A new honeymoon for Turkey-Israel ties may begin with envoy exchange

Turkey and Israel, once regional allies, expelled their ambassadors in 2018 over the killing of dozens of Palestinians by Israeli forces during protests along the Gaza border. (AP/File)
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Updated 18 August 2022

A new honeymoon for Turkey-Israel ties may begin with envoy exchange

  • Timing coincides with efforts by both countries to build relationships in region, analyst tells Arab News

ANKARA: Israel and Turkey have announced the upgrading of diplomatic relations and the return of their ambassadors and consuls general after years of strained ties between the two nations. 

Israeli Prime Minister Yair Lapid greeted such a diplomatic breakthrough as an “important asset for regional stability and very important economic news for the citizens of Israel.

According to Dr. Nimrod Goren, president of the Mitvim Institute and co-founder of Diplomeds — The Council for Mediterranean Diplomacy — the announcement on the upgrading of ties marks a diplomatic success.

"It is the culmination of a gradual process that has taken place over more than a year, during which Israel and Turkey have worked to rebuild trust, launch new dialogue channels, adopt a positive agenda, re-energize cooperation, confront security challenges, and find ways to contain differences," Goren told Arab News.

“Based on these positive developments, restoring relations at the ambassadorial level is now seen as a natural step, perhaps even a long overdue one,” he said. 

“It was important to seal this move before internal politics gets in the way, as elections in both countries are drawing near,” Goren added.

Goren said that the timing also “coincides with efforts by both Israel and Turkey to improve and deepen their various relationships in the region.”

Turkey and Israel, once regional allies, expelled their ambassadors in 2018 over the killing of dozens of Palestinians by Israeli forces during protests along the Gaza border.

Relations were completely frozen after the death of nine Turkish activists over an Israeli raid on the Gaza-bound Turkish Mavi Marmara ship in 2010. 

Since then, many attempts have been made to mend ties, especially in the energy sector, and in trade and tourism, which emerged as strategic avenues for cooperation. 

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Israeli President Isaac Herzog have spoken on the phone several times and Herzog visited Ankara last March. 

As part of mutual trust-building efforts, Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu also visited Jerusalem in May, marking the first visit to Israel by a Turkish foreign minister in 15 years. His visit was reciprocated by Lapid, then Israeli foreign minister, in June. 

The two countries also cooperated in counter-terrorism efforts following Iranian assassination plots against a Turkish-Israeli businessperson as well as Israeli tourists in Istanbul. Turkey took steps to curtail the movements of Hamas within the country. 

They also signed a civil aviation agreement last month. 

Dr. Gokhan Cinkara, an expert from Necmettin Erbakan University, thinks that shifts in regional geopolitics are the main determinants for Turkey’s new efforts for normalization. 

“The competition between status quo and revisionism in the region is over. Consequently, every country has alternatives and can be replaced, which is also the case for Turkey. Due to the economic crisis and geopolitical deadlock that the country is passing through, it was inevitable for Turkey to search for new options,” he told Arab News.  

“The appointment of diplomats will ensure that bilateral relations will continue to operate under an institutional routine.”  

The ambassador to Israel is expected to be appointed soon. Both countries are also set to hold a joint economic commission meeting in September. 

However, Turkish Foreign Minister Cavusoglu said that Ankara would continue to support the Palestinian cause. 

“Despite the new chapter in relations, Israel and Turkey still have differences of opinion on key policy issues, including Israeli-Palestinian relations and the Eastern Mediterranean,” Goren said. 

“These differences will not go away, but Israel and Turkey are aware of the need to be sensitive in how they deal with them and to put in place bilateral mechanisms to regularly engage on these issues,” Goren said.

“If Israel and Turkey can somehow support each other on the road to conflict resolution with third countries (e.g., Turkey with Egypt, Israel with the Palestinians) — that will be a major benefit of the new chapter in ties.”

As bilateral relations have been moving on a positive trajectory since Israeli President Herzog’s visit to Ankara, Selin Nasi, London representative of the Ankara Policy Center and a respected researcher on Turkish Israeli relations, pointed to the timing of the envoy exchange. 

