losing people permanently.

...“People who are leaving do not want to come back,” Mr. Birbil said, citing the polarized political climate in the country. “This is alarming for Turkey.”

“I have received so many emails from students and friends who are trying to get out of Turkey,” he said.

Students are despairing of change partly because they have grown up with Mr. Erdogan in power for 17 years, said Erhan Erkut, a founder of MEF University in Istanbul, which teaches innovation and entrepreneurship.

“This is the only government they have seen, they do not know there is another possibility,” he said.

Families are setting up businesses abroad for the next generation to inherit, said Mr. Sirkeci of Regent’s University, adding that many students at his private university fell into that category.

At least 12,000 of Turkey’s millionaires — around 12 percent of the country’s wealthy class — moved their assets out of the country in 2016 and 2017, according to the Global Wealth Migration Review, an annual report produced by AfrAsia Bank.

Most of them moved to Europe or the United Arab Emirates, the report said. Turkey’s largest business center, Istanbul, was listed among the top seven cities worldwide experiencing an exodus of wealthy people.

“If one looks at any major country collapse in history, it is normally preceded by a migration of wealthy people away from that country,” the report said.

...“Billions of dollars have fled Turkey in the last couple of years, especially after the coup attempt when people started to feel threatened,” said Mehmet Gun, the owner of a law firm in Istanbul...

Wednesday, January 02, 2019

Asia's Iran crude imports hit more than five-year low in November as sanctions bite

From Reuters, 28 December, by Florence Tan, Yuka Obayashi:

Imports of Iranian crude oil by major buyers in Asia hit their lowest in more than five years in November as U.S. sanctions on Iran’s oil exports took effect last month...

China, India, Japan and South Korea last month imported about 664,800 barrels per day (bpd) from Iran, according to the data, down 12.7 percent from the same month a year earlier.

South Korea cut imports to zero for a third month in November while Japan followed suit. India’s November imports are down about 40 percent from October, the data showed.

Asia’s Iranian oil imports are set to rise from December after the United States granted eight countries waivers from sanctions against Iran’s oil exports for 180 days.

China’s Iranian oil imports rebounded to close to 390,000 bpd in November, up from about 247,000 bpd in October, the lowest in more than five years.

Sinopec, Tehran’s biggest crude buyer, resumed Iran oil imports shortly after China received its waiver in November while China National Petroleum Corp (CNPC) will restart lifting its own Iranian oil production in December.

Japan and South Korea are preparing to resume Iranian oil imports in early 2019.

India is expected to restrict its monthly purchases of Iranian oil to 1.25 million tonnes, or 9 m
illion barrels, during the waiver period from November. 

#economics #crude #iransanctions

Israel, Greece, and Cyprus: democratic bloc in the eastern Mediterranean

From BESA Center Perspectives Paper No. 1,049, December 28, 2018, by Dr. George N. Tzogopoulos:

Benjamin Netanyahu, Nicos Anastasiades, and Alexis Tsipras at Beersheva Summit
Screenshot of video from Facebook page of the Prime Minister of Israel

EXECUTIVE SUMMARY: Israel, Greece, and Cyprus are building a democratic bloc in the eastern Mediterranean. The Beersheba trilateral summit highlighted the strong momentum of this initiative, as well as American institutional support for it. Jerusalem, Athens, and Nicosia are expanding their collaboration in fields including defense, cyberspace, energy, and education. The potential construction of an East Med pipeline could be a flagship project contributing to security and prosperity in Europe and the Middle East.

Israel, Greece, and Cyprus are steadily strengthening their partnership in the eastern Mediterranean, with institutional dialogue organized in the form of tripartite summits. Five such meetings have already taken place – the most recent in Beersheba – and the sixth will be held in February 2019 on the island of Crete. In Beersheba, PMs Benjamin Netanyahu and Alexis Tsipras and President Nicos Anastasiades agreed to establish a permanent secretariat to be based in Nicosia. The three countries will also collaborate, inter alia, on cybersecurity, smart cities, innovation with emphasis on supporting young entrepreneurs, education, environmental protection, research on agriculture, meteorology, health, and tourism.

On the economic front, the Beersheba summit was preceded by the first trilateral business forum, which took place in Tel Aviv. Relevant chambers of commerce are expected to further engage the business communities of the three countries. The potential here is enormous. Israeli foreign direct investments in Greece, for instance, remain relatively low, amounting to €26.7 million in 2016 and €32 million in 2017. But the ongoing interest of Israeli companies in the real estate sector, hotels, and the food industry in Greece can lead to an increase in the future. Similarly, some Greek companies are seeking to increase their exports to Israel or invest in the energy sector. Recently, for example, Energean Oil & Gas announced the signing of a memorandum of understanding with Israel Natural Gas Lines regarding constructing and transferring the onshore and near shore part of natural gas facilities for the Karish and Tanin developments.

The Beersheba summit was significant for another reason: It was the first time the US participated in and publicly expressed support for the initiative. US Ambassador to Israel David Friedman said a few words on behalf of President Donald Trump, adding gravitas to the trilateral collaboration scheme. He called the partnership “an anchor of stability in the eastern Mediterranean” and spoke about the importance of the East Med pipeline project, which will “help diversify energy sources throughout the entire region…help bring energy security to Europe, [and contribute to] the stability and prosperity of the Middle East and Europe.”

