The Turkish foreign policy, as it has been dictated over the past few years, relies heavily in the so-called “Islamic soft-power” strategies that aim to push forward foreign policy interests via the use of Islam-based virtues of charity work and the Islamic ethics in general.
This approach has accelerated since 2007 when AKP political party in Turkey managed to establish firmly itself within the state by winning overwhelmingly its second general elections and since then it has effectively been able to disband numerous Kemalist networks of political and state influence. In terms of foreign policy, AKP places great importance into projecting Turkish interests abroad and especially in the regions of the Balkans, Middle East and Africa through the use of state-sponsored NGO’s, charity foundations and religious organizations.
For example, the original goal behind The Union of NGOs of the Islamic World (UNIW) organization was to perform a new kind of soft-power based foreign policy by the Erdogan’s Administration that aims to enchase Turkey’s role in the globe, by boosting Turkey’s profile as a major Sunni country. In short it plays the card of Sunni Islam, but in contrast to Saudi Arabia in a more moderate fashion, so as to be able to be accepted more easily by the “West” (NATO, EU). In a second level this particular NGO, acts as a hub and forum for the creation of interpersonal relations between a diverse crowd of figures that are involved in politics, business, charity and arts. Thus Turkish diplomacy, as directed by the pro-Erdogan elements- finds itself of new avenues to expand the diplomatic support this country may need for its state purposes. In simple terms, the Turkish foreign policy can “muscle” more supporters for Turkish aims and at the same time being able to grasp in a broader sense the tunes of societal changes in the contemporary globalized world. By having a reach in local societies as far as Seychelles, Indonesia and other countries, Ankara acquires a “global outlook”. In the case of the Balkans this particular organization has considerable reach in Kosovo, FYROM and Albania.
Continuing, there are many advantages of such strategies that blend Islam with foreign policy goals for Turkey. First of all the building of a “good name” abroad is an expensive process that takes years to be achieved, but once it happens, it provides the country with advantages in issues such as the direction of developmental aid, peace-keeping operations and of course a greater diplomatic clout in the United Nations. The case of Norway is illustrative. A small country of 4.5 million people has managed since the early 70′s to establish a good name for itself in regions such as Africa and South East Asia by providing financing, humanitarian aid and know-how. Thus Oslo has managed to have a reliable international voice and garner diplomatic and political support in international forums, disproportional to its small size as a state. In case of Turkey, a 70 million people country, that connects the Middle East with Southeastern Europe and with obvious ambitions of becoming a regional power; the policy benefits of charity work can be tremendous and as far as the business opportunities are concerned, quite substantial.
However, it should be noted that this use of a “soft-power approach” is not unique in international affairs, and actually it has been a well-established tool for diplomatic services for decades now. There are different sets of powers using soft power approaches. First we have the former colonial powers such as France and UK and to a lesser extent Netherlands, Belgium, Spain and Portugal. The aims of these countries stem from their bonds with their former colonies, their commercial interest and their will to have a global voice by cultivating linguistic and political ties with these countries.
Then we have the Scandinavian group (Norway, Sweden, Iceland and Denmark) that are interested traditionally in keeping up a stern image of peace-loving nations and supporters of economic development. Scandinavian countries, due to their highly industrialized and technologically advanced societies, who happen to be small in numbers and in the periphery of the Northern Hemisphere, the main manner under which they can have a political impact is by providing charities to the so-called “Third world”. Also these societies have always yearned to be heard globally due to their historical isolation.
Another category is the countries of Germany and Japan. Due to the WW2 effects and the peculiar state of affairs since, their aim has been traditionally to escape from the past and emerge as nations aiming for global security and peace, through charity work amongst other. USA, Russia and China, is another group that performs charities mostly for the sake of political interests, since they all have global ambitions and are keen and cynic players in the world stage.
Lastly we have the category where Turkey is located along with Saudi Arabia, South Africa, Iran, Gulf States, Brazil, India, and Indonesia. These are all emerging market countries with ambitions of acquiring a regional role or a wider global role based mostly on the religious factor, in the case of Turkey, Sunni Islam of the so-called moderate fashion, along with the “Neo -Ottoman” tendency which is frequently being exported as a role model in the Balkan region.
Somalia is the African country where Turkey seems to have the most high-profile role nowadays. Aside from establishing several aid centers, schools, mosques and other facilities in the country, Turkey has given full scholarships to more than 1,000 Somali students to study at Turkish high schools and universities. There have been quite a few developments in Africa in general since 2007, with Turkish delegations having visited and participated in conference, forums and events in almost all Sub-Saharan African states. Nevertheless, the ambitions of Turkey in that Continent are counterbalanced by the ambitions of global players such as USA, China or the well-established presence of former European colonial powers. Somalia is a country devastated by wars, famines and dissolution of the social fabric, therefore the direction of the Turkish foreign policy it seems was to take advantage of the dire straits the Somalia society is in, so as to be able to gain a “soft-power” base rather easily. Estimations point out those similar moves by Turkey to Africa will be directed in the coming period in Sudan, Angola and Nigeria.