“The Israeli side has been taking the process a bit slowly in order to understand whether Ankara was sincere in its efforts to mend fences,” she told Arab News. 

Ankara’s “calm and measured response in the face of tensions in Jerusalem and in Gaza in the last couple of months and its full cooperation with Israeli intelligence against Iranian plots which targeted Israeli citizens in Turkey have seemingly reassured Israel’s concerns,” she said.

Nasi thinks that the ambassadorial exchange shows Turkey and Israel’s willingness to give the normalization process a formal framework, as well as their readiness to move to the next phase. 

“Considering the upcoming elections in Israel in November, normalization of diplomatic ties is likely to provide a shield against the interference of domestic politics,” she said. 

Although Turkey and Israel have managed to turn a new page in bilateral relations, Nasi thinks that it is equally important to see what they are going to write in this new chapter.  

“Both countries have a lot to gain from developing cooperation at a time when the US is shifting its focus and energy to the Pacific region and Iran is about to become a nuclear power,” she said.

“On the other hand, the Russian invasion of Ukraine has put energy security front and center once again. It revived hopes that the pipeline project that would carry Israeli natural gas via Turkey could be eventually realized,” she said. “While the unsettled Cyprus question remains the elephant in the room, it all comes down to the sides’ mending political trust. We may therefore see some openings in the future.”

Goren thinks that a relaunching of the Israel-Turkey strategic dialogue and the resumption of regular high-level contacts will also assist the countries lessen mutual misperceptions — related, for example, to Israel’s ties with the Kurds and Turkey’s ties with Iran — and avoid gaps in expectations.  

“Israel and Turkey should make sure that this time — unlike what happened in the previous decade — their upgrade of ties will be sustainable and long-term,” Goren said. 

The exchange of ambassadors has been also welcomed by the US.

“Today’s announcement that Israel and Turkey are fully restoring their diplomatic relations. This move will bring increased security, stability, and prosperity to their peoples as well as the region,” tweeted Jake Sullivan, national security adviser at White House. 

Nasi also said that Turkey’s relations with Israel “have always been a factor of its relations with the West and with the US in particular. In the backdrop of the ongoing war in Ukraine, Ankara has been threading a fine path with Russia.”

Nasi said “normalization of ties with Israel may aim to send a message to the US Congress, whose favorable view and support on the modernization of F16s is very much sought for.”

Tension escalates at Al-Aqsa Mosque compound

Updated 27 September 2022

Tension escalates at Al-Aqsa Mosque compound

  • Jordan urges Israel to stop provocative actions
  • Arab League condemns violation of international law

RAMALLAH: Tension escalated at Al-Aqsa Mosque compound on Monday, with incursions into the area by hundreds of Jewish settlers, under the protection of Israeli police, to mark the start of Rosh Hashanah.

It came as Jewish extremist groups continued calls to be allowed to enter the compound on Monday and Tuesday to celebrate the Jewish New Year.

Ambassador Haitham Abu Al-Foul, spokesman at the Jordanian Ministry of Foreign and Expatriate Affairs, called on Israel to put a stop to the settlers’ activities and respect the sanctity of the compound and the authority of the Jerusalem Awqaf Administration in line with international law.

Israel occupied East Jerusalem, home to over 350,000 Palestinians, in 1967, but Al-Aqsa Mosque compound and the Church of the Holy Sepulchre are under Jordanian guardianship.

On Monday morning Israeli police placed a cordon around Al-Aqsa, preventing the entry of young people under the age of 40 and stopping all noon prayers, as around 335 Jews toured the compound.

Five Palestinians were injured by police at the Lion’s Gate, according to the Palestinian Red Crescent. They were taken to Al-Makassed Hospital. Worshippers — including women and children — performed noon prayers at the doorsteps of the mosque instead.

Israel imposed a complete closure on the West Bank and Gaza Strip crossing late on Sunday afternoon in conjunction with Rosh Hashanah over fears of escalation. The state of alert will continue until the end of the holiday. 

