November 20, 2018

The Quintessential Make-Ahead Dessert for Our Favorite American Holiday

We still haven’t caught our collective breaths in the aftermath of the horror in Pittsburgh, the heartbreaking shooting in Thousand Oaks, the approaching caravan of desperate refugees, the fallout from the midterms and the devastating fires in the most beautiful state in our republic, but open one eye to the calendar and gasp, because the holiday of gratitude is upon us. I’ve no clue what kind of sadistic time warp took hold and vanquished the months of September and October, but now, after all this, triggered and broken in spirit, we are expected to cook and plan to be thankful for all our blessings? Well, yes — most definitely yes. 

American Jews celebrate Thanksgiving almost without exception as it brings together the very Jewish concepts of gratitude, hope and community. I can’t think of a better time, given the current climate of sorrow and stress, to take a breather in the form of a long weekend. Cooking is an incredible stress buster — you can’t worry and fret too much when you are caught up in the concentration required to put together a big meal. 

As a chef in an American embassy overseas, I feel a responsibility to make sure that our diplomats and Marines get a taste of all their favorites. I change some side dishes each year but what I’ve noticed is that Thanksgiving is the “comfort food” holiday, and what’s comforting to most of us is familiarity. Although I know some families that keep some beautiful traditions that don’t involve turkey, stuffing and copious amounts of gravy, they are few and far between. My experience working at a foreign outpost feeding Americans is that while I can add some new dishes to the standards, I cannot subtract any traditional favorites. The good news is that I’ve found that this is just as comforting to the cook as it is to the diners. 

Most years, I cook eight 22-pound turkeys, 60 pounds of stuffing, 50 pounds of mashed potatoes, 30 pounds of sweet potato casserole, 30 pounds of green bean-mushroom casserole, 50 pounds of macaroni and cheese, 3 gallons of gravy, 2 pounds of cranberry sauce as well as hundreds of pies and biscuits. And because I’m Jewish, I still ask the other chefs, “Do you think we’ll have enough food?”

“Of all the pies I bake for my customers, it’s apple pie that practically carries with it a money-back guarantee to bring people to tears of joy.”

My Thanksgiving cooking prep schedule from last year is available online at It has never failed me despite the fact that I have and a fully functional working restaurant kitchen humming in the foreground. 

I’d also like to pass along my foolproof all-American apple pie recipe, as high on the comfort food factor scale as any dessert recipe could be. Of all the pies I bake for my customers, not only on Thanksgiving but throughout the year, it’s apple pie that practically carries with it a money-back guarantee to bring people to tears of joy. Not only is it comforting in its rustic simplicity, its nostalgia-inducing aroma works wonders to spread good vibes to anyone who enters your home. Even better, it’s so easy to put together in advance and freeze unbaked. Then all you must do is bake it from frozen on the morning of Thanksgiving and let it sit on your counter welcoming all who enter with the incomparable aroma of apples, cinnamon and nutmeg. Serve this beauty, still warm, with a jug of caramel alongside and watch as even non-dessert eaters accept a piece gratefully. 

Because gratitude is such a profound component of happiness, tuning in to appreciation while drinking wine, watching a game and eating comfort food is so essential right now. Even though November sneaked up on us — I can’t help but thinking that this year, Thanksgiving is coming just in the nick of time.

Perfectly Flakey Pie Crust (makes 1 double crust pie or 2 single crust pies)
2 cups plus 4 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon salt
2/3 cup neutral tasting vegetable oil
4 tablespoons ice water

In a bowl, combine flour and salt. Add in oil and stir with a fork until most of the flour is absorbed. Add ice water and stir just until the dough forms but do not overmix or the crust will be tough.

Divide dough in half and, using a rolling pin, roll out each half between 2 pieces of wax paper. Roll out dough into a circle that is approximately 2 inches larger than a 9-inch pie pan, using the pan as a guide. Lay dough on pie pan, tucking excess dough under itself making it even on all sides. Keeping the rolled-out top dough between the wax paper, place bottom and top dough in refrigerator while you make the filling. 

Apple Pie Filling
8 large Granny Smith Apples (or other baking apples), peeled and sliced 1/4-inch thick (approximately 7 cups)
2 tablespoons lemon juice
1/2 cup brown sugar
1 tablespoon maple syrup
1 1/2 teaspoons cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
4 tablespoons cornstarch
1 tablespoon margarine (or butter)
1 egg white
1 tablespoon sanding sugar for sprinkling on top (optional)
Preheat oven to 425 F. 

Peel, core and slice apples in 1/4-inch slices. In a large bowl, add remaining ingredients except the butter and egg white, and toss to combine. Remove pie shell from refrigerator and pour apple mixture into shell. Place margarine on top.

Brush crust of pie shell with egg white. Gently peel back wax paper from other pie dough and lay it on top of the apples, trying to leave the same amount of surplus on all sides, and then tuck the edges of the top dough under while pressing to seal top and bottom crusts. Either crimp edges together or use the tines of a fork to seal the edges.

With a sharp knife, cut 4 slits in a sunburst pattern all around the top of the dough to release steam. Brush top crust with egg white and sprinkle with sanding sugar.

If baking pie immediately, place sheet pan on bottom rack to catch drippings, and bake pie 15 minutes at 425 degrees and then 50 minutes at 325 degrees. If the edge of the pie starts to become too brown, place a piece of foil loosely on the top to shield it from over browning. 

If freezing pie, wrap very well in plastic wrap or foil and place in freezer. To cook from frozen, preheat oven to 425 degrees with a sheet pan on the bottom rack (to catch the juices from the apples as the pie bakes). Place pie on sheet pan for 20 minutes. Reduce oven temperature to 325 degrees and bake for approximately 65 more minutes or until a skewer inserted into the middle of the pie goes in easily and juices are bubbling. 

Let pie cool for at least 2 hours before cutting into it. Serves 10.

Yamit Behar Wood, an Israeli-American food and travel writer, is the executive chef at the U.S. Embassy in Kampala, Uganda, and founder of the New York Kitchen Catering Co. 

Trump Administration Slaps Sanctions on Turkey for Imprisoning American Pastor

REUTERS/Carlos Barria

The Trump administration leveled sanctions against two Turkish officials on August 1 in response to Turkey’s imprisonment of an American pastor.

Fifty-year-old evangelical pastor Andrew Brunson from North Carolina is being accused by the Turkish government of espionage having ties to the Kurdistan Workers’ Party and the Gulenist Movement, which the Turkish government considers to be terror organizations. Brunson is currently under house arrest and faces up to 35 years in prison.

The Trump administration is demanding that Turkey free Brunson, claiming that there is no evidence that Brunson committed any wrongdoing. They are sanctioning Turkish Justice Minister Abdulhamit Gul and Interior Minister Suleyman Solu in response.

“Pastor Brunson’s unjust detention and continued prosecution by Turkish officials is simply unacceptable,” Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said in a statement. “President Trump has made it abundantly clear that the United States expects Turkey to release him immediately.”

The Turkish Foreign Ministry responded with a statement that they “vehemently protest the sanctions” and that “a reciprocal response will be given without delay to this aggressive attitude which serves no purpose.”

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has pushed for President Trump to accept a deal in which Turkey exchanges Brunson for businessman Fethullah Gülen, who Erdogan blames for orchestrating the failed 2016 coup attempt against him.

According to professor Efraim Inbar, the president of the Jerusalem Institute for Strategic Studies, Erdogan has allied himself with the likes of Hamas and the Iranian regime and has provided support for ISIS despite claiming that he fights them. Erdogan’s government has also promoted an anti-Semitic TV series that portrays Jews as insidious villains.

Pence Highlights Rising Anti-Semitism in Europe in Religious Liberty Speech

REUTERS/Alex Wroblewski

Vice President Mike Pence spoke out against the rising anti-Semitism in Europe in a July 26 speech at the Ministerial to Advance Religious Freedom in Washington D.C.

Pence discussed the United States’ commitment to upholding religious liberty at home and abroad and highlighted countries that frequently discriminate against certain religions, such as Iran, China, Nicaragua and Russia.

The vice president then turned to the increasing perils Jews face in Europe.

“Just 70 years after the Holocaust, attacks on Jews, even on aging Holocaust survivors, are growing at an alarming rate,” Pence said. “Last year, hate crimes against Jews hit a record high in the United Kingdom.  And in the same period of time, there were an average of nearly four attacks against Jews every day.”

Pence also mentioned how France in particular has become dangerous for Jews, pointing to the 2015 kosher supermarket terror attack and the 2012 targeted shooting at a Jewish school that killed four children.

“It is remarkable to think that within the very lifetimes of some French Jews — the same French Jews that were forced by the Nazis to wear identifiable Jewish clothing — that some of those same people are now being warned by their democratic leaders not to wear identifiable Jewish clothing,” Pence said. “These acts of violence and hatred and anti-Semitism must end.”

Additionally, Pence talked about ISIS’ “barbarism” and how “ISIS is on the run” thanks to the Trump administration’s efforts; he also mentioned that they are sanctioning Turkey until they release American Pastor Andrew Brunson.

The full speech can be seen below:


The Kurdish Dilemma

Kurds living in Cyprus shouts slogans during a demonstration against the Turkish offensive on Kurdish forces in northwest Syria, outside the American Embassy in Nicosia, Cyprus January 24, 2018. REUTERS/Yiannis Kourtoglou

Recep Tayyip Erdogan might be a strong leader of Turkey, but consistency is not his strongest suit. He embraces Hamas but calls Kurdish forces “terrorists.” He supports Palestinian peoplehood, but deploys Turkish forces and goes to war when there’s even a hint of Kurdish peoplehood, no matter where.

The Turkish president is at war now, one whose aim is to thwart any hope for a Kurdish sovereignty in northern Syria. Turkey considers the Kurds in Syria to be terrorists because of their ties with Turkey’s Kurds, and attacks them with great force. The Kurdish militia is puzzled by the attack, but even more so it is frustrated with Washington. Before he was elected, President Donald Trump declared himself to be a “fan of Kurds” and vowed to repair the fraught relations between Turkey and the Kurds. All the Kurds get from Trump today, as they are attacked by the Turks, is a call for restraint. He is their fan the same way he is a Patriots fan. He will cheer them when they win, but this doesn’t mean that he will tackle the Eagles when the game is played.