The process has not always been harmonious. Turkish policy in the eastern Mediterranean is creating obstacles. In the Beersheba summit statement, Netanyahu, Tsipras, and Anastasiades reiterated their full support and solidarity with Cyprus in exercising its sovereign rights in its exclusive economic zone. Until now, Washington has preferred to publicly adopt a stance of equal distance between Athens/Nicosia and Ankara.  A recent interview with US Assistant Secretary of State for European and Eurasian Affairs Wess Mitchell might, however, signal the beginning of a change in that approach. Talking to the Kathimerini newspaper, Mitchell encouraged Cyprus to develop its resources, characterized Turkey’s view as “a minority of one versus the rest of the world,” and expressed his country’s opposition to any kind of harassment in Cypriot waters. While this message is important, it remains to be seen how Washington will react in the blocs of the Cypriot exclusive economic zone where US ships are not involved in drilling.

The construction of the East Med pipeline with America’s blessing would benefit the democratic bloc of Israel, Greece, and Cyprus and cancel plans for the transportation of natural gas from the Levantine Basin to Europe via Turkey. The US may well wish to warn or even punish Turkey for its expansion of its military cooperation with Russia (for example, Ankara’s deal with Moscow for the supply of S-400 missiles). But while the bilateral relationship with Turkey is vexing, Washington still counts on it.

The Department of State recently notified Congress of a proposal to sell the Patriot air and missile defense system to Ankara, which might be an attempt to halt the S-400 purchase. More importantly, the withdrawal of American troops from Syria means better coordination will now be required between Washington and Ankara. According to media reports, Trump has accepted an invitation from Erdo─čan to visit Ankara in 2019.

While Washington is endeavoring to find a modus vivendi with Ankara, it still values its allies in the eastern Mediterranean and southeastern Europe. The fundamental strength of American-Israeli relations is largely taken for granted, and this is slowly becoming true for American-Cypriot-relations and American-Greek relations as well.

Russia is a catalyst in that process. The US and Cyprus are improving their bilateral relationship, a step Moscow is not prepared to handle. In November 2018, Washington and Nicosia signed a statement of intent on security affairs, prompting Moscow to react fiercely against what it sees as a US plan to militarize Cyprus. And in December 2018, the inaugural strategic dialogue between the US and Greece was launched. Among other things, Greece is supporting the enlargement of NATO in the Balkans, as the Prespes Agreement paves the way for the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia to join it. Moscow made very clear that it objects to the deal reached between the governments of Athens and Skopje (FYROM) last June.

While the Israeli-Greek-Cypriot institutionalized dialogue is yielding initial results and creating a strong basis for cooperation in the long term, further grassroots mobilization is necessary. Unacceptable acts such as the frequent vandalism of the Thessaloniki Holocaust Memorial do not align with Israel’s improving image in Greece and Cyprus and are a warning signal. A nexus of collaboration between the communities of the three countries – with the participation of representatives of several sectors, including media and culture – will certainly contribute to better understanding. The respective diaspora communities, as the Beersheba summit statement illustrated, will provide more assistance and depth.

A predictable move in Syria

From Israel Hayom, 21 December, by Prof. Abraham Ben-Zvi:

Contrary to popular belief, U.S. President Donald Trump's decision to end America's military presence in Syria in the near future was not a spur-of-the-moment decision. The opposite is true. This is the implementation of a plan that has been formulated for some time, one that was anchored in Trump's original position to disengage from the centers of conflict, war and crisis that he does not believe to present an immediate and tangible threat to American security.

Ever since his election campaign, Trump's view has been that U.S. involvement in Syria, initiated by his predecessor Barack Obama's White House in 2015, embodies the dangerous potential in getting involved in a bloody conflict. It is true that as long as the Islamic State group constituted a central terrorist threat in Syria, the president accepted America's continued presence in the arena, provided it remained limited to the northeastern region, with the Kurdish enclave at its center. Now, with the murderous organization in significant decline, the decision to disengage is a natural move for Trump, who has made his desire to reduce the scope of America's overall commitment and involvement overseas abundantly clear.

The president has repeatedly reiterated his intention to leave Syria and he did not set any preconditions, such as achieving a comprehensive diplomatic resolution in Syria, for the exit of foreign forces from the territory.

In other words, in Trump's minimalist view of the array of U.S. interests, Syria does not meet the requirement for necessary direct military intervention. Against this background, the apocalyptic warning that the disengagement from Syria will cause massive damage to the U.S.'s overall standing appears to be without basis.

Was the minimal presence of 2,000 American military advisers, counselors and security officials in a narrow strip in Syria's northeast enough to project power and dramatically influence what transpires not only in Syria but throughout the region? Moreover, will the withdrawal be enough to undermine the prestige of the American superpower on a front defined by Washington as marginal from the outset and a time in which the White House has yet to delineate the Kremlin a sworn global enemy? It is for this reason that, although one cannot dismiss the price the Kurdish minority may be forced to pay as a result, the U.S. troop withdrawal is not expected to result in any tectonic fractures in the general Syrian court.