Turkey in Africa a rather new presence in the region and the most important countries involved in similar charity or business projects, have a achieved a long-lasting presence by either investing heavily, as is the case of China, or have committed substantial security guarantees, as is the case with USA which has a military Command for Africa (AFRICOM), that is actually very much involved in “Soft-Power” projects. The interesting fact around Turkey is the pace of activity its diplomatic efforts have been for Africa under Erdogan’s Administration, especially after his second electoral victory in 2007. Before that little attention was paid to Africa by Turkey.
It is assumed that Turkey will continue to pay attention to Somalia in particular, due to the piracy issue, since it offers diplomatic capabilities for Turkey to be involved in international culminations in such an important global security issue.
Almost all countries with either global ambitions of some sort (Political, economic), are all involved in establishing their soft power infrastructure into Africa. In the case of China for instance, this has resulted in bringing Africa closer to Beijing in diplomatic terms and has provided ample business opportunities for both sides. In the case of USA, it has resulted in a virtual political control of a significant area of Africa. In the case of European countries and the EU as a supranational organization, soft power has achieved the notion that Europe is a world mediator and a good-will actor, something that often translates into fruitful corporate and commercial arrangements and occasional diplomatic support in the UN, IMF and World Bank through the votes of the African countries.
In other regions the situation is similar, although fluctuations occur. In Latin America China is creating soft power webs of influence in Bolivia, Venezuela, Peru and increasingly Argentina that result often to business deals. In Southeastern Europe, Saudi Arabia and the Gulf states have invested billions of Dollars into boosting the presence of Wahhabis, with negative results for the local societies, including terrorism incidents. In June 2012 a lecturer in the Police Academy of FYROM relayed to the local press that Al Qaeda-like training camps exist in his country and further attacks against Christians should be expected.
In Central Asia, Turkey tried in the 90′s especially to reach out to Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan, with no success due to the opposition by Russia and by the local elites that viewed any external influence as a danger for their survival. Attempts were intensified in these countries also after 2007, but the local governments reacted fiercely by confiscating assets of Turkish NGO’s and companies or prosecuting Turkish citizens involved.
Soft-power strategies in order to be successful needs a lot of available capital, a sophisticated state and non-state mechanism, political will, strategic global outlook, intercultural knowledge and sensitivity by the actors involved and integration of it, to the long-term visions that the prospective country has in mind. Moreover they need a solid cultural and historical base upon which they can reflect to other cultures. Thus, the tendency to use Ottoman Empire as a historical example by the modern Turkish state since it is viewed as the pinnaculum of cultural achievement by Ankara that could be exported as a “cultural best-practice” abroad.
In overall “Soft power, is not just a show of good-will but rather a carefully planned path that leads to the increase of the diplomatic capability of the country in question. Therefore the states that are able to amass all these qualities and abilities, are the ones that eventually are going to see their soft power approaches bear fruits and remain as such for the long-term.
The question that arises is what may happen if all these actors step up from their soft-power antagonism into a harder approach? History has showed that Africa and other regions will pay the price in terms of social unrest, conflicts and destabilization as each actor will try to advance it interests as it is vying for influence and power. The difference between soft and hard power it’s in the means. The ends are the same and it is the acquisition of power, control and wealth. Of course this a cynic read of international relations, and as in ever social subject, it is only of subjective nature.
Turkish Soft Power in Albania
– On mid-May 2012 the infamous Turkish Islamic NGO “Humanitarian Relief Foundation” (Turkish name: Insan Hak ve Hurriyetleri ve Insani Yardım Vakfı) organized a mass circumcision ceremony in Tirana-Albania for 500 local children. The organization was held with the assistance of the Municipality of Istanbul which is completely under the control of the AKP party. It was a first time since the 1930′s that such a ceremony was performed in Albania and was covered by Turkish media, although the Albanian ones kept a low profile on it. A delegation of Turkish Muftis and Islamic theologists travelled from Istanbul to attend and more than 3,000 locals viewed the ceremony and participated in the afterwards feast.
– The same period in Tirana an international conference on Sufism in the Balkans was organized by the department of Islamic theology of the Turkish “Konya Necmettin Erbakan University”. A delegation also from Istanbul theologists participated and Albanian Sufi representatives attended and expressed their views on how to enlarge this religious Islamic sect in the Balkan region.
– In early May the President of the Albanian Parliament Mrs. Topali during a visit of her Turkish counterpart Cemil Cicek in Tirana expressed her view that the Turkish nation “Has a lot of Albanian blood” and that “Turkey is a more than just a strategic ally to Albania and is a brotherly nation”. Cicek spoke along similar lines by hailing the “Turkish-Albanian brotherhood”.
– During the visit of Cicek who has accompanied by a delegation of Turkish Members of Parliament, a special trip was organized in the city of Shkondra, where tribute was paid to the monument of Hasan Riza Pasha (1871 – 1913) who was a general in the Ottoman Army. He was the son of Namik Pasha, Vali of Baghdad, and he was born in Baghdad. He was one of the commanders during the Siege of Scutari. He was shot dead by Osman Bali and Mehmet Kavaja, two Albanians who were servants of Essad Pasha. In parallel Cicek visited the Turkish cultural center “Junis Emre” that was established there in early 2012.