The Kurds were useful warriors in the fight against ISIS, and as they sent their men to war, their hope was for some kind of reward. Alas, in the international game of power, memories are short and players are cynical. Yesterday’s most important ally is no longer necessary. In fact, it might even become a burden. The Kurds were abandoned by the Trump administration, wrote Israeli Middle East expert Eyal Zisser of Tel Aviv University. They were abandoned by Trump the same way Egypt’s Hosni Mubarak was abandoned by President Barack Obama in 2011.

Do you still remember 2011 and the high rhetoric of the Arab Spring? In the Middle East, people do remember. Countries remember. Governments do. In fact, even in America there are some who still remember these days of elation and delusion: “Obama’s embrace of the Tahrir Square protesters’ demand for Mubarak’s immediate departure was idealistic, popular and understandable at the time. But it was arguably among the biggest mistakes of Obama’s presidency,” wrote Washington Post columnist David Ignatius about a year ago.

All the Kurds get from Trump today, as they are attacked by the Turks, is a call for restraint.

That’s a generous assessment. Obama was not idealistic in making Mubarak leave. He was cynical. He was also not as “understandable” as Ignatius wants you to believe. The Saudis were terrified by Obama’s move and believed that they might be next in line for abandonment. Many Israelis and Israel’s government also were puzzled by this move. They looked at Obama and realized that trusting him was problematic. They looked at him and realized that he does not understand the Middle East and doesn’t much know what to do to keep it stable. They looked at him abandoning Mubarak, and then at Russian President Vladimir Putin sticking with Syrian President Bashar Assad and knew they had a problem.

The seeds of the agreement with Iran were planted in the Arab Spring. They were planted when the Iranians realized that Obama has no tendency to stay loyal to America’s allies. Obama erred twice in abandoning Mubarak: It did not work for his as a realist, to abandon the leader who could keep Egypt relatively stable, and it did not work for him as an idealist, because he ended up getting an Islamist replacing Mubarak. And then another revolution.

Trump does not have the same tendency to play the role of the idealist. He wears his cynicism on his sleeve. His abandonment of the Kurds is thus more consistent with his general attitude: to support the winners and let the losers fend for themselves. He might be fond of the Kurds and might be irritated by Erdogan (everybody is irritated by Erdogan), but this does not change much when he crafts his foreign policy agenda. The Kurds, no doubt, deserve better, but their ability to cause trouble is currently limited. The Turkish government, no doubt, deserves worse. But it has the power to put U.S forces and interests at risk.

This is as sad and as condemnable and as non-idealistic as it is predictable. You can say one thing for Trump: What you see is what you get. He does not pretend to be what he is not. And, of course, this carries an important lesson that Israel never misses. In the Middle East, only those who have power survive. In the Middle East, American promises have value only when the party involved is strong enough for the U.S. to worry about. The “special relations” are important, but they can last only as long as Israel can make trouble.

Kurdish Independence Movement Deserves the Support of Western Nations

Mourners carry the bodies of their relatives Kurdish Peshmerga fighters killed during an advance by Iraqi forces on Kirkuk, during a funeral in Sulaimaniya, Iraq, October 17, 2017. REUTERS/Stringer NO RESALES. NO ARCHIVES

On Oct. 16, Iraqi armed forces and Iran-supported Shia militias moved into the disputed town of Kirkuk, bringing the country close to civil war. 

The move was Baghdad’s decisive response to the referendum on independence that the Kurds of Iraq held on Sept. 25. The referendum produced a resounding majority for independence and a high turnout — more than 92 percent voted in favor of independence, with a 72.6 percent turnout, reflecting the stubborn determination of the Kurds to maintain and build a sovereign state.

The lines now are clearly drawn, as are the rights and wrongs of the case. 

The Kurdish-controlled part of Iraq is the most peaceful and well-ordered section of that blighted country. The Kurds have given refuge to nearly 2 million of their fellow Iraqi citizens who were fleeing the onslaught of ISIS. In turn, the armed forces of the Kurdish Regional Government (KRG), the Peshmerga, played the crucial role in stemming the advance of that murderous project and then turning it back, in close cooperation with U.S. air power. Many Kurdish fighters died in achieving this. 

For Americans and other Westerners, the KRG has long constituted a unique space. Outside of Israel, it is the only part of the Middle East where public sentiment is solidly and, indeed, passionately pro-American and pro-Western. It also is safe. In Baghdad, Westerners cannot walk the streets in safety. The Iraqi Kurdish capital of Erbil is as safe as any Western city, and safer than many. 

Over the past 25 years, the Kurds have built the KRG into a pro-Western de facto sovereign space, complete with its own armed forces, visa system, economy and parliament. Their ambitions do not end with autonomy, however. Language, outlook and history set them apart from the warring Shia and Sunni Arabs further south.

So the Kurds want independence. They want out of Iraq. The Sept. 25 vote was about kick-starting this process. The success of the referendum led to hopes for a swift negotiating process with Baghdad. 

Instead, the countries surrounding the KRG have united in a vow to prevent Kurdish sovereignty by all available means.

How did we get here?

Iraq is not a historic entity. It was carved by the British out of the carcass of the Ottoman Empire in the post-World War I period, when London and Paris were divvying up the former Ottoman territories of the Middle East. At that time, the Kurdish population lacked an organized national movement, and the Kurdish-majority territories were distributed among the new states of Iraq, Turkey and Syria (with an additional Kurdish population in Iran, outside of the former Ottoman territories). 

This decision has led to much suffering. From the 1950s on, Iraq was governed by a virulent form of Arab nationalism. The rise of the brutal Baath Party in 1963, and then the ascendancy, from within the ranks of the party, of the executioner Saddam Hussein to Iraq’s helm, meant disaster for Iraq’s Kurds. They were deprived of the right to use their language and subjected to arbitrary expulsion from their homes as Hussein and the Baathists sought to leaven the Kurdish areas with Arab newcomers to end any hope of Kurdish sovereignty.

The West should recognize its failure in Iraq and embrace Kurdish aspirations.

The apogee came in 1988 when, in an effort to end Kurdish resistance once and for all, the Iraqi dictator lunched a brutal campaign of ethnic cleansing and slaughter led by his cousin, Ali Hassan al-Majid, henceforth to be known as “Chemical Ali.” In this campaign, between 50,000 and 182,000 Kurds died. The accurate number probably will never be known. What is known for certain is that in the town of Halabja, on March 16, 1988, 5,000 Iraqi Kurds were killed in a poison gas attack. Acording to a report by Human Rights Watch, “It is apparent that a principal purpose of [the attack] was to exterminate all adult males of military service age captured in rural Iraqi Kurdistan.”

This is the bitter legacy that the Iraqi Kurds carry. 

If international affairs were dictated by moral decency, the case for Kurdish statehood would be open and shut. A people who were never consulted as to whether they wished to be joined to the Iraqi state, and who were treated with the most appalling brutality and cruelty by the regimes of that state to which they never wanted to join, and who have proven themselves the most democratic and civic-minded element of the population of that state, now wish to be afforded the liberty to create, finally, their own secure and sovereign country. 

Yet despite the clear facts of the case, the West has chosen to back the Islamist administrations in Tehran, Baghdad and Ankara in their determination to oppose the emergence of Kurdish sovereignty. After the referendum, the government in Baghdad demanded that the Kurds hand over control of all oil revenue and border crossings, as well as control of the international airport at Erbil. Baghdad took unilateral control of Kurdish airspace. (I left Kurdistan on one of the last scheduled flights out of Erbil airport that Baghdad permitted to fly).

With the assault on Kirkuk, the Iraqis have demonstrated their willingness to back up their words with iron and steel. 

Why is the West acquiescing to this?

Ostensibly, the reason has to do with the urgency to complete the war against ISIS. U.S. Special Presidential Envoy to the Global Coalition to Counter ISIS Brett McGurk said the Kurdish referendum was “ill-timed and ill-advised.” This, he added, was the position of the “entire international coalition.” 

But the notion that the referendum damages the war against ISIS by diverting attention from it is unsustainable. The war against ISIS in Iraq is largely won, with the final battle to drive them from their last urban holdings being waged right now. Kurdish independence will not get in the way.

So, what is the real reason for Western opposition? 

First, the U.S. and its allies spent a great deal of blood and treasure in destroying the Saddam Hussein regime and installing a system of elections and formal democracy in Iraq. They are loath to see this project fail. At the moment, Iran-supported forces are in the ascendant in Iraq. The West hopes to assist those forces opposed to the Iranians in Iraqi politics. The Kurds need to remain part of Iraq, it is believed, to act as a counterweight to Iranian influence. 

But Iranian domination of Iraq is quite complete with or without the Kurds. More important than Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi and the political structures in Baghdad are the Shia militiamen of the Popular Mobilization Units — 100,000 to 120,000 strong — raised when ISIS was heading for Baghdad but with no intention of disbanding, and controlled by pro-Iranian elements. This independent armed force, combined with other pro-Iranian social and political forces, will remain the principal instruments of Iranian influence in Iraq. 

There’s a deeper cause for the resistance, however: an Arab-centric view of the Middle East that dominates Western universities and the scholars and policy advisers who emerge from them, resulting in a certain lack of interest, even a condescending indifference, to the Kurds, their aspirations and their memories. 

If allowed to triumph, this view will combine failure with disgrace. Failure because Iraq is already dominated by Iran. Disgrace because the justice of the Kurdish case is self-evident.

Instead of denying the Kurds their due, the West should recognize its failure in Iraq and embrace Kurdish aspirations, and then make a strong friend and ally of the new Kurdish state. Instead of acquiescing to Iranian gains in the region, we should be enlisting the Kurds in the effort to roll them back.

But for that to happen, their legitimate demands for self-determination need to be acknowledged and supported.

The hour is late, as the gobbling up of Kirkuk by the militias and the army shows. But it’s not yet too late. The time to support Kurdish statehood has arrived. 

Jonathan Spyer is director of the Rubin Center for Research in International Affairs at IDC Herzliya.