Many Palestinians fear that Israel will introduce a division of use of Al-Aqsa, as happened with the Ibrahimi Mosque in Hebron, allowing both faiths access, but closing it to the other during specific holidays.

The Palestinian presidency condemned the escalation at the compound, warning that continuation would lead to potential violence.

Nabil Abu Rudeineh, spokesperson for Palestinian Authority’s presidency, stressed that the Palestinians would not allow Al-Aqsa Mosque to be damaged or desecrated in any way, and would stand against the occupation.

The Palestinians claim the mosque has become a scene of political strife with the approach of the Israeli elections on Nov. 1, with major right-wing Israeli parties competing to win more votes from the right by allowing access to the compound.

The Arab League condemned the storming of Al-Aqsa, holding the Israeli government responsible for igniting the situation.

The spokesman for the league’s secretary-general, Jamal Rushdie, said in a press statement that the storming of Al-Aqsa and the arrest of several Palestinians inside was aimed at imposing a temporal and spatial division in the mosque, changing the existing historical and legal situation.

This continuous policy on the part of the occupying government represents a flagrant violation of international law, and provokes Palestinians and Muslims in general, he added.

Rushdie said that the intensification of incursions ahead of the Jewish holidays adds to the state of tension that already exists in the occupied Palestinian territories, especially in Jerusalem.

He said that imposing a siege on Al-Aqsa and arresting those stationed inside it is an unacceptable crime.

Rushdie called on the international community to assume its responsibilities and confront this dangerous Israeli escalation.

Tension is expected to continue until the end of the holidays on Oct. 17.

Israeli authorities issued warnings about the potential for violence in the coming days against Israeli citizens, after announcements made by Fatah and Hamas calling on Palestinians to oppose Israelis approaching Al-Aqsa.

“There is a clear increase in alerts about plans to carry out attacks, and the police are responding to the threat of deploying large forces,” said Israeli Police Commissioner Yacov Shabtai.

Thousands of Israeli police will be deployed at roadblocks, shopping centers and entertainment venues, synagogues and crowded sites across Israel.

According to the Yedioth Ahronoth newspaper’s website, the Israel Defense Forces currently have at least 25 battalions in the West Bank to enhance security during the Jewish holidays.

Hundreds of IDF members and police are also deployed in the Jerusalem area, as well as inside Old Jerusalem and on the roads leading to Al-Aqsa Mosque.

Fatah called on Palestinians to confront extremist Jewish groups and stop settler incursions into Al-Aqsa Mosque and its courtyards, and to prevent them from performing prayers, blowing trumpets, offering sacrifices, or marching.

Hamas, too, called on the Palestinian citizens of the West Bank, Jerusalem, and inside Israel to stand against the settlers.

“We need the greatest Arab and Islamic support at all levels for the Palestinian people and the holy sites, so that we can protect Jerusalem and defend the blessed Al-Aqsa Mosque with all the tools of struggle,” said Hamas spokesperson Fawzi Barhoum.

Why Mahsa Amini’s death will deepen the alienation of Iran’s secular Kurdish minority

Updated 26 September 2022

Why Mahsa Amini’s death will deepen the alienation of Iran’s secular Kurdish minority

  • Ethnic group that champions gender equality was already a misfit in the authoritarian theocracy
  • Kurds have known the heavy hand of the security state since the Islamic Revolution of 1979

LONDON: Since the death of Mahsa Amini after being taken into custody by Iran’s notorious morality police, protests have raged in cities across the Islamic Republic, beginning in Amini’s home province of Kurdistan.

Amini, a 22-year-old ethnic Kurdish woman, died on Sept. 16, three days after she was arrested in Tehran by the Gasht-e Ershad, the regime’s vice squad, which enforces strict rules on women’s dress, including the hijab.

Her death has highlighted the oppression and marginalization of women in Iran. It has also cast a light on the ill-treatment of the country’s non-Persian ethnic minorities, particularly its substantial Kurdish population, concentrated in the west of the country.

