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Turkey, Israel and the US | The Nation

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Turkey, Israel and the US

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In a 1996 Institute for Advanced Strategic and Political Studies paper prepared for Binyamin Netanyahu, the authors---including Richard Perle and Douglas Feith, now, respectively, chair of the Defense Policy Board and Under Secretary of Defense for Policy---advised Israel to "shape its strategic environment by weakening, containing and even rolling back Syria," and to "focus on removing Saddam Hussein from power in Iraq--an important Israeli strategic objective in its own right." It's all heady stuff, but perhaps the most interesting parts are references to realizing the "new strategy for securing the realm" by "working closely with" or working "in cooperation" with Turkey.

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Jason Vest
Jason Vest writes on national security affairs for The Nation.

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Not only have the Jewish Institute for National Security Affairs (JINSA) and the Center for Security Policy (CSP) been enthusiastic boosters in the service of assuring a constant flow of US military aid to Turkey, but JINSA/CSP advisers Perle and Feith have spent the past fifteen years--in governmental and private capacities--working quietly and deftly to keep the US arms sluice to Turkey open, as well as drawing both Turkey and Israel and their respective American lobbies closer together.

To Perle, Feith and other hawks, the importance of Turkey not just to the United States but to Israel is self-evident. As a secular Muslim state, Turkey has always been an attractive political and military ally to the Israelis; respectful of the close relationship between the US and Israel, over a decade ago the Turks began to appreciate the value for Turkish-US relations in being close with Israel, and have also grown to appreciate how useful an ally the American Jewish lobby can be against the Greek- and Armenian-American lobbies.

In fact, the idea of a strong Turkey-Israeli-US trifecta is nothing new. It was a cherished idea of Perle mentor and Committee on the Present Danger principal Albert Wohlstetter, the University of Chicago mathematician and RAND consultant who was key in drawing up the Pentagon's strategic and nuclear blueprints during the cold war. In classified studies written at the Pentagon's behest over the years, Wohlstetter was a serious Turkey booster; when Perle ascended to his post in the Reagan-era Pentagon, he began implementing Wohlstetter's vision, conducting regular meetings in Ankara and, in 1986, closing a deal for a five-year Defense and Economic Cooperation Agreement with Turkey which the Financial Times characterized as "something of a personal triumph" for Perle. It wasn't so bad for Turkey, either: After Israel and Egypt, Turkey became the third-largest recipient of US military aid, and got a nice break on debts owed to the United States.

Perle left government service in 1987. In 1989, various Turkish press outlets reported that he had quietly started lobbying in Washington on behalf of Turkey. In short order, the Wall Street Journal confirmed it, reporting that he had "sold the idea for the new [lobbying] company to Turgut Ozal, Turkey's prime minister, at a meeting in New York last May," but that Perle wouldn't be registering as a foreign agent because Perle was merely "chairman of the firm's advisory board," which, the Journal noted, only consisted of one person: Perle.

Perle responded to the Journal revelation with a bizarre letter, on the one hand claiming that--despite years of media reporting on his Pentagon Turkey initiatives--he had had no responsibility for Turkey while he was a Pentagon official, but that he had, nonetheless, advocated for Turkey in the Pentagon; now in private life, he was going to do something about it--but only so much, as Doug Feith would be taking point, and Perle would simply be in the "advice business."

According to Foreign Agent Registration Act filings, Perle's advice counted for a lot--a total of $231,000 between 1990 and 1994. To help out Turkey, Feith also deployed legal associate Michael Mobbs--now a Pentagon adviser, most recently in the news after a federal judge decided his memo making the case for the detention of Yaser Esam Hamdi as an "enemy combatant" was insufficient. Feith also hired Morris Amitay, former executive director of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) and current head of the pro-Israel Washington lobby, who took aim earlier this year at the Bush-appointed Jewish-American US ambassador to Israel, Daniel Kurtzer, for Kurtzer's circumspect public criticism of Israel's settlements policy.

International Advisors, Inc. hit the ground running in 1989, flexing its lobbying muscle immediately by securing the defeat of Congressional efforts to keep Turkey's US military aid at a level lower than that of neighboring Greece. In addition to cementing the US-Turkey military-to-military relationship, IAI was also part of a joint 1989 Turkish-Israeli effort to quash a US Senate resolution marking the seventy-fifth anniversary of the Armenian genocide at the hands of the Turks. "Quietly, Israeli diplomats and some American Jewish activists have agreed to help Turkey even as other Jewish leaders have complained they have no business intervening in such a sensitive matter," reported Wolf Blitzer, then the Jerusalem Post's Washington correspondent. Blitzer went on to quote a source who explained that "as a people which was itself a victim of genocide, we feel natural sympathy for the Armenians. But Israel wants to foster its relations with Turkey, which it views with great importance."

With the Pentagon's hawks girding for war with Iraq yet again, Perle and his ilk have been both wooing and talking up Turkey, which, at the moment, is on shaky economic and political ground--despite previous efforts of the Bush Administration, including an arranged $16 billion IMF bailout and a pending $228 million US aid package. In response to Turkish concerns about the potential for further political and economic destabilization in the wake of an attack on Iraq, Perle and others have proposed an expansive free-trade agreement between Turkey and the United States; a first step in that direction is already evident in the form of a Senate bill, sponsored by Senators John Breaux and John McCain and boosted by the recently formed, three-dozen-strong bipartisan American-Turkish Caucus on Capitol Hill, that would let Turkish textiles into the United States duty-free via Israel. According to a Pentagon source briefed on Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz's recent trip to Ankara, the Turks have also indicated that they might be amenable to supporting an Iraq invasion in exchange for another military debt write-off to the tune of $5 million, as well as a free Patriot missile defense system.

But even with such measures--and despite the ministrations of Perle and Feith over the years--it's unclear what the future holds for US-Turkish relations. Turkish elections are scheduled for November, and right now the moderately pro-Islamist Justice and Development (AK) party appears to be leading at the polls, a situation causing handwringing in both Washington and Ankara. And, according to diplomatic sources in Washington, while the Turks have indicated a certain potential willingness to back a US invasion and restructuring of Iraq, they continue to voice serious concerns about overall regional destabilization, the financial cost to Turkey of war and the establishment of a Kurdish province in a post-Saddam, federal-style Iraq, which could mark the first step in a reinvigorated military campaign by Turkey's Kurds for total Kurdish independence--an effort that might be made easier if Kirkuk, an oil town in northern Iraq, comes under Kurdish control. "It's not exactly a volatile situation yet," says one Washington-based diplomat, "but let's just say a lot of people are keeping a very watchful eye on Turkey."

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