Turkish president accuses Israel of trying to take Al-Aqsa mosque from Muslims

Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan addresses members of parliament from his ruling AK Party during a meeting at the parliament in Ankara, Turkey July 25, 2017. Photo by Yasin Bulbul/Reuters.

President Recip Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey accused Israel of attempting to take the Al-Aqsa mosque from Muslims using security as the excuse.

Erdogan made the accusation during a meeting of his AKP party.

“Everyone who knows Israel is aware that restrictions on Al-Aqsa mosque are not due to safety concerns,” he said during a speech in the Turkish Parliament in Ankara, according to reports. “When Israeli soldiers carelessly pollute the grounds of Al-Aqsa with their combat boots by using simple issues as a pretext and then easily spill blood there, the reason is we have not done enough to stake our claim over Jerusalem.

“From here I make a call to all Muslims: Anyone who has the opportunity should visit Jerusalem, Al-Aqsa mosque. Come, let’s all protect Jerusalem.”

Erdogan said he had heard that Israel had removed the metal detectors from the entrances to the Temple Mount for Muslim worshippers and hoped that “the rest will follow.”

“We expect Israel to take steps for the peace of the region,” he added.

Israel’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs in a statement issued Tuesday called the remarks “absurd, unfounded and distorted.”

“He would be better off dealing with the difficult problems facing his own country,” Foreign Ministry spokesman Emmanuel Nahshon said.

“The days of the Ottoman Empire have passed. Jerusalem was, is, and will always be the capital of the Jewish people. In stark contrast to the past, the government in Jerusalem is committed to security, liberty, freedom of worship and respect for the rights of all minorities. Those who live in glass palaces should be wary of casting stones.”

The Prime Minister’s Office in Israel also responded, saying in a brief statement: “It would be interesting to see what Erdogan would say to the residents of northern Cyprus or to the Kurds. Erdogan is the last one who can preach to Israel.”

Erdogan also decried two anti-Israel attacks in recent days on an Istanbul synagogue over the metal detectors, calling for a halt to such demonstrations.

“We have no issues with the houses of worship of Christians or Jews,” he said. “We have taken the necessary measures against the attacks planned on synagogues and temples in our country.”

Over the weekend, Erdogan called on the international community to intervene to get the metal detectors removed from the site.

The new security measures had been put into place after three Arab-Israelis shot and killed two Israeli police officers at the holy site on July 14. Once the metal detectors were put in place, Muslims refused to enter the Temple Mount, instead praying outside its gates, leading to clashes and the deaths of at least five Palestinians in recent days.

Despite the removal Tuesday morning of the metal detectors, Muslim worshippers have continued to stay away.

Turkey’s Erdogan backs Qatar in Gulf split

Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan on June 6. Photo by Yasin Bulbul/Presidential Palace/Reuters

President risks Ankara’s relationship with the US and Saudis

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has expressed support for Qatar after Saudi Arabia, Egypt, the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain abruptly cut ties with the emirate.

The countries imposing sanctions accused Doha of supporting extremist groups and being too close with their enemy Iran. They severed diplomatic ties and major transportation links, and suspended air and sea travel to Qatar, closing its only land border.

[This story originally appeared on]

Erdoğan criticized the sanctions and on Wednesday the Turkish parliament fast-tracked two recently-drafted agreements that will send Turkish troops to Qatar, train the country’s gendarmerie forces, and authorize joint military exercises. Turkey opened a military base there in 2014 that currently hosts 150 Turkish soldiers but has an estimated capacity for 3,000.

“Turkey really wants to reassure Qatar that Ankara is behind them,” said Gönül Tol, director of The Middle East Institute’s Center for Turkish Studies and professor at George Washington University.

Tol told The Media Line that Qatar is an important market for Turkish construction and defense firms, and the two countries, whose ties have been getting closer in recent years, see eye-to-eye on many regional issues.

Both oppose Egypt’s President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi and Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, both support the Muslim Brotherhood and Hamas, and both want to contain Iran without confronting or completely alienating it.

However, Ankara’s actions may come with negative consequences.

“It makes economic sense, but on the other hand, it will complicate [Turkey’s] relationship with important allies like Saudi Arabia and the United States,” Tol said.

She says Erdoğan’s move has surprised US officials.

“No one was expecting that. Here [in Washington] people were saying that Turkey will probably want to remain neutral.”

Tol says Ankara’s decision may further damage US-Turkish relations, already at a very low point.

“Trump sees Qatar as a country that’s financing terrorism. So Turkey will be seen as the spoiler against efforts to cut that financing.”

President Trump made statements on Twitter on Tuesday praising Saudi Arabia’s decision to cut ties with Qatar, though the emirate hosts the United States’ largest regional military base that plays an important role in the fight against the Islamic State.

Emre Işeri, professor of international relations at Yaşar University, told The Media Line that Turkey may be shooting above its weight and is making a risky choice to alienate Saudi Arabia and the United States.

“Since 2007, Ankara has been presenting itself as a regional hegemonic power with only middle-power capabilities. Turkey is not capable of transforming the region without the backing of a great power,” Işeri said.

“The new Turkish foreign policy team has [failed to read] the changing geopolitical setting of the Middle East under Trump’s America and King Salman’s Saudi Arabia.”

But Özden Oktav, international relations professor at Medeniyet University, says this is an opportunity for Turkey to play a mediating role.

“Ankara will spend its utmost effort to show how Turkey is still an important player in the region by giving weight to and tilting towards Qatar and Iran,” she said.

Professor Tol says the points of conflict between Qatar and its neighbours go back at least to the Arab Spring protests.

“The problems that caused the current crisis aren’t new. The Gulf countries, especially Saudi [Arabia], have been quite concerned about Qatar since the Arab uprisings started,” she said.

Qatar and its media supported the Arab Spring protests that spread across the Middle East from 2010 – 2012, unlike many of its neighbors.

Tol thinks the Saudi-led countries may have chose to act against Qatar now because of President Trump’s recent visit to Saudi Arabia, his first official trip abroad.

“I think Trump’s visit emboldened the Saudis,” she said. “[Trump] signaled to the United Arab Emirates and to the Saudis that he wouldn’t back Qatar if something like this happened.”

President Erdoğan has been careful not to harshly criticize Saudi Arabia, a powerful regional player.

“Turkey doesn’t want to completely alienate the Saudis,” Tol says, pointing to Saudi investments in Turkey and the importance of the Saudi market for Turkish defense firms.

Turkey’s Erdogan accuses Israel of massacring Palestinians

Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan attends a news conference following the talks with his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin in Sochi, Russia, on May 3. Photo by Alexander Zemlianichenko/Reuters

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan accused Israel of “massacres” against the Palestinians and chided the international community for its silence.

Erdogan made his comments on Monday at the Al-Quds Forum in Istanbul, a two-day international event that brings together representatives of foundations, experts, academics, ministers and high-ranking officials from around the world to discuss the state of Muslim heritage in Jerusalem.

Speaking of Israel, the Turkish leader was quoted as saying in the Istanbul-based Daily Sabah newspaper, “They feel they are immune to any punishment for their crimes, but the international community needs to stand up against them. It is impossible to establish peace in the region if the international law remains indifferent to massacres and cruelty.”

Israel’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs responded to Erdogan’s comments in a statement issued on Monday night.

“Those who systematically violate human rights in their own country should not preach to the only true democracy in the region,” the statement said. “Israel consistently protects total freedom of worship for Jews, Muslims and Christians – and will continue to do so despite the baseless slander launched against it.”

Also at the forum, Erdogan called on Turks to visit the Al-Aqsa mosque often to protect its Muslim identity.

“Turkey attaches great importance to the justified resistance of the Palestinians and will not yield to Israeli attempts to change the status quo in the Al-Aqsa mosque,” Erdogan said. “We as Muslims should visit the Al-Aqsa mosque more often; every day that Jerusalem is under occupation is an insult to us.”

The mosque, under the control of the Muslim Waqf, is located in Jerusalem on what Jews call the Temple Mount.

Erdogan also criticized a bill being considered in Israel that would limit the volume of the Muslim call to prayer.

“It is disgraceful for those who lecture us about the freedom of religion to turn a blind eye to this attempt. Turkey will not let these attempts against freedom of belief [prevail],” Erdogan said. “Why are they afraid of the call to prayer? Are they unsure of their own fate? We do not and will not treat our Jewish citizens like that.”

Why is Trump strict with Assad but not with Erdogan?

Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan addresses his supporters at the Presidential Palace in Ankara, Turkey, April 17, 2017. REUTERS/Umit Bektas

As we watch a new American administration crafting its foreign policy, we are reminded that the world is a complicated place and that defining one’s policy towards it can be a complicated exercise. Look at what the Trump administration has done in three arenas in the last two weeks:

It bombed Syria, signaling that the US is going to intervene in certain places, even if there is no obvious immediate American interest at stake.

It pushed the envelope in North Korea, showing that the US is willing to be bolder in dealing with one of its most persistent and dangerous enemies (but how bolder, and in what way, is not yet clear).

It congratulated Turkey’s Recep Tayyip Erdogan on his narrow and controversial victory in a referendum that gives him unparalleled powers to rule his country.

What do we learn about Trump from these three events?

First of all, we learn – or should be reminded – that everything in this world is interconnected. Turkey is needed if Syria is to be tamed. North Korea is a Syrian ally and provided it with the material to attempt to build a nuclear bomb. The Trump administration is making its first steps on the world stage and seems growingly aware of this fact. There are ideological inconsistencies that emerge as moves are made in such a world, but they are both inevitable and necessary.

Take, for example, the issue of intervention in the internal affairs of other countries. In Syria, Trump intervened. In Turkey, where the results of a referendum threaten to further erode the democratic character of the country, he chooses to be silent. The Europeans responded to the vote in Turkey with disappointment and even outrage – but the US President made a congratulatory phone call to Erdogan.

The Russians are more consistent than Trump in such cases. As a rule, they oppose intervention in the internal affairs of other countries (of course, they intervene when it suits them). The Europeans are also more consistent: they want to educate everyone (but are unwilling to do much about it except talking). The question is for Trump: why be strict with Syria’s Assad and not with Turkey’s Erdogan?