In turn, this has highlighted the contrasting treatment of women in other areas of the Middle East in which Kurds make up a majority of the local population — in northern Iraq, southeast Turkey and northern Syria — where women are prominent in both civic and military life.

On Sept. 24, a protest was held in solidarity with the women of Iran outside the UN compound in Irbil, capital of the semi-autonomous Kurdistan region of Iraq. Many of those who took part were Iranian Kurds living in self-imposed exile in a city known for its culture of tolerance.

Kurdish opposition groups have consistently fought for an alternative vision for society. (AFP)

Bearing placards with Amini’s face, the protesters chanted “women, life, freedom,” and “death to the dictator,” in reference to Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

“They killed (Amini) because of a piece of hair coming out from her hijab. The youth are asking for freedom. They are asking for rights for all the people because everyone has the right to have dignity and freedom,” one protester Namam Ismaili, an Iranian Kurd from Sardasht, a Kurdish town in Iran’s northwest, told Reuters.

“We are not against religion, and we are not against Islam. We are secularists, and we want religion to be separate from politics,” Maysoon Majidi, a Kurdish Iranian actor and director living in Irbil, told the news agency.

Last week, Masoud Barzani, president of Iraqi Kurdistan’s governing party, the Kurdistan Democratic Party, called Amini’s family to express his condolences, saying he hoped justice would be served.

Kurdish political identity throughout the region and among the community’s large European diaspora embraces secularist, nationalist and even socialist traditions. In the case of Iran’s Kurds, this frequently puts them at odds with the country’s theocratic regime.

On Sept. 23, the Kurdish-majority town of Oshnavieh in Iran’s West Azerbaijan province briefly fell into the hands of protesters, who set fire to government offices, banks, and a base belonging to the regime’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps.

Amini’s death has highlighted the oppression and marginalization of women in Iran. (AFP)

In response, the IRGC shelled the offices of Iranian Kurdish opposition groups based in Sidakan in Iraq, accusing the Kurdish parties of inciting “chaos.”

Tasnim news agency, which is affiliated with the IRGC, said the shelling targeted the offices of Komala and the Kurdistan Democratic Party of Iran for allegedly sending “armed teams and a large amount of weapons … to the border cities of the country to cause chaos.”

The KDPI is a Kurdish opposition party that has waged an on-and-off armed campaign against the regime since the Islamic Revolution. Komala, meanwhile, is a leftist Kurdish armed opposition party, which fights for the rights of Kurds in Iran.

Although Iran’s constitution grants ethnic minorities equal rights, allowing them to use their own language and practice their own traditions, the Kurds, Ahwazi Arabs, Baloch, and other groups say they are treated as second class citizens — their resources extracted, their towns starved of investment, and their communities aggressively policed.

Kurdish opposition groups in Iran have fought for decades to obtain greater political and cultural rights for their communities, which are spread across a part of the country known to Kurds as Rojhelat — or Eastern Kurdistan.

This nationalist spirit has often meant women’s emancipation has been viewed as a secondary concern against the overarching fight for Kurdish nationhood, especially in the case of Iraqi Kurdish leaders, who have long drawn their support from traditional tribal structures.

However, elsewhere in the region, Kurdish opposition groups have consistently fought for an alternative vision for society — one that is based on democratic values and on the equal status of women.

Nowhere is this perhaps more obvious than in the Autonomous Administration of North and East Syria, where the political arm of the US-allied Syria Democratic Forces has established a self-governing polity known to Kurds as Rojava — or Western Kurdistan.

On Friday, Mazloum Abdi, commander in chief of the SDF, condemned the killing of Amini, describing it as a “moral failure” of the ruling authorities in Iran.

He also expressed solidarity with the protests in Iran via Twitter, saying: “The Kurdish and women’s issues must be resolved in appropriate ways.”