– This center is part of a wider “Soft-power” cultural centers network being established over the past few years by Turkey in several countries such as Albania, Iran, Jordan, Belgium, Georgia, UK, Japan, Kazakhstan, Cyprus (Occupied North), Kosovo, Lebanon, FYROM, Egypt, Romania, Syria. It is under the influence of the AKP government and can be considered as one of the basic elements of the “Turkish-Islamic soft power web of influence” presently.
The Coming Long-Planned Middle East War
Recently, a mounting risk of conflict between Hezbollah and the Zionist enemy, on the northern border with Syria and Lebanon, has given fresh impetus against the axis of resistance by the tri-alliance rhetoric; i.e. the Zionists, the Saudis and the American. Various political and military analysts have concluded that a conflict with the Lebanese resistance; Hezbollah- a key ally fighting against the Takfiris; along with Iran and the Syrian regime, is becoming increasingly likely.
In November 2017, Lebanon’s army Chief Commander General Joseph Aoun said, “Troops should be ready to thwart any attempt to exploit the current circumstances for stirring strife as the exceptional political situation that Lebanon is going through requires you to exercise the highest levels of awareness.” The Zionists frequently threats that Lebanon could be subjected to a huge aerial bombardment in the opening days of a campaign with civilian casualties highly probable. Benjamin Netanyahu, the Zionist prime minister, has threatened that his hostile forces would intervene rather than allowing the resistance to establish its position on the Northern borders.
At a conference of the Institute for National Security Studies at Tel Aviv University, on 21 March 2018, War Minister Avigdor Lieberman commented that the possibility of conflict is breaking out. He said that the Zionist soldiers may have to operate deep in Lebanese territory and manoeuvre on the ground on the battlefield if war breaks out, warning about Hezbollah’s attempts to arm itself with precision missiles produced in Lebanon. Lieberman also suggested in October, that the Lebanese military could also be considered an enemy combatant as it had become an integral part of Hezbollah’s network. He stated, “Israeli leaders will want to take care not to find themselves backed into a premature confrontation by the manoeuvres of their allies who sit in Riyadh.”
The Syrian conflict has reached a very advanced phase as Damascus, Moscow, Tehran and Hezbollah have proven to be more politically and militarily harmonious than at any time. Indeed, the Islamic Republic of Iran primarily funds resistance movements that aim at dismantling the Zionist illegal entity and its tools, i.e. Takfiri terrorist groups. Unequivocally, the Zionists recognise that Hezbollah has emerged from the Syrian war as a battle-hardened and the most resilient military actor in the Arab region, with highly trained fighters and reservists. Further, its missiles system has been heavily resupplied, in spite of dozens of airstrikes on its convoys and depots.
Amid these threats, the Saudi dirty conspiracies against the Resistance axis has revealed its reckless and heinous policy regarding Lebanon, Syria, Iraq and Yemen. The military commentator of the Israeli newspaper Ha’aretz, Amos Harel reported, “If Saudi Arabia is deliberately stoking the flames between the sides [Israel and Hezbollah], this becomes a tangible danger.” Additionally, the former US ambassador to the Zionist entity Dan Shapiro warned, “It is plausible that the Saudis are trying to create the context for a different means of contesting Iran in Lebanon – an Israeli-Hezbollah war.”
Due to the Saudi massive failure in Yemen and the resistance’s great victories, Riyadh has shifted its focus on Lebanon. In one of his influential speeches, the Secretary-General of Hezbollah, Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah has urged the Saudis to find realistic goals regarding Lebanon. He mocked the Saudi coward threats to eradicate the resistance through encouraging Israel to wage the war. Sayyed Nasrallah has asserted that any future conflict could take place inside the occupied Palestinian territory. He said, “There will be no place that is out of reach of the rockets of the resistance.”
Besides, the possibility that an offensive against Syria and Lebanon might take place would be a direct result of Washington’s failure to oust the brave Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. Their idiot plan was the fragmentation of Syria, Lebanon and other Arab states into smaller units. In the meantime, the Saudis continue their devastating war on Yemen, backed by Trump’s administration, which is also negotiating an arms deal worth billions to take an aggressive stance towards Hezbollah, the Syrian regime and Iran. Further, the Zionists have expanded their illegal settlements in the occupied Palestinian territories, at unprecedented levels.
Israel, Saudi Arabia and the U.S. essential objective is eliminating the Iran-Syria-Hezbollah alliance. In addition, they aim to re-establish themselves as the hegemonic power in the Middle East, with absolute control over the natural resources including oil, gas and water. They understand that defeating Hezbollah would be unmanageable; therefore, they are scarcely exerting effort to reduce the resistance military capabilities with the possibility that the U.S. troops may coordinate targets with the Zionist War Forces and join the war through Syria.