One possible answer is that Trump acts impulsively and without strategic reasons. He was moved by what he “saw on TV,” as Steve Coll writes in the New Yorker. But Coll himself counts more possible reasons. “One limited rationale might be that Syria’s conflict has eroded global treaties banning the use of chemical arms.” Put another way: Erdogan’s affair is truly “internal” – it concerns Turkey alone. And Trump does not feel any need to lecture Erdogan on the value of democracy.

The US wants Turkey’s cooperation on certain matters and is not interested in the country’s domestic situation as long as it has this cooperation. Assad’s behavior is different. True, what Assad does is part of an internal battle for superiority within Syria. But the use of chemical weapons has impact on foreign affairs. It breaks a taboo that is necessary for other countries and actors to think twice before they use such weapons (hence, the miserable comment by Sean Spicer on Hitler). Of course, the outrageous behavior of North Korea is even less “domestic” in nature. Thus, the Trump administration is not inconsistent in its decision to tackle it.

But there are also other ways of looking at these three actions. For example, we might consider the feasibility of action – and Trump’s pragmatic calculation – for each of them. Why bomb Syria? Because the US can do it without having to pay a serious price for it. This was precise, limited, well-targeted.

Why accept Erdogan’s victory without much hesitation? Because there’s nothing of value the US can do about it. The Europeans will protest and cry, but this seems to have little effect on Erdogan and Turkey’s voters. The US, in this case, is keeping its eye on the ball: Turkey is needed to fight ISIS and tame Syria. There is no value in picking a fight with it. Not until it does things that shake the international order.

And what about North Korea? Well, Trump’s policy in North Korea is still a mystery. He talks tough, because he can and, more importantly, because he hopes that this will help him convince the Chinese that it is time for them to be more active in calming their problematic neighbor. Calming, but not much more than that. Getting rid of the regime in North Korea or disarming its nuclear capabilities are not realistic goals at the moment.

As Ian Buruma explains in the Atlantic, “China is the only power with any influence in North Korea, but the last thing Beijing wants is for its communist neighbor to collapse. The Kim regime may be annoying, but a united Korea filled with U.S. military bases would be worse, not to mention the potential refugee crisis on China’s borders.”

What do we learn from all this?

First, Trump’s foreign policy is less confusing than some newspapers want you to think. There are confusing statements here and there, and lack of coordination, but the overall policy is not inconsistent and can be easily explained.

Second, Trump does not feel committed to always following the script that he carved during his campaign – but also that his policy is going to resemble many of the things that he talked about as a candidate.

Third, Trump as a foreign policy leader currently has two instinctive postures, the brutal warrior and the deal maker. He is not an educator, he is not a policy wonk, he is not an ideologue, he does not belong to a school of thought. He is the president who’s willing to use the Tomahawk when you stand in his way and who’s willing to cut a deal when you’re ready to negotiate.

Erdoğan succeeds in referendum amid claims of voter fraud

Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan in Ankara, Turkey, on April 17. Photo by Umit Bektas/Reuters

Despite razor-thin margin president reaps vast power and longevity

ISTANBUL – Turkey’s opposition parties are claiming voter fraud during a narrowly-passed referendum on Sunday which will transform the country from a parliamentary system to a highly centralized presidential one.

The vote passed by a razor-thin margin, with Yes winning by 1.3 million votes and gaining 51.3 per cent of the total, though losing in the three largest cities of Istanbul, Ankara and Izmir.

[This article originally appeared on]

In an unprecedented move, neither of the two largest opposition parties conceded the vote, and both expressed major concerns over potential fraud.

“There were some very serious breaches during the day,” said Sera Kadıgil, a lawyer and member of the largest opposition party, the People’s Republican Party (CHP).

“From the beginning the elections weren’t fair – not the process and not the results.”

CHP officials criticized the Supreme Election Board’s (YSK) conducting of the vote, and called on it to annul the results and take the case to the Constitutional Court and the European Court of Human Rights.

Party leader Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu condemned the YSK’s controversial decision mid-vote to accept ballots lacking the official stamp, which normally would be rendered invalid.

CHP officials say 1.5 million such votes were counted, and will appeal ballot boxes containing about 2.5 million votes.

Furthermore, videos were shared on social media claiming to show incidents of vote manipulation, and discrepancies seen in voting results released by the YSK, whose website went offline for a short while during the vote.

On Monday afternoon the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) released a statement criticizing the campaigning environment before the referendum and the conduct of the vote itself.

Voters didn’t have impartial information due to pressure on the No campaigners, lack of free media and misuse of state resources, the OSCE said. During the voting, many observers were denied access to voting stations and the YSK’s decision to allow unsealed ballots undermined an important safeguard and undermined the law.

“This is going to cast a shadow over a problematic referendum especially because the final result is so close,” Henri Barkey, Director of the Middle East Program at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, told The Media Line.

“The behavior of the YSK will further tarnish the results and a large portion of Turkish population will always believe it was stolen from them. There is nothing that can be done about this perception.”

Soli Özel, professor of international relations at Kadir Has University in Istanbul says the new presidential system will radically transform Turkish politics.

“The founding institution of the state is the National Assembly, the one that fought the War of Independence, and for all intents and purposes, with these amendments the National Assembly will have lost much of its significance and most of its power,” Özel told The Media Line.

“All power will flow to and emanate from the presidency.”

Professor Barkey thinks parliament will be rendered a rubber stamp. He says parliamentarians won’t be able to scrutinize the actions of cabinet ministers and members of Erdoğan’s ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) will be appointed as a form of political patronage.

“Why is [Erdoğan] increasing the number of parliamentarians from 450 to 600, for a parliament that will have much less to do? Because it’s a sinecure. He’s going to be able to appoint people,” Barkey says.

“All power will flow to and emanate from the presidency.”

“They’ll have immunity, and they’ll have whatever goodies the state provides you with.”

Under the new system, the president becomes both head of state and government, no longer having to be politically neutral. The president will be able to issue decrees changing policy, dissolve parliament, appoint ministers and top bureaucrats, and control the composition of the judiciary. The current head of government, the prime minister, will be abolished.

Professor Özel says Turkish society has already gone through several major shocks in recent years and the aggressive campaigning and deep discord over the referendum was also very stressful.

“This is a country that’s gone through trauma after trauma,” he said. “My sense is this traumatic period isn’t likely to end any time soon.”

Professor Barkey agrees, saying the victory for the Yes vote will increase polarization.

“My sense is that this is going to divide the country, and all those people who voted No are going to chafe. There’s going to be depression. More people are going to go to jail and be sacked.”

But many Erdoğan supporters say the presidential system will result in less tumult in Turkey, which has recently suffered through several large terror attacks, a war between the state and Kurdish rebels in the southeast, and a failed military coup last July that left 276 dead.

“I’m saying Yes for stability,” said Ali Osman, a 52-year-old restaurant manager.

“Another result of this referendum is that the government will eradicate the roots of terror. There’s no other way.”

AKP spokesperson Harun Armağan says the presidential system will make the government more efficient.

“Turkey needs a much more dynamic, faster and less bureaucratic decision-making process. The current system was set up 90 years ago when the population was six times smaller and our per capita GDP was 120 times less. Allowing the president to have powers to give executive orders which do not conflict with current legislation will mean changes can be implemented swiftly, avoiding red tape.”

“He polarizes society, he polarizes politics, destroys politics. It’s bad news all over.” – But Professor Barkey says the long-term effect will be the opposite.

“There’s going to be short-term stability at the expense of serious long-term instability.”

Barkey thinks nothing good can come from giving Erdoğan, a deeply divisive figure, more power.

“He polarizes society, he polarizes politics, destroys politics.” – Henri Barkey

Professor Barkey says Erdoğan could hypothetically stay in power until 2033, meaning he’ll have been in power for 30 years.

“Think about somebody who was ten or twelve years old when [Erdoğan] came to power. When Erdoğan leaves power, that person is going to be 42 – 45 years old and will have known only one leader. Think of what it means for a society that’s had only one leader.”

How complicated is Syria? Trump just helped ISIS

We like our problems clean and direct. Good versus evil. Good fights evil. Good wins.

The Syrian regime of President Assad is evil. Its use of chemical weapons to murder children was barbaric. It makes sense to not let him get away with it. So, you can argue that President Trump was right to order missile strikes against the regime.

This satisfying moral action, however, should not make us dumb down a complicated conflict. The dominant reality of the Syrian conflict today is that it represents evil vs evil. You can get rid of one evil only to see something worse replace it.

On one side of the conflict, you have the Assad regime, supported by Iran, Russia and Hezbollah. A few years ago, Assad was on life support. Now, with his strong partners, he’s made a comeback.

On the other side of the conflict are anti-regime rebel groups who fight each other as much as they fight the Assad regime.

The largest is ISIS, with 25,000 to 80,000 fighters. ISIS has become the enemy par excellence in the Western world. Trump has talked incessantly about destroying them. Now consider this: By striking Assad, Trump ended up helping ISIS. Complicated enough?

Besides ISIS, there are groups like Al-Nusra Front (15,000 to 20,000 fighters), Jaysh al-Islam (17,000 to 25,000), Ahrar ash-Sham (10,000 to 20,000), Asala wa-al-Tanmiya (13,000), Jaysh al-Fatah (10,000), Sham Legion (4,000) and Ajnad al-Sham Islamic Union (3,000).

In the middle of this jungle is the Free Syrian Army, with 100,000 fighters, which was started by former Syrian officers. Everyone seems to fight them.

Geography further complicates the picture. The country has been heavily splintered. Different groups have different power bases. Of course, the more land you can conquer the more power you have.

In the North is the Kurdish group, which is another story altogether, because Kurds are known to be more moderate. But Turkey hates the Kurds. Just as Iran and Syria are supporting the Assad regime, countries like Saudi Arabia and Turkey are supporting their own rebel groups.

The point is this: Syria has become a complete, violent mess. When it comes to the most likely winners in this conflict, the choice has become evil versus evil. The good people of Syria who initially rose up against Assad, and the militias they organized, have been slowly crushed.

