quinta-feira, 22 de setembro de 2011


Tension between Turkey and Israel is continuing with conflicting interpretations of events, as well as doses of verbal warfare. It is remarkable that the debate is so structured as to provoke sensitivities and deepen fears on both sides. While the source of traditional fears and anxieties in Israel is the Palestinian question, Turkey’s source of anxiety is the Armenian question and the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party, or PKK. Although Turkey’s approach toward the Palestinian question is well-known, the Israeli-PKK relationship is not so. This article aims to contribute to the ongoing debate by focusing on Israeli-PKK relations.

Of course, Israel, keeping a close eye on everything in the Middle East, concerns itself with the Kurdish issue in general and the PKK in particular. As a matter of fact, one of the first strategic pillars of that interest was formed with the immigration of Iraqi Jews to Israel in the post-1945 period and with Iraq’s approach toward the Arab-Israeli wars in the early 1960s. Mulla Mustafa Barzani’s rebellion against the Iraqi regime provided Israel with an opportunity to conduct a proxy war against Iraq. Israel offered the Barzani clan logistical support, military training and new perspectives. The foundations of intelligence organization in the Kurdistan Democratic Party were then laid down by Mossad. By these means, Iraq was made to pay for the support it gave to the Arabs during the 1967 and 1973 Arab-Israeli wars through Barzani’s guerilla attacks. The Iranian shah’s support which helped Israeli intelligence access northern Iraq must also be kept in mind. All these relations were proper in the Cold War spirit. Nevertheless, Israel’s interest continues in different guises. This interest has remained a question in the minds of both the Turkish people and security circles.

Historically, Israel and the PKK were not on good terms. In 1971, the Israeli consul in Istanbul was abducted and killed by Marxist organizations. This caused Israel to focus on leftist organizations in Turkey linked with Palestine.

Quickly, the search focused on Abdullah Öcalan and his organization, the PKK. Öcalan fled from Turkey to Syria in 1979. Then, he settled in Lebanon with the help of Syrian intelligence and the Marxist organizations of Gibril and Havatme and George Habash, the late leader of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, or PFLP. These three entities were a source of trouble for Israel and started to provide guerilla training to Öcalan’s militants.

In sum, Israeli-PKK relations have featured three phases. The first phase covers the period from the PKK’s establishment to 1992. In this phase, the PKK was a secondary problem which was to be closely watched. The second phase was between 1992 and 2002, when the PKK was subject to low-level diplomatic, but high-level “business” relations within the progressing Turkey-Israeli relationship. The final phase covers the period from 2002 onwards.

When Israel invaded Lebanon in 1982, it encountered “International Marxist” resistance along with the Palestinian groups. As a Marxist organization, PKK militants fought against the Israeli army, too, losing 11 militants in the battles. An additional 13 militants were captured, imprisoned and interrogated. This enabled Israel to lay hands on a large number of PKK documents. Thus, from early on, Israel has had important information about the PKK. Later, the imprisoned PKK militants were released together with Palestinian Liberation Organization, or PLO, members. They flew to Greece and then moved to Iran. In this process, while Israel perceived the PKK as a threat sponsored by Syria that was to be watched closely, it also shared a large number of documents now in its hands with Turkish intelligence.

After the Cold War, Turkish-Israeli relations took a new shape. Saddam Hussein’s invasion of Kuwait was a source of trouble for both parties. Saddam, who was then in search of support and legitimacy against the coalition forces, targeted Israel with Scud missiles. Vigorous efforts of Turgut Özal to join the forces to be deployed in an operation to Iraq and close relations with the U.S. brought Turkey and Israel closer.

The post-Cold War era offered new opportunities and created a highly competitive environment for Turkey. On the one hand, there were spheres of influence that opened in the wake of the changing balances in Caucasus and Central Asia, the independence of Azerbaijan, and opportunities in the field of energy policy; on the other hand, there was competition with Russia, Iran and Syria which were anxious about the windows of opportunity that the new foreign policy environment provided for Turkey. All three aimed to destabilize Turkey by increasing their support for the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party, or PKK as of September 1992. Back then, Israel was the actor providing indirect support to Turkey on the Iranian and Syrian fronts.