Saudi Arabia dreams to remain a vassal state with unconventional political leverage over its neighbours. However, if it foolishly decides to wage an attack against Iran, the tyrant rulers of Bani Saud will inevitably collapse [Bani Saud as the Arabic use of ‘Al’ is an honourable title of a legitimate dynasty, such as the household of Prophet Mohammad (PBU’em); Al-Hashem]. Earlier this year, the Saudis have abruptly cut economical aids to the Lebanese government merely because it had refused to condemn ‘attacks’ on the Saudi embassy in Tehran. Indeed, the Saudis spearheaded efforts to get the Persian Gulf states and the Arab League to designate Hezbollah a terrorist organization.
The brutal conspiracy against Syria has so far resulted in nearly half a million dead, six million internally displaced, and over five million refugees, an overwhelming percentage of whom have now spent years in neighbouring countries. The event of 10 February 2018 underscored the resistance axis military capabilities, as when the Syrian antiaircraft fire downed an Israeli F-16, the first Zionist fighter to be shot down in decades. Hezbollah has greatly enhanced its deterrence capabilities and fighting skills, for this reason, the Zionists would only fight a war to weaken Hezbollah, which is seemingly feasible.
Obviously, the war is predictable but inevitably, it is not going to be imminent. The enemy is aware that Hezbollah is part of the Quds Force of Iran’s Revolutionary Guards; an army of 200,000 fighters from Lebanon, Iraq, Pakistan, and Afghanistan. Further, Hezbollah has gained advanced weapons and experienced fighters and has access to 150,000 rockets; compared to the 33,000 in 2006. In addition, the resistance has stockpiled quality weapons and has built factories that can convert rockets to missiles, which could seriously make any war very costly.
It is worthy to mention that Hezbollah keenly understands that the Zionist enemy is not the same as it was in 2006. The Zionists’ so-called ‘Iron Dome’ air defence network is more sophisticated. This too means that the efficiency of the resistance rockets is questionable and need to be more advanced. Besides, the sectarian rifts and political conflicts in the region would make it difficult for the resistance masses to seek refuge in other countries, particularly Syria, whenever a war would kick off. During the previous wars, nearly 1 million Lebanese fled the country. Meanwhile, Lebanon hosts 2 million Syrian refugees, giving the country the highest per capita refugee count in the world, according to a New York Times report. An influx of additional refugees would be quite serious as the current regional status-quo is problematic.
Hezbollah has grown considerably stronger since the 2006 Second Lebanon hostile War. Following the battle of Qusayr, in Syria, the resistance has changed its strategies from insurgency to counterinsurgency in order to weaken the Saudi backed terrorists. Per its doctrine and as Sayyed Nasrallah frequently maintains, “As long as there is a missile that is fired from Lebanon and targets the Zionists, as long as there is one fighter who fires his rifle, as long as there is someone who plants a bomb against the Israelis.”
For their part, the Zionists have made it clear that their intentions are to hit the resistance “in the most muscular way possible.” The enemy seeks to invade the Lebanese territories in order to damage its political and military infrastructure, which is by no means unprecedented. Historically speaking, the aggressive invasion of southern Lebanon, in 1982; aimed at demolishing the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO), provides a complete failure and had transformed it into a regular army. During the Lebanese civil war, the PLO established a visible force that fielded heavy weaponry and artillery; however, its forces lacked the mobility that Hezbollah has demonstrated in the subsequent four decades.
In frustration at Hezbollah’s victorious during the 1980s, the Zionist enemy lashed out against the resistance twice. In 1993’s ‘Operation Accountability’ and 1996’s ‘Operation Grapes of Wrath’, the enemy attacked Lebanon with an overwhelming air and artillery power. These aggressive wars wrought considerable damage; however, they barely harmed the resistance. The resistance’s heroic elusiveness ensured that the Zionist enemy made no battlefield gains, and Hezbollah continued to fire Katyusha rockets until the thorough victory on 25 May 2000.
In 2006, the enemy Air Forces struck at Hezbollah headquarters and command facilities and bombed Lebanese infrastructure to force the Lebanese government to pressure the resistance into returning their detained soldiers. Three minutes after a missile struck the Zionist naval vessel INS Hanit, which was patrolling off the coast of Beirut, on 14 July 2006, Sayyed Nasrallah announced, “The surprises which I promised you will begin now. Right now, in the midst of the sea, facing Beirut, the Israeli military warship, which aggressed against our infrastructure and against the houses of the people and civilians. Watch it burn. It will sink and with it dozens of Israeli Zionist soldiers.”
The 1982 invasion aimed at eliminating the PLO; however, it has resulted in the establishment of Hezbollah. Therefore, the reckless Zionists, Americans and Saudi mercenaries should expect that any coming aggression would equivocally bear similar advanced fruit. Hezbollah, after 2006 experience, has been stockpiling hundreds of thousands of rockets, missiles, and mortars capable of reaching not just border areas but deep into the enemy’s terrains. The resistance arsenal includes hundreds of ballistic missiles capable of carrying chemical warheads as well as substantial conventional explosives.