On Friday, Mazloum Abdi, commander in chief of the SDF, condemned the killing of Amini, describing it as a “moral failure” of the ruling authorities in Iran. (AFP)

In Rojava, Kurdish women fighting in guerrilla brigades against Daesh have achieved iconic status — especially the Women’s Protection Units, or YPJ, the all-women brigades of the People’s Protection Units.

These YPJ fighters won global acclaim in 2014 for their role in the liberation of the Kurdish-majority city of Kobane in northern Syria from an extremist group whose warped interpretation of Islam would have seen them enslaved.

Soon after their victory, images of young, unveiled, mostly Kurdish YPJ fighters appeared on magazine covers and in newspapers around the world, demolishing many prevailing stereotypes in the West about Middle Eastern women as passive victims.

Within the AANES, there are now several women-only organizations, while in the areas of Syria under YPJ control, child marriage has been abolished, the practice of men taking multiple wives outlawed, and domestic abuse treated with the utmost severity.

The focus on women has also led to a policy called the “co-chair” system, whereby all positions of authority are held by both a man and a woman with equal collaborative power. As a result, women in Kurdish areas of Syria hold 50 percent of official positions.

A similar model is employed by the pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party in Turkey and among the ranks of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party, inspired by the values of its jailed founder Abdullah Ocalan.

Although honor killings and female genital mutilation have remained all too common in parts of Iraq’s Kurdistan Region, women’s political participation and leadership has improved greatly in recent years, with the role of speaker in the Kurdistan parliament twice being held by a woman.

Kurds, Ahwazi Arabs, Baloch, and other groups say they are treated as second class citizens in Iran. (AFP)

In 2018, the Kurdistan Regional Government raised its gender quota in Parliament from 25 percent to 30 percent, so that 34 out of 111 sitting MPs are now women.

The Daesh attack on Yazidi women in Sinjar in Aug. 2014 also encouraged more Kurdish women to join the frontline war effort, challenging their victim role in warfare and broadening their identity from being mere caregivers to protectors.

This brought forward changes in Kurdish society concerning women’s roles and identities, making it easier for women to join the Peshmerga — the armed forces of the Kurdistan region of Iraq.

Despite the region’s recent achievements, Iraqi Kurdish women’s campaigner Sherri Talabany reported during the MERI Forum 2019 that women still face high rates of domestic violence and a low share in the labor market of just 14 percent.

Kurdish opposition groups in Iran have fought for decades to obtain greater political and cultural rights for their communities. (AFP)

Meanwhile, only three representatives in the 23-member Iraqi Cabinet are women, and only one in the KRG cabinet of 21 ministers.

But the picture is far bleaker in Iran, where female labor force participation reached just 17.54 percent in 2019, compared with the global average of 47.70 percent, giving Iran one of the lowest levels of labor force female participation in the world.

Women in Iran also face restrictions in reaching managerial and decision-making positions in the public and private sectors. In addition, owing to Western sanctions, erratic economic policies and the COVID-19 pandemic, Iran’s economy has shrunk in recent years, affecting women’s employment opportunities.

What the protests sweeping Iran in response to Amini’s death appear to show is a general rejection of the maltreatment of women and ethnic minorities, frustration over the economic situation, and outrage at the heavy-handed ways of the morality police.

Some Iranians who cross into Iraqi Kurdistan for work or to see relatives have told AFP that while Amini’s death was a trigger, the long-running economic crisis and the climate of repression fed into the explosion of anger.

“The difficult economic situation in Iran … the repression of freedoms, particularly those of women, and the rights of the Iranian people led to an implosion of the situation,” Azad Husseini, an Iranian Kurd who now works as a carpenter in Iraq, told the news agency.

“I don’t think the protests in Iranian cities are going to end anytime soon.”