As much as it may satisfy us to punish Assad for using chemical weapons, it’s important to keep our eye on the whole picture. What can America do? At this point, not much. Six years ago, when the more moderate rebel forces were stronger, we could have given them military assistance and established no-fly zones. Would it have worked? Who knows? There’s no certainty when so many violent forces are at play.

What we do know today is that extremist groups have the upper hand pretty much everywhere and that Russia has established its own military presence. That limits our options. On the humanitarian front, we can certainly help establish safe zones to assist the millions of refugees. We can even order the occasional pinprick attack to show we’re still here and we have our limits, and the use of chemical weapons is one of them.

But let’s be real. There are no good options. The Syrian fire has gotten too big to simply suffocate. Yes, let’s stay vigilant. Let’s make sure things don’t get too out of hand and spill over into other countries (like Israel). But as vexed as I am to say this, when evil fights evil, sometimes the best option is to let them fight it out, and to help ensure no one wins.

As Daniel Pipes writes, “Iranian- and Russian-backed Shi’ite pro-government jihadis are best kept busy fighting Saudi-, Qatar-, and Turkish-backed anti-government Sunni jihadis; because Kurds, however appealing, are not contenders for control of the whole of Syria; and because Americans have no stomach for another Middle Eastern war.”

Trump can go on about how attacking Assad is a “vital U.S. interest,” but who’s he kidding? Is he ready to invite the head of ISIS to the White House for peace talks?

David Suissa is president of TRIBE Media Corp./Jewish Journal and can be reached at

Europe’s refugee crisis: An inside look with Maya Rimer

Photo by CBN Documentaries
CC BY-SA 3.0

The Refugee crisis in Europe, though seemingly distant and even sometimes obscure, is now actually more severe and relevant than ever. Every week thousands of immigrants are rescued from the Mediterranean, as many more enter from the east by any means possible.

2NJBIn Turkey millions of refugees, held back by Erdogan, await the opportunity to cross the border. As Europe is divided by the question of how to handle this influx of millions of immigrants, the situation in the refugee camps continues to worsen. But amidst this crisis there are rays of light and one of those rays are the many volunteers from all over the world who come to assist these migrants in need.

Maya Rimer recently returned from a period of 3 months working in refugee camps in Greece. Just before going back there, she came to tell 2NJB about her experience.

We also played some great music by the Wild Willows (Find them on Bandcamp too!)

Turkey’s president ratifies reconciliation deal with Israel

Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan signed the reconciliation agreement with Israel restoring diplomatic ties after a six-year freeze.

Erdogan  ratified the agreement on Wednesday. The Turkish Parliament approved the deal earlier this month before they left for a summer recess, after being delayed by the July 15 military coup attempt. Israel’s Knesset had approved the deal in late June.

Relations between Israel and Turkey broke down in the aftermath of the Mavi Marmara incident in May 2010, when Israeli commandos killed nine Turkish citizens in clashes on a boat attempting to break Israel’s Gaza blockade.

Under the agreement, Turkey will drop legal claims against the Israeli military and individual officers and soldiers who were part of the Mavi Marmara raid. Also, Israel will pay $20 million to a humanitarian fund as compensation to the families of the Mavi Marmara victims.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had previously apologized for the deaths, which had been another Turkish condition for the resumption of diplomatic ties.

Israel to pay Turkey $20 million in compensation after six-year rift

Turkish lawmakers on Wednesday submitted to parliament a settlement deal with Israel that would see Israel pay Ankara $20 million within 25 days in return for Turkey dropping outstanding legal claims, ending a six-year rift.

Relations between the two countries crumbled after Israeli marines stormed a Turkish ship in May 2010 to enforce a naval blockade of the Hamas-run Gaza Strip, killing 10 Turks on board.

Israel had already offered its apologies for the raid. Both countries are to appoint ambassadors, and Turkey is to pass legislation indemnifying Israeli soldiers as part of an agreement partly driven by the prospect of lucrative Mediterranean gas deals.

Turkey’s former attache to Israel reportedly confesses to planning coup

Turkey’s former military attache to Israel reportedly has confessed to plotting the failed military coup to unseat President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

Citing Turkey’s state-run Andalou news agency, The Times of Israel reported Monday that Akin Ozturk made the confession while under interrogation. In photos circulating in Turkish media Ozturk, who is also the former chief of the Turkish Air Force, appears to have a number of injuries to his head and upper body.

The coup began late Friday night and was quelled by the next day. More than 200 died during the attempt. Thousands of soldiers were rounded up on Sunday by forces loyal to the government on suspicion of being involved in the coup.

In statements to Turkish media over the weekend, Ozturk denied being involved in the attempted coup.

Ozturk, who retired from the Turkish army last year, was the country’s military attaché to Israel from 1996 to 1998, according to The Times of Israel.

Last month, Turkey and Israel formally reinstated diplomatic relations following a six-year freeze. On Monday, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said the coup attempt will have no effect on the agreement between the two countries.

A terror attack at an airport in Istanbul hours after the reconciliation deal was signed killed at least 41 and injured more than 230.

Turkey’s Erdogan survives 5th attempted coup

This article originally appeared on The Media Line.

At least 194 are dead and 1,154 wounded in a failed military coup in Turkey, including 49 civilians, 41 police officers, and 104 coup plotters.

In some of the more dramatic moments of the violence, pro-coup Sikorsky helicopters attacked Parliament in Ankara with gunfire and bombs late Friday and into the morning. 

“There was a loud explosion and lots of dust. It was hard to breathe,” İlhan Cihaner, a Member of Parliament from the opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP), told The Media Line. 

“Seven different parts of Parliament were attacked by the helicopter at the same moment.” 

Zeynep Altıok, another CHP MP, spoke to The Media Line from Parliament early Saturday afternoon while sporadic fighting continued outside.

“There are still attackers in the building,” she said. “Gunshots are continuing close to the main gate”

She described the extensive damage to the building.

“The Parliament was directly hit by one of the bombs,” she said. “If you saw a picture you wouldn’t even understand [where it was taken]. There’s that much damage here.”

The coup attempt started at around 10:00 p.m. Friday night as tanks shut down the two bridges spanning the Bosphorus, which separates the European and Asian sides of Istanbul, and a few low-flying F-16 fighter jets caused deafening sonic booms over Istanbul and Ankara.

Only a small portion of the armed forces participated in the coup attempt, including elements from the air force, the gendarmerie and the armed forces.

“It was a significant show of force but it was not a full show of force by the armed forces by any stretch of the imagination,” Paul T. Levin, Director of the Stockholm University Institute for Turkish Studies, told The Media Line.

Chief of General Staff Hulusi Akar was taken hostage by the plotters, who called themselves the “Peace in the Country Council.”

Pro-coup soldiers killed 17 policemen during an attack on the Gölbaşı Special Forces Department headquarters in the capital Ankara, which saw much of the most violent fighting.

Helicopters attacked a hotel in Marmaris where President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan had been staying less than two hours earlier. An F-16 also dropped bombs near the Presidential Palace in Ankara, killing five.

Soldiers raided the Doğan Media Center, briefly commandeering at least two television stations and a newspaper office, and forcing an announcer from national broadcaster TRT to read their official statement on live television and declare a curfew. 

While Levin stresses that it’s still too early to know much about the coup plotters, he says it may be related to a past struggle between the government and military. The armed forces staged three armed coups and one peaceful one in the past, and even between coups exercised a great deal of influence over the civilian government.

“There’s been a struggle [for] control over the military. The [ruling] AKP [Justice and Development Party] seem to be moving in now to assert control,” he said.

Two trials, the first starting in 2008, accused an alleged secret organization, including much of Turkey’s top military brass, of planning a violent coup. Hundreds of officers were taken into custody, but released in 2013 after it was discovered that much of the key evidence had been fabricated.

“My understanding is that the second tier or junior leadership of the army was extremely disgruntled and upset over the way that the senior leadership had let themselves be humiliated,” Levin said. 

The AKP and President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan have become increasingly authoritarian in recent years and hugely expanded their influence over almost all government institutions.

But, while the civilian government seems to have liberated itself from the military, the armed forces have resisted the AKP’s control.

“The military as an institution largely remained intact. It’s one of the few remaining institutions that’s been free from encroachments by the AKP,” Levin says.

The coup attempt seemed to draw little support, with all three opposition parties and several top generals quickly denouncing it, and many government supporters flooding the streets. Police forces also stayed loyal to the government. 

“It did seem very poorly coordinated,” Levin said. 

Early Saturday morning, two helicopters were shot down. Later, about fifty soldiers on the Bosphorus Bridge, some of whom had shot at civilians and police, surrendered. Some soldiers, most of whom appeared to be conscripts, were attacked and even beaten to death by pro government protestors. Hostages were freed.

By early evening, nearly 3,000 soldiers were in custody, including four generals and 29 colonels.

The AKP and Erdoğan accused their former ally and current arch-enemy Fethullah Gülen, a U.S.-based Islamic cleric and leader of a global movement, of orchestrating the coup, but offered little or no evidence. Gülen has denied the accusations. 

Nevertheless, Erdoğan described the coup as a “gift from God,” giving the government the impetus to ‘cleanse’ the military from alleged Gülen sympathizers.

Levin says the government is likely to respond to the failed coup with a crackdown.

On Saturday afternoon the government announced that 2745 judges, allegedly Gülen sympathizers, had been suspended, in yet another massive judicial purge.

Failed Turkey coup will not affect reconciliation with Israel, Netanyahu says

A reconciliation deal between Israel and Turkey will not be affected by the attempted military coup, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said.

“Israel and Turkey recently agreed on a reconciliation process between them. We assume that this process will continue without any connection to the dramatic events in Turkey over the weekend,” Netanyahu said Sunday at the weekly Cabinet meeting.

The reconciliation agreement between the two countries, which ended a six-year diplomatic freeze, was approved last month.

A terror attack at an airport in Istanbul hours after the deal was signed killed at least 41 and injured more than 230.

The coup began late Friday night and was quelled by the next day. More than 200 died during the coup attempt. Thousands of soldiers were rounded up on Sunday by forces loyal to the government on suspicion of being involved in the coup.