The resistance would unquestionably hit Tel Aviv’s military bases and airports. Sayyed Nasrallah has stressed that the resistance fighters would be reinforced by hundreds of thousands of fighters from Iraq, Iran, Yemen, Afghanistan, and Pakistan. The numbers of missiles, including anti-ship cruise missiles, would dwarf previous Hezbollah salvos and, including upgraded versions of the ubiquitous Scud, could be launched from deep within Lebanon at targets deep within the Zionist occupied territories. The enemy may clearly face attacks launched from the Syrian part of the Golan Heights, which it has not faced since the 1973 war.
However, we should admit that the Zionists are preparing to wage this new war in a more deliberate and calculated manner, in contrast to previous decades when war decisions were a disproportionate response and collective punishment, more whimsical and hardly ever planned for in an educated manner. As far as the Zionists are concerned, their fundamental objective is that Hezbollah will be eliminated forever; just as the resistance aims at eliminating the Zionist occupation and liberating the occupied territories. For this reason, the enemies are precisely studying and postponing the war as any coming conflict may jeopardise the Zionist and American dreams in the region. On the other hand, meanwhile, Hezbollah is seemingly interested in establishing the great victory against the Saudi backed terrorist in Syria.
Clearly, the Zionist objectives are undermining Hezbollah’s war paradigm and reducing the Iranian influence, which is explicitly impossible because of the Russian presence in the region. The enemy’s infrastructure is not resilient to even a limited missile attack from Hezbollah. The next war will immensely affect the Zionist economy will shrink within a short-time period, which may cause long-term devastating damage to the enemy’s reputation as a key player in the global economy.
Hezbollah is a deeply rooted Lebanese political movement that has significant support in the country. It has gradually become Lebanon’s strongest political and military force, possessing veto power in Lebanon’s cabinet and playing the decisive role in getting President Michel Aoun elected. As Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah has long reminded its enemies that the resistance’s supporters will standstill and fight for their country. In case of an urgent incident on the borders, both sides will regard it as a game-changing or an equation breaking. The Zionist foe would not be able to collectively bear the dislocation resulting from the resistance’s land, sea and air strikes, whether it is going to be entitled as the ‘Third Lebanon War’ or the ‘First Israeli-Iranian War.’
The U.S. policymakers have long declared their intention to resolve resistance movements. In contrast to Obama’s, Trump’s administration considers Iran the main strategic enemy in the region and has already signal led that it will pursue a more aggressive and confrontational policy and that there will be an unprecedented American support for Israel in any conflict, no matter how such a war is conducted. The Zionists, U.S. and Saudi Arabia might intervene expeditiously and intelligently to address the root causes of conflict against Hezbollah and the Iranian targets.
The reckless Zionist-desired Saudi Crown Prince, Mohammed bin Salman appears willing to take up the fight. This Saudi Zionist boy has persistently asserted that Saudi Arabia’s modernisation requires an embrace of “moderate Islam,” i.e. an American Islam. As far as bin Salman is concerned, Iran is a major threat and the only way to surpass the dispute in the Middle East is through openly normalising harmonious ties with the Zionist enemy. Military analysts have assessed that the Palestinian resistance would likewise partake in the confrontation. Along with Hezbollah, the duo major Palestinian resistance organisations; Hamas and the Islamic Jihad movement, funded and backed by Iran, are estimated to have thousands of fighters, significant stockpiles of rockets, mortar shells, and attack tunnels, some of which reach the occupied terrains and others that are designed for warfare inside the coastal enclave.
Ahed Tamimi, the Detained Heroine
Ahed Tamimi has accepted a plea deal under which she will serve eight months in prison, during a closed-door hearing but must still be approved by the military court. Under the deal, offered by the military prosecution on 21 March 2018, Ahed Tamimi is expected to plead guilty to four charges, including assault, incitement and two counts of obstructing soldiers. Gaby Lasky, her lawyer, said the sentence would include four months already served and a fine of 5,000 shekels (£1,017).
Since her early years, Ahed Tamimi, 17 years old detained teenager has become an international poster girl in her home village of Nabi Saleh in the West Bank where regular Palestinian protests take place against settlement encroachment. In 2012, a widely seen photo of 12-year-old Ahed, then, confronting an Israeli soldier earned her recognition. Another image went viral, in 2015, after she was photographed kicking and biting an Israeli soldier who was choking her brother Mohammed.
Palestinians hail Ahed Tamimi as a hero for kicking a heavily armed soldier who slapped her first and was illegally on her doorstep and in an illegal occupation of her country. On 15 December 2017, Ahed’s confrontation went viral was streamed on Facebook. In the footage, Ahed kicks one soldier and slaps his face, and threatens to punch the other, after they stormed into her house and shot her fifteen-year-old cousin Mohammed Tamimi who was severely wounded by a rubber bullet that entered his brain.
The Tamimis are at the forefront of regular protests, a frequent scene of demonstrations, they assert that a part of the Nabi Saleh’s land was confiscated and given to a nearby Israeli settlement. The enemy’s narrative alleged that the Tamimis had given their consent to Palestinians to throw rocks at Israeli soldiers from their home and that the soldiers were present outside at the time to remove the rioters from the house.