And as for Israel, America's disengagement was predictable and could provide Iran with greater room to maneuver and engage in threatening actions. The key to minimizing the damage from America's exit from Syria can be found in both Washington and Moscow. We cannot rule out the possibility that the U.S. administration will decide on taking a conciliatory and trust-building diplomatic step, such as throwing its support behind the initiative now being forged in the Senate to recognize Israeli sovereignty over the Golan Heights. As for the Kremlin, the U.S. troop withdrawal could lead to Russia expanding and deepening its strategic coordination with Israel in Syria's skies, not necessarily out of a sense of affinity or excessive sensitivity to Israel's security concerns but rather to ensure the system of checks and balances aimed at preventing Iran's excessive empowerment in the Syrian sphere is preserved.

Also reported:

IDF Chief of Staff Lt.-Gen. Gadi Eisenkot said on Sunday that the U.S. decision to withdraw its troops from Syria is "significant," but should not be overblown. "For decades, we have dealt with this front [in Syria] alone," Eisenkot said, adding that Israel has acted independently during the entire period. "That's also how it has been over the past four years, during the American and Russian presence [in Syria]. We have been acting in support of Israel's security interests."  

Who is ruining Bethlehem??

From The Australian, 26 December 2018, by Allon Lee:

Image result for anton salman bethlehem
Anton Salman... Bethlehem’s mayor ... shamelessly exploited genuine interest at Christmas in the traditional birthplace of Jesus to advance a dangerous and deluded anti-Israel agenda devoid of fact or historical accuracy.

Since the Palestinian Authority took over the city in 1995, the Christian percentage of the city’s population has plummeted from 40 per cent to 12 per cent. But that central and incontestable fact is a gospel too heretical for Salman to admit; he points the finger of blame for the city’s problems solely at Israel.

In claiming “some have lost all hope for a political solution and opted for immigration instead” but “thousands of Palestinians” have stayed, Salman hides the identity of those who have left — Christians — and those who remain and keep arriving in the city: Muslims. The city’s population of 27,000 in 2017 was 23 per cent higher than in 1998. And it’s not because nature abhors a vacuum.

This two-way migration is a mirror of the wider trends across the Middle East where Islamists in the Muslim majorities are threatening, bullying and attacking Christian minorities.

Moreover, Salman’s claim that Israeli security measures are ­deliberately aimed at preventing people from visiting and spending money in Bethlehem makes it sound as if the city resembles a ghost town. Except it doesn’t because, contrary to Salman’s woe-is-me act, three million people visited bustling, busy Bethlehem last year.

When Salman begrudgingly acknowledges that the city does attract visitors, he laments that they are tourists and not pilgrims, for which, of course, Israel is also responsible.

Propagandists such as Salman try to hide the real reason for Palestinian suffering, instead solemnly intoning that it is Israel’s “walls encircling the city” that stifle economic opportunities. Asserting that “the illegal wall that has been built through the heart of our city is antithetical to justice and freedom”, as Salman does, challenges credulity, given that the separation barrier lies north of the city’s limits and is there to ensure the right of Israelis not to be knifed, car rammed or blown up, which he conveniently ignores.

...The irony of claiming that Bethlehem’s future is at risk from Israel is Orwellian because the only threat to the Church of the Nativity is from Palestinians themselves.

And Salman should know, seeing as he has said that he was there in April 2002 when 200 Palestinian gunmen stormed the church, taking priests and nuns hostage for 39 days, and making a mockery of an agreement with the Vatican to respect one of Christendom’s holiest sites.

But then, under Palestinian oversight, Jewish and Christian holy sites are fair game.

Just outside Bethlehem lies Rachel’s Tomb. According to Jewish tradition, the tomb is the resting place of the Jewish matriarch ­Rachel — a figure not even mentioned in the Koran.

As the mother of Joseph, ­Rachel is central to the course of Jewish biblical history.

In the 1990s and during the Second Intifada, Rachel’s Tomb was attacked on multiple occasions by marauding Palestinian mobs.

Since then Palestinians have won UNESCO endorsement that Rachel’s Tomb is of historic Palestinian significance.

Naturally this raises the question: if Rachel’s Tomb is such a valued Palestinian national treasure, why do Palestinians keep attacking it?

And while you ponder that, think on this too. If Palestine is such a bastion of religious equality, as Salman implies, why does the PA continue to refuse to ­recognise Easter as an official ­holiday?

Salman can promote Bethlehem as a city “of hope”, but if the latest opinion polls are accurate, the leader of the terrorist, Islamist Hamas, Ismail Haniyeh, would easily win Palestinian presidential elections.

If the experience of Christians in Gaza during the past decade is any indication — the Christian population there has slumped from 3000 to 1000 — “hope” will be all Salman can count on.

This is the true meaning behind his claim that “Bethlehem is no stranger to the challenges facing all of Palestine”.

It is incumbent on all people of goodwill in this season of goodwill to speak up and call out this dangerous and delusional humbug and demand the PA return to peace talks. This is the only way to secure Bethlehem’s future.