Turkey rounds up plot suspects after thwarting coup against Erdogan

Turkish authorities rounded up nearly 3,000 suspected military plotters on Saturday and ordered thousands of judges detained after thwarting a coup by rebels using tanks and attack helicopters to try to topple President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

For several hours overnight on Friday violence shook Turkey's two main cities, as the armed faction which tried to seize power blocked a bridge in Istanbul and strafed the headquarters of Turkish intelligence and parliament in Ankara.

At least 265 people were killed. An official said 161 of them were mostly civilians and police officers, while the remaining 104 were coup supporters.

But the coup attempt crumbled as Erdogan rushed back to Istanbul from a Mediterranean holiday and urged people to take to the streets to support his government against plotters he accused of trying to kill him.

“They will pay a heavy price for this,” said Erdogan, launching a purge of the armed forces, which last used force to stage a successful coup more than 30 years ago. “This uprising is a gift from God to us because this will be a reason to cleanse our army.”

Among those detained were top military commanders, including the head of the Second Army which protects the country's borders with Syria, Iraq and Iran, state-run Anadolu news agency said.

Hundreds of soldiers were held in Ankara for alleged involvement in the coup, leaving police stations overflowing.

Some had to be taken under armed police escort in buses to a sports stadium. Reuters footage showed some of the detainees, handcuffed and stripped from the waist up, sitting on the floor of one of the buses.

The government declared the situation under control, saying 2,839 people had been rounded up, from foot soldiers to senior officers, including those who formed “the backbone” of the rebellion.

Authorities also began a major crackdown in the judiciary over suspected links to U.S.-based cleric Fethullah Gulen, removing from their posts and ordering the detention of nearly 3,000 prosecutors and judges, including from top courts.

Erdogan has blamed the coup on supporters of Gulen, who he has frequently accused of trying to foment uprising in the military, media and judiciary.

Ten members of the High Council of Judges and Prosecutors and two members of the Constitutional Court have already been detained, officials said.


A successful overthrow of Erdogan, who has ruled the country of about 80 million people since 2003, would have marked another seismic shift in the Middle East, five years after the Arab uprisings erupted and plunged Turkey's southern neighbor Syria into civil war.

However, a failed coup attempt could still destabilize the NATO member and major U.S. ally that lies between the European Union and the chaos of Syria, with Islamic State bombers targeting Turkish cities and the government also at war with Kurdish separatists.

U.S. President Barack Obama expressed support for Turkey's government and urged parties on all sides of the crisis to avoid destabilizing the country and follow the rule of law. But his secretary of state, John Kerry, warned Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu that public suggestions of a U.S. role in the plot were “utterly false” and harmful to relations.

Erdogan, who had been holidaying on the southwest coast when the coup was launched, flew into Istanbul before dawn on Saturday and told thousands of flag-waving supporters at the airport that the government remained at the helm.

A polarizing figure whose Islamist-rooted ideology lies at odds with supporters of modern Turkey's secular principles, Erdogan said the plotters had tried to attack him in the resort town of Marmaris.

“They bombed places I had departed from right after I was gone,” he said. “They probably thought we were still there.”

Erdogan's AK Party has long had strained relations with the military, which has a history of mounting coups to defend secularism although it has not seized power directly since 1980.

His conservative religious vision for Turkey's future has also alienated many ordinary citizens who accuse him of authoritarianism. Police used heavy force in 2013 to suppress mass protests demanding more freedom.

He commands the admiration and loyalty of millions of Turks, however, particularly for raising living standards and restoring order to an economy once beset by regular crises, which grew 4.8 percent year-on-year in the first quarter.

The violence is likely to hit a tourism industry already suffering from the bombings, and business confidence is also vulnerable.


In a night that sometimes verged on the bizarre, Erdogan frequently took to social media, even though he is an avowed enemy of the technology when his opponents use it and frequently targets Twitter and Facebook.

He addressed the nation via a video calling service, appearing on the smartphone of a CNN Turk reporter who held it up to a studio camera.

He also urged Washington to deport Gulen, who lives in self-imposed exile in the United States. The cleric, who once supported Erdogan but became a leading adversary, condemned the attempted coup and said he played no role in it.

“As someone who suffered under multiple military coups during the past five decades, it is especially insulting to be accused of having any link to such an attempt. I categorically deny such accusations,” Gulen said in a statement.

Kerry said the United States was willing to help Turkey as it tries to identify those involved in the coup attempt, but made clear it would only act if there was evidence against Gulen.


Gunfire and explosions had rocked both Istanbul and Ankara through the night after soldiers took up positions in both cities and ordered state television to read out a statement declaring they had taken power. However, by dawn the noise of fighting had died down considerably.

About 50 soldiers involved in the coup surrendered on one of the bridges across the Bosphorus Strait in Istanbul after dawn on Saturday, abandoning their tanks with their hands raised in the air. Reuters witnesses saw government supporters attack the pro-coup soldiers who had surrendered.

By Saturday afternoon, CNN Turk reported that security forces had completed an operation against coup plotters at the headquarters of the military general staff. Security sources also said police detained about 100 military officers at an air base in the southeast.

Neighboring Greece arrested eight men aboard a Turkish military helicopter which landed in the northern city of Alexandroupolis on Saturday, the Greek police ministry said, adding that they had requested political asylum.

At one stage military commanders were held hostage by the plotters and by Saturday evening — 24 hours after the coup was launched — some operations against rebels were continuing.

Cavusoglu, the foreign minister, said soldiers at the Incirlik air base, used by the United States to launch air strikes on Islamic State targets in Syria, were involved in the attempt. He said Turkey would resume operations with the U.S.-led coalition once the anti-coup operations were completed.


The coup began with warplanes and helicopters roaring over Ankara and troops moving in to seal off the bridges over the Bosphorus, which separates Europe and Asia in Istanbul.

Turkish maritime authorities reopened the Bosphorus to transiting tankers after shutting the major trade route from the Black Sea to the Aegean for several hours for security and safety reasons.

In the early hours of Saturday, lawmakers hid in shelters inside the parliament building, which was fired on by tanks. An opposition deputy told Reuters that parliament was hit three times and people had been wounded.

When parliament convened later in the day, the four main political parties – running the gamut from Erdogan's right-wing Islamist-rooted AK Party to the left-of-center, pro-Kurdish Peoples' Democratic Party (HDP) – came together in a rare show of unity to condemn the attempted coup.

A Turkish military commander also said fighter jets had shot down a helicopter used by the coup plotters over Ankara.

Momentum turned against the coup plotters as the night wore on. Crowds defied orders to stay indoors, gathering at major squares in Istanbul and Ankara, waving flags and chanting.

“We have a prime minister, we have a chief of command, we're not going to leave this country to degenerates,” shouted one man, as groups of government supporters climbed onto a tank near Ataturk airport.

Kerry said he had phoned the Turkish foreign minister and underlined “absolute support for Turkey's democratically elected, civilian government and democratic institutions”.


Flag carrier Turkish Airlines resumed flights on Saturday, though some foreign carriers canceled weekend flights.

At the height of the action, rebel soldiers took control of TRT state television, which announced a countrywide curfew and martial law. An announcer read a statement on the orders of the pro-coup faction that accused the government of eroding the democratic and secular rule of law. Turkey would be run by a “peace council” that would ensure the safety of the population, the statement said.

Turkey is one of the main backers of opponents of President Bashar al-Assad in Syria's civil war and hosts 2.7 million Syrian refugees. It was a departure point last year for the biggest influx of migrants to Europe since World War Two.

Turkey has suffered numerous bombings and shootings this year, including an attack two weeks ago by Islamists at Ataturk airport that killed more than 40 people, as well as those staged by Kurdish militants.

After serving as prime minister from 2003, Erdogan was elected president in 2014 with plans to alter the constitution to give the previously ceremonial presidency far greater executive powers.

Turkish army says it seizes power; Erdogan says: ‘We will overcome this’

Turkey's military said on Friday it had seized power but President Recep Tayyip Erdogan vowed that the attempted coup would be put down.

If successful, the overthrow of Erdogan, who has ruled Turkey since 2003, would be one of the biggest shifts in the Middle East in years, transforming one of the most important U.S. allies while war rages on its border. Even if it fails, the coup attempt could destabilize a pivotal country in the region.

“We will overcome this,” Erdogan said, speaking on a video call to a mobile phone held up to the camera by an announcer on the Turkish sister station of CNN. He called on his followers to take to the streets to defend his government and said the coup plotters would pay a heavy price.

An official said Erdogan was speaking from Marmaris on the Turkish coast where he was on holiday. Erdogan said he would swiftly return to Ankara.

Prime Minister Binali Yildirim and other senior officials said the elected government remained in office. Yildirim called the coup attempt a terrorist act by gangs and illegal formations.

Television images showed scores of people, some waving Turkish flags, gathered in major squares in main city Istanbul and capital Ankara to show support for the elected government. Gunfire broke out in both cities.

Warplanes and helicopters roared over Ankara and explosions could be heard there. Reuters reporters saw a helicopter open fire. State-run news agency Anadolu said military helicopters had fired on the headquarters of the intelligence agency.

Reuters journalists saw tanks open fire near the parliament building in Ankara, which they had surrounded.

Airports were shut, access to Internet social media sites was cut off, and troops sealed off the two bridges over the Bosphorus in Istanbul, one of which was still lit up red, white and blue in solidarity with victims of the Bastille Day truck attack in France a day earlier.

Soldiers took control of TRT state television, which announced a countrywide curfew and martial law. An announcer read a statement on the orders of the military that accused the government of eroding the democratic and secular rule of law. The country would be run by a “peace council” that would ensure the safety of the population, the statement said.

TRT later went off the air.

Anadolu said the chief of Turkey's military staff was among people taken “hostage” in the capital Ankara. CNN Turk also reported that hostages were being held at the military headquarters.


A senior EU source monitoring the situation said: “It looks like a relatively well orchestrated coup by a significant body of the military, not just a few colonels. They've got control of the airports and are expecting control over the TV station imminently. They control several strategic points in Istanbul.

“Given the scale of the operation, it is difficult to imagine they will stop short of prevailing. It's not just a few colonels,” the source repeated.