After the shooting, the West Bank village erupted in anger and began throwing stones at the Zionists, who attempted to put a stop to the unrest by patrolling at the site of a home where protesters were gathered. This aroused the anger of Ahed who ran outside her home and confronted two Israeli soldiers demanding that they leave the family property.
The soldiers’ restraint and refusal to act aroused anger among Israelis, as a result, the Zionists prepared a raid on the Tamimi residence, the next morning. In December 2017, the Tamimis woke up with a shock at about 3 a.m. to the noise of the Israeli forces banging on their front door and screaming. Ahed’s father, Bassem, opened the door for the soldiers, who pushed him aside and trooped into the house. At least 30 soldiers raided the house to arrest Ahed, without giving any reasons. They went rifling through the household leaving behind a mess and confiscated the family’s electronic possessing.
Ahed’s father is a prominent Palestinian activist since 2009, who successfully broadcasted the Palestinian peaceful protests in social media. He strongly believes that Ahed’s rights are being infringed and her trial should not take place,’ as the Zionist entity has no respect for international law and acts with impunity because of its ‘power’. He said, ‘There is nothing more provocative than Israel’s occupation [of Palestine]…so the normal reaction is to resist.’
Amnesty International has called for an immediate release of Ahed Tamimi, saying ‘the arrest of a child must be used only as a last resort and for the shortest appropriate period of time’. Magdalena Mughrabi, Amnesty International’s deputy director for the Middle East and Africa have stressed, ‘As an unarmed girl, Ahed posed no threat during the altercation with the two Israeli soldiers who were heavily armed and wearing protective clothing.’ Besides, Human Rights Watch has emphasised that Ahed’s pre-trial detention is both a violation of international law and unnecessary and that ‘Israel’s military justice system, which detains hundreds of Palestinian children every year, is incapable of respecting children’s rights.
Within the Zionist entity, there are voices demanding to release Ahed. Some of Israel’s critics have said the case epitomises the Zionist brutal approach, half a century after its forces captured the West Bank, Gaza Strip and east Jerusalem. The UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights has criticised Israeli’s actions, while the European Union has expressed concern over Israel’s detention of minors, including Ahed Tamimi.
Luisa Morgantini, the former vice president of the European Parliament said that the injustice of the Israeli occupation is so great that one cannot remain silent. Additionally, Alistair Burt, UK Minister of state for the Middle East at the UK’s Foreign & Commonwealth Office, said, ‘The truth is the soldiers shouldn’t have been there and the young woman shouldn’t have needed to do what she did.’
An online petition organised by Ahed’s father calling for her release has gathered 1.7m signatures. Twenty-seven American cultural figures have signed the petition including, Actors Danny Glover and Rosario Dawson, novelist Alice Walker, famed activist Angela Davis and philosopher Cornel West. The petition explicitly relates Tamimi’s fate to the children of immigrants and communities of colour who face police brutality in the United States.
According to the Association for Civil Rights in Israel, an Israeli nongovernmental organisation, a parent has the right to accompany their child during an interrogation in the occupied Palestinian territory. Ahed Tamimi has gone on trial before Ofer military court, near the West Bank city of Ramallah, which has been delayed several times. This postponing of the trial aims at holding Ahed for so long until she is broken down psychologically to the point that she would agree to sign a plea sheet.
On 13 February 2018, she arrived at the military courtroom escorted by Israeli security personnel, in a prison jumpsuit with her hands and feet in shackles. She appeared calm, smiling and flashing the ‘V for victory’ sign at photographers. Her father Bassem Tamimi waved to her from the audience, yelling out ‘stay strong’.
At Wednesday’s hearing, Ahed Tamimi was sentenced to eight months in prison, after the Ofer Military Court approved a plea bargain in which she allegedlyconfessed to ‘aggravated assault of a Zionist soldier, incitement to violence and disrupting soldiers on two other occasions.’
Gaby Lasky, Ahed’s Israeli lawyer, dismissed arguments that the continuous detention would violate Ahed’s rights as a minor and concluded she would pose a danger if released on bail. She said that although Ahed is only 17-years-old, ‘the court believes that her indictment is enough to keep her in detention until the end of the trial’. Lasky said she argued that the trial could not move forward because Israel’s occupation of the West Bank and its court system there is illegal.
UN experts expressed concern that Ahed’s place of detention, Hasharon prison, was in violation of the Fourth Geneva Convention, which states that the deportation of protected persons from occupied territory to the territory of the occupying power, or to that of any other country, is prohibited regardless of the motive. They expressed that the case of Ahed violates the fundamental legal guarantee to have access to counsel during interrogation.