Canada sanctions Iran morality police as protests flare

Updated 26 September 2022

Canada sanctions Iran morality police as protests flare

  • “We will implement sanctions on dozens of individuals and entities, including Iran’s so-called morality police,” Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said
  • Oslo-based Iran Human Rights group said at least 76 people have been killed in the crackdown in Iran

OTTAWA: Canada on Monday announced sanctions against Iranian officials over the Islamic republic’s lethal crackdown on protests driven by the death of a young woman after her arrest by the morality police.
“We will implement sanctions on dozens of individuals and entities, including Iran’s so-called morality police,” Prime Minister Justin Trudeau told a news conference.
“We join our voices, the voices of all Canadians, to the millions of people around the world demanding that the Iranian government listen to their people, end their repression of freedoms and rights and let women and all Iranians live their lives and express themselves peacefully.”

More than 75 people have been killed in the Iranian authorities’ crackdown against unrest sparked by the death of Kurdish woman Mahsa Amini in morality police custody, a rights group said Monday.
The authorities last put the death toll at 41, including several members of the security forces.
Officials said Monday they arrested more than 1,200 people as the dragnet widens against the nationwide demonstrations over Amini’s death, following her arrest for allegedly breaching the country’s strict rules on hijab headscarves and modest clothing.

Oslo-based Iran Human Rights group said at least 76 people have been killed in the crackdown in Iran, up from a previous count of 57.

“We call on the international community to decisively and unitedly take practical steps to stop the killing and torture of protesters,” said IHR’s director Mahmood Amiry-Moghaddam.


Leading Iran cleric calls on authorities to 'listen to people'

Updated 26 September 2022

Leading Iran cleric calls on authorities to 'listen to people'

  • Protests ignited by a young woman's death in morality police custody show no sign of letting up
  • Grand Ayatollah Hossein Nouri Hamedani has long been aligned with ultra-conservative establishment

TEHERAN: A leading Iranian cleric has urged authorities "to listen to the people", as protests ignited by a young woman's death in morality police custody show no sign of letting up.

Demonstrators have taken to the streets of major cities across Iran, including the capital Teheran, for 10 straight nights since the death of Mahsa Amini.

The 22-year-old was pronounced dead on Sept 16, three days after her arrest in the capital for allegedly breaching Iran's dress code for women.

"The leaders must listen to the demands of the people, resolve their problems and show sensitivity to their rights," said Grand Ayatollah Hossein Nouri Hamedani in a statement posted on his website on Sunday.

The powerful 97-year-old cleric has long been aligned with the country's ultra-conservative establishment and strongly backed supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei on several occasions - notably during the 2009 protests against the reelection of former president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

"Any insult to the sanctities and any attack on the rights of the people and public property are condemned," Hamedani added.

At least 41 people have been killed since the protests began on Sept 16, mostly protesters but including security forces, according to an official toll.

The protests have spread to several cities, where demonstrators have shouted slogans against the authorities, according to local media.

More than 1,200 demonstrators, reformist activists and journalists have been arrested during the mostly night-time demonstrations across the country.

On Sept 18, Grand Ayatollah Assadollah Bayat Zanjani, a cleric seen as close to the reformists, denounced what he said were "illegitimate" and "illegal" actions behind the "regrettable incident" of Amini's death.

Germany urges Iran to allow protests after summoning ambassador

Updated 26 September 2022

Germany urges Iran to allow protests after summoning ambassador

  • “We call on the Iranian authorities to allow peaceful protests and to not deploy further violence — in particular not fatal violence — against protesters,” the ministry said

BERLIN: Germany summoned the Iranian ambassador in Berlin on Monday in order to urge Tehran to stop its violent crackdown on nationwide protests over the death of a woman in police custody, the German foreign ministry said.
“We call on the Iranian authorities to allow peaceful protests and to not deploy further violence — in particular not fatal violence — against protesters,” the ministry said on Twitter. “We also communicated that directly to the Iranian ambassador in Berlin today.”
Asked about the possibility of further sanctions on Tehran in response to the violence, a ministry spokesperson had earlier said, “we will consider all options” with other European Union states.
Last week, the United States imposed sanctions on Iran’s morality police over allegations of abuse of Iranian women. Washington said it held the unit responsible for the Sept. 16 death of the 22-year-old Kurdish woman Mahsa Amini after she was detained by morality police enforcing the Islamic Republic’s strict restrictions on women’s dress.