One European diplomat was dining with the Turkish ambassador to a European capital when guests were interrupted by the pinging of urgent news on their mobile phones.

“This is clearly not some tinpot little coup. The Turkish ambassador was clearly shocked and is taking it very seriously,” the diplomat told Reuters as the dinner party broke up. “However it looks in the morning, this will have massive implications for Turkey. This has not come out of nowhere.”

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, speaking jointly after talks in Moscow, both said they hoped bloodshed would be avoided. The U.S. State Department said Americans in Turkey should shelter indoors. Other countries issued similar advice.

Turkey, a NATO member with the second biggest military in the Western alliance, is one of the most important allies of the United States in the fight against Islamic State, which seized swathes of neighboring Iraq and Syria.

Turkey is one of the main backers of opponents of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad in that country's civil war, host to 2.7 million Syrian refugees and launchpad last year for the biggest influx of migrants to Europe since World War Two.

Celebratory gunfire erupted in Syria's capital Damascus as reports emerged that Erdogan had been toppled. People took the streets to celebrate there and in other government-held cities.

Turkey has been at war with Kurdish separatists, and has suffered numerous bombing and shooting attacks this year, including an attack two weeks ago by Islamists at Istanbul's main airport that killed more than 40 people.

In an earlier statement sent by email and reported on TV channels, the military said it had taken power to protect the democratic order and to maintain human rights. All of Turkey's existing foreign relations would be maintained and the rule of law would remain the priority, it said.

After serving as prime minister from 2003, Erdogan was elected president in 2014 with plans to alter the constitution to give the previously ceremonial presidency far greater executive powers.

Turkey has enjoyed an economic boom during his time in office and has dramatically expanded its influence across the region. But opponents say his rule has become increasingly authoritarian.

His AK Party, with roots in Islamism, has long had a strained relationship with the military and nationalists in a state that was founded on secularist principles after World War One. The military has a history of mounting coups to defend secularism, but has not seized power directly since 1980.

Prime Minister Yildirim said a group within Turkey's military had attempted to overthrow the government and security forces have been called in to “do what is necessary”.

“Some people illegally undertook an illegal action outside of the chain of command,” Yildirim said in comments broadcast by private channel NTV.

“The government elected by the people remains in charge. This government will only go when the people say so.”

Turkey’s Erodgan safe as group in military attempts coup, presidential source says

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is safe, a presidential source said on Friday, adding that a statement made on behalf of the armed forces announcing a takeover of the government was not authorised by the military command.

The source also urged the world to “stand in solidarity” with the Turkish people.

Turkey's military said on Friday it had seized power, but the prime minister said the attempted coup would be put down.

Turkey, Egypt, Africa: How ‘hard-liner’ Netanyahu pulled off a diplomacy trifecta

The conventional wisdom has it that earning the sobriquet “the most right-wing government in Israeli history” does not lead to diplomatic successes.

In recent weeks, on the Turkish, Egyptian and African fronts, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is proving the conventional wisdom wrong.

How is it that the head of a government beating a hasty retreat from the two-state solution scored a triumphant tour of Africa, hosted a convivial summit with an Egyptian foreign minister for the first time in nearly a decade and renewed full ties with Turkey?

Here’s a look at what Netanyahu’s diplomatic successes mean – and their limitations.

Oh, Bibi, Bibi, it’s a wild world

Donald Trump, the presumptive Republican presidential nominee, talks about retreating from America’s preeminent role in the world. Although he is adamant that he is pro-Israel, Trump has suggested he could charge Israel for the billions in defense assistance it receives.

Similarly Europe, overwhelmed by a refugee crisis, is becoming more insular and, for the first time in decades, faces the prospect of falling apart as a common political force, with Britain’s planned exit from the European Union and other countries contemplating similar actions.

Meantime, calls to target Israel – or its settlements – with boycotts are increasing across the continent.

“In Israel, there’s broad recognition for no substitute for the U.S-Israel alliance. It remains crucial,” said Jonathan Schanzer, a vice president at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, a think tank with a focus on the Middle East. “There’s also a recognition that we are going through a turbulent period, and from a diplomatic perspective there are ways to defray some of these challenges.”

Among them: Enhance security ties with Egypt, reinvigorate decades-old ties in Africa and mend ties with Turkey.

The shared Sinai threat

The vastness of Egypt’s Sinai peninsula, its strategic positioning between Asia and Africa, and the porous nature of its Red Sea and Mediterranean Sea coasts have been like catnip to terrorist groups like al-Qaida and the Islamic State.

That poses a shared challenge to Israel and Egypt, and has helped already friendly ties between the nations; Israel was one of the few countries to celebrate the 2013 coup that removed the Muslim Brotherhood-led government and brought to power Egyptian President Abdel Fatah al-Sissi.

Israel in recent months quietly has allowed Egyptian forces entry back into the peninsula, effectively allowing Egypt to abrogate one of the tenets, demilitarization, of the 1979 Camp David Peace Agreement. Commensurately, Egypt has allowed Israel to target terrorists with drones.

“You have a closely coordinated counterterrorism strategy in the Sinai,” Schanzer said. “You have intelligence sharing, increased numbers of Israelis are operating in the Sinai.”

That helps explain why Sissi was willing to send his foreign minister, Sameh Shoukry, to Israel this week for a high-profile visit – effectively warming up a peace that Sissi’s predecessors preferred to keep cool. Keeping the Sinai secure trumped the domestic blowback Sissi knew he would endure for the visit.

Preempting the Palestinians, France and (maybe) the Obama administration

The French are trying to kick-start peace talks with the Palestinians under an international umbrella. The Palestinians hope to advance statehood recognition during the U.N. General Assembly launch in September. And President Barack Obama may deliver his own post-U.S. election surprise, setting out the U.S. parameters for a final-status arrangement.

All are anathema to Netanyahu, who favors direct talks with the Palestinians, where Israel is able to exercise greater leverage. Shoukry, the Egyptian foreign minister, appeared to favor the direct talks track, saying his visit was part of Sissi’s “vision for establishing peace between the Israeli and Palestinian peoples — bringing this long conflict to an end.”

Bringing Egypt into the configuration increases pressure on the Palestinian Authority president, Mahmoud Abbas, to return to direct talks, said David Makovsky, a fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy. Egypt is the P.A.’s lead patron in the Arab world, and Abbas can ill afford to alienate Sissi.

“While the PA president has had no problem rejecting Netanyahu’s call to resume talks amid disbelief that anything concrete will emerge from them, bringing Egypt into the picture raises the cost of any such rejection,” Makovsky wrote on the think tank’s website.

Turkey is more about what Erdogan needs

Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Turkey’s president, pressed for the rupture with Israel in 2010 after Israel’s deadly raid on a Palestinian convoy aiming to breach Israel’s blockade with Gaza. Now he’s the force behind the reconciliation.

Erdogan is dealing with restive Kurds in the south, the chaos in Syria across his country’s border and the blowback from his decision recently to take tougher measures against the Islamic State. He needs to smooth waters elsewhere.

Reestablishing ties with Israel not only returns an important trade partner to eminence and restores full security ties at a time of crisis, it addresses a longstanding U.S. demand that its two most important allies in the Middle East reconcile.

“Erdogan is starting to realize he’s overstretched; Turkey is dealing with so many problems at once,” said Ilan Goldenberg, the director of the Middle East Security Program at the Center for a New American Security think tank. “Erdogan is realizing he has to pull back.”

Back to Africa

The last time there was a movement on the rise to isolate Israel — in the wake of the 1973 Yom Kippur War, when the Arab League used oil leverage to pressure third parties to join their boycott — Israel countered by quietly reinforcing ties in Africa.

The ties, established in the 1950s and 1960s, already were a point of pride for Israel, identifying the Jewish state not as a colonial anomaly, as the Arab nations would have it, but as a postcolonial triumph of an indigenous people.

That very much was the point of Netanyahu’s four-nation African tour, said Schanzer.

“One gets the sense we’re revisiting history amid the new boycott movement — and it’s yielding dividends,” he said.

The tour coincided with the 40th anniversary of an Israeli commando raid on Entebbe in Uganda, where terrorists were holding Israeli airplane passengers with the sanction of the country’s then dictator, Idi Amin. Netanyahu’s elder brother, Yoni, was killed leading the rescue effort.

But the tour was more than symbolic, participants said. Netanyahu traveled with 80 men and women representing some 50 businesses, and was well prepared to assist them, according to Yosef Abramowitz, CEO of Energiya Global Capital, a Jerusalem-based solar energy and social development enterprise.

Abramowitz said he shook hands on $1 billion worth of deals during the four-nation tour.

“A fully coordinated government initiative brilliantly executed in every country by the Prime Minister’s Office, the embassies and the Israel Export Institute, it was clockwork,” he said.

Turkish ship with Gaza-bound aid docks at Ashdod, first since reconciliation

A Turkish ship packed with aid for the Gaza Strip arrived in Israel, the first since Turkey and Israel reached a reconciliation deal that allows such transfers.

The cargo ship docking at Ashdod, just north of Gaza, on Sunday afternoon was bearing 10,000 tons of humanitarian equipment and food, Haaretz reported.

Israel and Turkey last month agreed to fully reestablish ties ruptured by Israel’s raid on a Turkish-flagged aid flotilla in 2010. Israeli commandos killed 10 Turkish nationals in violent encounters during the raid on the Mavi Marmara, one of the ships attempting to breach a blockade on the strip imposed by Israel after the 2009 Gaza war with Hamas.

As part of the deal, Israel is keeping the blockade in place but is easing the transfer of Turkish aid to the strip.

Israel also will pay $20 million in compensation to the families of the Turkish nationals. Turkey will press Hamas to return the bodies of two Israeli soldiers slain during wars with Hamas and two Israeli citizens still being held in the strip.

The families of the slain soldiers and their supporters protested the arrival of the ship, Haaretz reported.

Istanbul airport terror attack kills 41, injures at least 230; no Israeli casualties reported

Israel’s Foreign Ministry is working to determine whether any Israeli citizens were injured in a suicide bombing Tuesday night in Turkey that killed 41 people and injured at least 230.