A Lone Wolf in Afrin
The International Reaction to Turkey’s Military Campaign in Afrin
Despite numerous efforts by the Turkish government to explain its concerns over the threats PYD/PKK represent for Turkish national security, Ankara’s western partners and international players showed little support for the military operation in Afrin. On January 25, US President Donald Trump’s homeland security adviser Tom Bossert stated that Washington would prefer Turkey to abstain from direct intrusion in Syria and instead focus on “long-term strategic goals” like ending Syria’s war. The major U.S. concern, allegedly, was that deeper Turkish involvement against Kurdish-controlled elements would spoil the power balance and risk major escalation with the participation of U.S. troops.
On January 28, NATO General Secretary Jens Stoltenberg, when asked about the Alliance’s official position on the “Olive Branch” operation, responded by saying that even though Turkey has a right to self defence, it is important to pursue national security objectives in a proportionate and measured way, implying that military actions may contribute to the destabilization of Western-led efforts in Syria.
On January 29, UN General Secretary Spokesman Stephane Dujarric suggested that the Turkish military operation had led to losses among local civilians in Afrin, directly challenging Turkish official statements, particularly the claims of the Turkish General Staff about the absence of civilian casualties, despite the reports that the operation is complicated by instances when PYD fighters are spotted in civil clothes.
In early February, officials from the European Parliament and the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE), while acknowledging Turkey’s right to protect its borders, criticized a large-scale crackdown by the Turkish state authorities on anti-war campaigners and dissenters who demanded a quick end to the Turkish army’s military involvement in a foreign country. Western officials underlined that security concerns should not lead to disproportionate restrictions on fundamental freedoms, abuse of the state’s imperfect anti-terrorism laws, and detainment of people on charges of terrorist propaganda due to social media posts.
In late February, French officials, in several separate initiatives, called on the Turkish government to respect UN Security Council resolution 2401 on the Syrian ceasefire, spare civilian lives in Afrin and ensure the supply of humanitarian aid to the region. On February 26, in a phone conversation with his Turkish counterpart, Emmanuel Macron stressed that the ceasefire covered all Syrian territory, including Afrin, and must be put into effect everywhere and by everyone without delay, implying that the PYD shouldn’t be targeted by Turkish forces.
On a regional level as well, the Turkish military operation was received negatively. On January 21, an official statement by Egypt’s foreign ministry described the operation as a serious threat to Syria’s national sovereignty, while Turkish efforts were said to hamper plans to reach a political solution to the Syrian crisis and combat terrorism.
Another regional actor, Iraq, whose principal position has been historically important in Turkey’s fight against the PKK insurgency in the Qandil Mountains along the northern border regions of Iraq, linked the operation in Afrin with its own efforts to solve the problem of Turkey’s military presence in Iraq. On February 20, Baghdad issued a statement where it once again called upon Turkey to evict its Turkish base and compromise with the country, whose claims have been backed multiple times by the Arab league. Less critical voices were also heard from the Gulf monarchies, except for Qatar, which Turkey has been supporting since the diplomatic crisis broke out last year.
The regional allies of the Syrian government, Iran and Russia, stated that Turkish security concerns can be understood, though the sides must exert self-restraint and avoid turning the Afrin canton into another source of instability. On February 19, Iranian minister of foreign affairs Javad Zarif stated that even though Tehran understands the threats Ankara is facing, Turkey should seek other ways to solve security issues, because intrusion into a neighboring country will not provide a tangible solution. The Russian official position emphasized the provocative actions of the US government in Syria, characterized by its building a military presence using Kurdish elements in the SDF, which ultimately provoked Turkey to undertake extreme measures against the PYD elements in Afrin.
Domestic Politics in Turkey and the Olive Branch Operation
From the very beginning of the Olive Branch operation, the Turkish government adopted a hardline approach toward its critics. By the end of January, the Turkish government had ordered the arrest of more than 300 people on allegations of spreading terrorist propaganda over social media. Anti-war campaigners and civil society groups faced outright defamation from high-level officials.
The heavy-handed approach of the Turkish officials was not limited to efforts to silence anti-war critics. On February 15, Turkish former Chief of the Staff Ilker Basbug made a statement that the military campaign should not be turned into “material for domestic politics,” suggesting that both the ruling party and opposition should avoid using security matters for political gains, especially to rally the support of the population before the season of critical national elections. The general’s comments were criticized by Turkish President Erdogan.
Meanwhile, major political parties expressed their support for the military campaign in Afrin. Considerable support has also registered among broader layers of Turkish society. According to the MAK polling and survey firm, the level of public support for the operations in late January was stood at 85%.
These conditions contributed to the consolidation of the information environment in Turkey. The trend was further reinforced by the Turkish government’s efforts to tame critical media over the period before the start of the operation). Lack of security and guarantees against arbitrary arrests of journalists, both Turkish and foreign, also contributed to the lack of discussion on the necessity of the military campaign and critical self-reflection on the part of government officials in regards to the anti-PKK fight in previous years.
International Coverage and Comments on the Olive Branch Operation
From the official statements of Western, regional and local players, we can assume that there are several issues that cause criticism of the Turkish military operation in Syrian Afrin. A major problem for the Turkish government is proving the legitimacy of its military invasion of a foreign country. The Turkish government justified the move by invoking the UN Charter provisions that give states certain rights to such acts in cases when national security is under threat and other means of diplomacy fail to solve the issue.