As PKK action peaked in May 1993, Turkey was in need of more sophisticated weapons, equipment, intelligence and operational techniques. This helped Turkish-Israeli relations to develop. Israel shared the experience it gained against the “intifada” with Turkey and this helped Turkey inflict significant “casualties” on the PKK. In sum, the PKK threat played a key role in Turkish-Israeli relations. Today we know that Israel played an important role in capturing Öcalan, the jailed PKK leader. The PKK’s attempt to invade Israel’s Berlin consulate in the wake of Öcalan’s capture during which four PKK members were killed by Israeli guards was no coincidence.

Why and how have Turkish-Israeli relations deteriorated? The mutually reinforced suspicions between Israel and the AKP government due to ideological reasons are not the only cause. Other natural causes including the U.S. invasion of Iraq, changing balances in the Middle East, the EU process, the PKK’s loss of its former speed and network, and the decline of the security perspective in domestic politics have brought Turkish-Israeli relations to a new ground. Since the PKK question or at least the military struggle with the PKK is no longer the main topic on the agenda, the Turkish-Israeli “strategic alliance” lost its raison d’etre.

The U.S. invasion of Iraq benefited Israel. As its relations with Turkey worsened, it began to develop a new relationship with the Kurds in northern Iraq, which it had to leave in 1975. Although official circles deny this, it is known that Israel has developed military relations with the northern Iraqi government in the post-invasion era. Considering that the current PKK activities against Iran serve Israeli interests, this does not seem a far-fetched possibility.

The PKK’s ability to find sponsors and provide unlimited services is well known in Ankara. Israel is also aware of this. Nevertheless there are two principles that the leaders of both countries might want to keep in mind. First of all, states establish relationships with non-state organizations not for ideological reasons, but in line with their interests. Secondly, “He who lives in a glass house shouldn’t throw stones at his neighbors.”It is possible to divide Turkey’s experiences in the Kurdish issue into a number of periods: First, the period of problems caused by primitive nationalization practices carried out in the first decades of the Republic; second, the regressive period from the 1960 coup until the 1980 coup; third, a complicated period from the emergence of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) through the chaotic 1990s until PKK leader Abdullah Öcalan’s capture in 1999. Now, in a new period, we are witnessing the actors of the “Old Turkey” systematically searching for any tools to freeze the democratization process.

While the actors of the “New Turkey” and the new Middle East were the ones who stopped resorting to violence or anti-democratic means, the actors of the old order were the ones who failed to give up their weapons. The PKK systematically took up arms again after the beginning of the democratic initiative – something that can be seen as one of the most dramatic examples of the PKK’s existential crisis. The PKK, Peace and Democracy Party (BDP) and their anachronistic intellectual colleagues have failed to answer the following, simple question: Would the PKK think about laying down its arms under any circumstances as part of a solution to the Kurdish issue in Turkey? Even hypothetically, they could not imagine disarmament. Apparently, they are quite convinced that both armed struggle and the Kurdish issue will exist indefinitely. Since nothing good happens and in order to reach the limits of revolutionary paradoxes, timeless anachronistic revolution will continue as long as Stalinist fantasies keep being reproduced by Kurdish issue experts and actors.

Let alone providing promising projections which can be taken seriously after a bloody and tragic history of 30 years, the PKK and its political movement have failed to take any initiative to minimize the political and social divergence in Turkey. The PKK’s sole argument is the myth of “the gains of the armed struggle,” which is a great fallacy. It prefers to tilt at windmills rather than be a part of the indispensible democratization process in Turkey. The PKK no longer acts as the most crucial actor in the Kurdish issue; on the contrary, there is now “the PKK issue of the Kurdish issue.” Because of this transformation, the PKK began to ignore the dynamics of the Kurdish issue and put Kurdish nationalism, a naïve imitation of Kemalist nationalism, at the top of its agenda.

For the PKK, the process can only go from the initial “Defeat in the 1990s” to the “Second Defeat” in the 2010s. Following the 1990s, the situation was rectified in the 2000s by the Justice and Development Party (AKP) in favor of Kurdish and Turkish people and at the expense of anti-democratic actors. Out of the 2010s, there will ultimately be domestic consolidation that is to the detriment of the PKK and regional groups. Unfortunately in this process, social fraternity will be damaged in the medium term.

It is possible to make certain analyses as to the results of the “revolutionary people’s war” launched by the PKK within the framework of the Middle Eastern proxy wars. The PKK is trying to be taken as a powerful actor in possible future negotiations by putting Turkey in a much more difficult position. Increasing terror will be enough for the PKK to achieve the first step in its aim. However, the cost of this for the PKK will be high: it won’t be able to find a place in the New Turkey, let alone hold onto a more powerful position.

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