The problems with the justification of the military campaign partly stem from the fact that the Turkish government has not been cooperating with the Syrian government, a legitimate representative of the Syrian people in the UN, to resolve the PKK issue. A further problem was presented in statements declaring that the Syrian PYD is not a terrorist organization and does not present a threat to Turkish security. These claims are supported by the fact that the Turkish government has been in contact with the PYD on several occasions, most famously during the Shah Euphrates Operations in February 2015. Another point supporting the thesis against Ankara’s justification of the military campaign deals with the cooperation between the PYD-affiliated Syrian Democratic Forces and the United States of America, a major ally of the Turkish government in security matters and the fight against the PKK in Turkey and Iraq.
Further criticism of the military operations revolves around claims that the move is directed either against the Kurdish population of Afrin or the civilian population of the canton. This thesis is supported by claims that the Turkish government uses paramilitary groups, whose background may be traced to the moderate Islamist Syrian movement. The fact that Free Syrian Army groups are not affiliated with the Turkish government via a legal framework prompted many critics to say that the military campaign could lead to war crimes in Afrin.
Finally, a considerable number of comments critical of the Turkish military operation touch upon the Turkish government’s utilization of the move for domestic political interests. The narrative of a Turkish struggle against Western-supported terrorists in Syria suits the plans of Turkey’s ruling Justice and Development party to consolidate the electorate around nationalist slogans and the idea of a strong ruler at the helm of Turkey.
The Constraints of Turkish diplomacy
Official Turkish diplomatic efforts since the operations began have been directed at the clarification of Turkey’s concerns to the country’s allies and partners in Syria. The meeting between Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu and U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson on February 16 should be seen in the context of these efforts. The meeting is considered a part of the initiatives to clarify Turkish objectives in Afrin, influence public opinion in the West, and resolve the PKK/PYD issue through diplomatic means. Contacts between Turkey, Russia and Iran have also been serving to mitigate concerns over the military operation in Afrin on the official level. On the local level, the Turkish government approached foreign representatives to explain Ankara’s official position with regards to the PKK in Syria and the security concerns the Turkish government has in light of the military build-up in northern Syria.
On the level of public diplomacy, governmental efforts to clarify the official position and bring the Turkish narrative to the broader international community seem to have failed. The primary reason behind this misfortune is domestic politics, where the Turkish government, through its own actions, contributes to the main theses of the critics of the Olive Branch operation in Afrin. Of particular importance in this context is the use of Ottoman and Islamic narratives in the Turkish media. In the absence of Western journalists in Turkey, and with wide-spread biases around the world, such messages reinforced negative coverage of the military operation. Moreover, the arrests of Kurdish activists and harassment of Kurdish politicians contributed to the narrative that the operation is directed not at the PKK elements in Afrin, but at the Kurdish population per se. In a number of statements, Turkish officials resorted to anti-Western whataboutism without providing objective clarification on the military and defensive necessity of the operation.
The Practical dimension of the Mishandled Diplomatic Efforts
It is important to emphasize that the informational environment and coverage of the military operation in the world is tightly linked to Turkey’s efforts to support counter-terrorism and its own political interests in Syria. Failed attempts to withstand the negative reactions from its regional and global partners may negatively impact Turkey’s ongoing fight with the PKK. First of all, a failure to present the Olive Branch as an operation against the PKK, and not the Kurdish population of northern Syria, contributed to the narrative of the PKK’s sympathizers and large support network in Europe, from which the terrorist organization manages to send financial aid to its headquarters in Turkey, Iraq and Syria, thus influencing its activity against Turkish state. Moreover, as the example of Germany shows, failure to provide a credible narrative for the anti-terrorist operation in Afrin may force the European government to listen to the vocal pro-Kurdish community and impose restrictions on the Turkish government, especially with regards to arms exports.
Negative coverage of Turkish actions in Afrin may hinder Ankara’s efforts to gain a stable foothold in the region as well. With a narrative that the Turkish operation is part of an occupation by Islamists or an Ottoman-inspired Turkish voluntarist government may harm Turkish plans to build legitimate self-governance in the Kurdish-majority area in Afrin. A failure to gain credibility and trust among Kurdish civilians may prompt Turkey to tighten its grip on the territory, a step that would definitely raise concerns among Turkish partners in the Astana process and players in the region that have been allergic to Turkish ambitions in recent years.
Olive Branch revealed an ongoing trend in Turkey’s isolation from its Western partners. The trend is further reinforced by the prevalence of anti-Turkish narratives in the Western media. The speculations and narrative, however, are supported by the actions and badly managed PR campaign of the Turkish government. The resulting effect negatively impacts not only Turkey’s relations with Europe and the US, but also the Turkish image in the region, especially among the Arab countries, where the media has been directed by political regimes opposing Turkish activism in the Middle East. A lack of critical debates in Turkey has been a contributing factor to the shift in Turkish foreign policy from diplomatic to military means for resolving national security issues.
First published in our partner RIAC
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