Three bombers blew themselves up at Istanbul’s Ataturk Airport, the third busiest in Europe, after opening fire at the entrance to the airport’s international terminal, according to media reports. Police had returned fire.

In March, a bombing in a tourist section of Istanbul killed three Israelis and injured several others. The same month, a suicide bombing at an airport in Brussels killed 32 people and injured more than 300.

The airport attack in Istanbul came on the same day that Israel and Turkey signed a reconciliation deal ending a six-year break in diplomatic relations.

According to the Times of Israel, the Israeli diplomats who were at the airport at the time of the Tuesday night attack were unharmed. Israeli diplomats said that no Israeli tourists were among the victims taken to the hospital.

Even during the diplomatic chill, Israel was one of the busiest routes for Turkish Airlines, with 695,000 Israelis flying round trip with the airline in 2014 and eight daily flights on the Tel Aviv-Istanbul route.

Turkish Airlines flights from Tel Aviv were suspended in the wake of the attack.

“The only two flights from Ataturk to Tel Aviv this evening have already landed. A flight to Istanbul took off about an hour ago — and will surely land in a different airport. Two Turkish Airlines flights were due to depart tonight to Istanbul, and we recommend that members of the public due to fly with the company keep updated online,” the Israel Airports Authority said soon after the attacks.

Israeli president sends condolence letter to Turkey in wake of airport attack, welcomes renewed ties

Israeli President Reuven Rivlin sent a letter of condolence to his Turkish counterpart in the aftermath of the terror attack at an Istanbul airport that has killed at least 41 and injured more than 230.

Three suicide bombers opened fire on passengers in the international terminal at the Ataturk Airport on Tuesday night before detonating themselves.

The attack came hours after Israel and Turkey signed a reconciliation deal ending a six-year break in diplomatic relations.

“This cowardly, murderous act is an example of the most vitriolic hatred the like of which we are sadly seeing across our region and the entire world today,” Rivlin wrote to Recep Tayyip Erdoğan in the letter sent Wednesday, in which he also offered Israeli assistance in recovering from the attack. “I take this opportunity to welcome the chance to renew our good relationship especially because our strengthened dialogue will greatly aid in our joint efforts against this threat, and because it sends a strong message to the terrorists that we will stand united against hatred.”

Turkey had cut off diplomatic relations with Israel in 2010 after Israeli commandos killed nine Turkish citizens on a boat that was attempting to break through Israel’s blockade of Gaza.

As Time reported, Turkish commentator Mustafa Akyol tweeted that the timing of the Istanbul bombing, just after the reconciliation deal was signed in Jerusalem and Ankara, may not have been a coincidence — suggesting the attack could have involved anti-Israel undertones.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu issued a statement Tuesday “strongly condemning” the attack.

“All civilized nations must stand together to fight the scourge of terrorism,” the statement said.

Israeli diplomats who were at the airport at the time of the attack were unharmed. Israeli diplomats said that no Israeli tourists were among the victims taken to the hospital.

At least one Palestinian was confirmed killed and seven Palestinians injured in the attack. Among the other foreign nationals killed were people from Saudi Arabia, Iraq, Tunisia, Uzbekistan, China, Iran, Ukraine and Jordan, according to reports.

Israel’s embassy in Ankara condemned the attack and extended its condolences on Wednesday.

Though no group has claimed responsibility for the attack, Turkish officials have said it appears to have been mounted by the Islamic State.

The airport, the third busiest in Europe, was up and running by Wednesday morning.


Israel’s Security Cabinet approves Turkey reconciliation deal

Israel’s Security Cabinet approved the reconciliation agreement with Turkey restoring diplomatic ties after a six-year freeze.

Following a discussion of more than four hours, the Security Cabinet voted 7-3 to approve the deal, with Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman, Education Minister Naftali Bennett and Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked dissenting.

Relations between Israel and Turkey broke down in the aftermath of the Mavi Marmara incident in 2010, when Israeli commandos boarded and killed nine Turkish citizens in clashes on a boat attempting to break Israel’s Gaza blockade. The votes against the agreement were in part over the payment of reparations to the families of the Mavi Marmara victims.


The Security Cabinet also said it would take up a discussion on the conditions of incarceration of Hamas prisoners in Israel as long as the issue of the bodies of two Israeli soldiers presumed dead and two Israeli citizens being held in Gaza is unresolved.

As part of the agreement, Turkey has committed to help pressure Hamas to repatriate the soldiers, Oron Shaul and Hadar Goldin, and the citizens, Avra Mangisto and Hisham Al-Said, being held there.

Under the deal, Israel will create a $20 million humanitarian fund as compensation to the families of the Mavi Marmara victims, which would not be released until Turkey passes legislation closing claims against the Israeli military for the deaths. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has apologized for the deaths, another Turkish condition for the resumption of diplomatic ties.

Turkey withdrew its demand that Israel halt its Gaza blockade, but Israel will allow Turkey to establish building projects in Gaza with the building materials entering Gaza through Israel’s Ashdod Port. The building projects reportedly include a hospital, power station and desalinization plant.

Turkey and Israel Spin Normalization Deal in Their Favor

Turkish and Israeli officials announced on Monday a long-awaited rapprochement and reestablishment of formal diplomatic relations after being severed six years ago.

“We are very very happy,” Ivo Molinas, the editor-in-chief of Turkish Jewish newspaper Şalom and an advisor to Turkey’s Jewish community, told the Media Line. “One of the things we love the most is to see Israel and Turkey as friends.” 

The reconciliation deal brings to end the freeze in relations over events on the Mavi Marmara, the lead ship in a humanitarian flotilla to the Gaza Strip organized in part by the Turkish Humanitarian Relief Foundation (İHH) in May 2010. Israeli forces killed ten Turkish activists in a violent clash when the ship they tried to breach the military blockade around Gaza.

Turkish Prime Minister Binali Yıldırım announced that ambassadors will be exchanged within weeks. But Israel denied one of Ankara’s original conditions, a lifting of the Gaza blockade. The two sides agreed that any aid for Gaza will be subject to Israeli inspection and go through the Israeli port of Ashdod.

However, as part of the deal, which officials from both countries have been quietly working on since last year, all current and future claims against Israeli soldiers involved in the flotilla raid will be dropped. Israel will also create a $20 million humanitarian fund as compensation for the families of those killed. That provision sparked criticism in Israel with one former politician Gideon Saar calling it a “national humiliation.”

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu defended the deal calling it an agreement of “strategic importance” for the state of Israel, adding that it protects all of the Israeli soldiers involved from “all criminal and civil claims.”

Turkey will provide humanitarian relief to the Hamas-run Gaza Strip, with a 10,000-ton aid shipment to be sent to the Israeli port city Ashdod on Friday. Ankara will also build a 200-bed hospital, a power station and a desalination drinking-water plant in Gaza. 

Umut Uzer, a professor at Istanbul Technical University with expertise in Turkish-Israeli relations, says that Turkey can play a very positive role now that it has good relations with both the Palestinians and Israel.

“Let’s hope that Turkey will have a moderating influence on Gaza, by opening hospitals,” and other humanitarian activities, he told the Media Line. “That would be beneficial for Israel as well.”

Uzer said it’s time for Ankara to stop choosing sides.

“A more balanced approach would be beneficial for both peoples, both the Palestinians and Israelis.”

A major complaint from Israel has been Ankara’s hosting of the Islamist Hamas movement, which governs Gaza and which Israel, the United States and the European Union classify as a terrorist organization.

“Israel believes that many of the terrorist attacks performed in the West Bank are planned in Turkey,” Karel Valansi, a columnist with Şalom who writes about Turkish foreign policy in the Middle East, told The Media Line. “Following the deal Hamas will stay in Turkey but Ankara will control their activities. It has to be only political. Turkey may become a facilitator between Israel and Hamas.”

Hamas took over Gaza in 2007, and has ruled the Strip until then. Israeli officials say Hamas continues to dig tunnels to attack Israel, and has called on Turkey to stop supporting Hamas.

“It is a sore point,” former Israeli Parliament member for the Yesh Atid party Dov Lipman, recently returned from a trip to Turkey, told the Media Line. “We still view Hamas as a terror organization that seeks our destruction.”

Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdoğan met with Hamas leader Khaled Meshal over the weekend, and said the government won’t expel the organization from Turkey. However, Turkish officials pledged to not support terror activities in Israel and to not allow Hamas to fundraise or conduct military operations from Turkish territory against Israel.

Professor Uzer says Turkey’s ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) is close with Hamas and can use its influence over the group in a more positive way.

“I think Turkey could and should put more pressure on Hamas as far as military operations are concerned.”

Uzer says Turkey has been working hard for the rapprochement out of necessity for good regional relations.

“The fact that Turkey’s Middle Eastern policy has collapsed […] and also that things got really bad with Russia [after Turkey shot down a Russian military jet last November], doesn’t leave many friendly countries in the region,” he says. 

Despite the collapse of political relations, economic relations have been steadily growing between Turkey and Israel, and further expansion provided another incentive for the normalization of ties.

Former Israeli parliamentarian Lipman says the reconciliation deal between Israel and Turkey has economic benefits for both sides. He said that Israel could sell natural gas, past of a very large field recently discovered, to Turkey.

“The economic benefits – especially with regards to gas – are huge,” he says, referring to the massive, recently discovered Leviathan gas field off the coast of Haifa.

The field could be hooked up to Turkey’s existing gas pipelines, selling to the Turkish market and delivering to Europe through Turkey, but no formal agreements are in place.

But Professor Uzer expresses caution at such an early stage.

“Yes, there’s natural gas, no doubt, but can it be transported to Europe, that’s something that needs to be explored economically and politically,” he says. “It sounds very exciting but I’m not so sure if it’s economically and politically feasible.”

Molinas says that the poor relations with Israel magnified anti-Semitism in the Turkish media and political discourse.

“We want to forget these past six years which were not so easy, especially the first years after the Mavi Marmara incident,” he said. “Now we hope that this harsh anti-Semitic climate will soften in a short time,” he says.

Lipman said the anti-Semitism in Turkey also had very negative affects in Israel.

“Some comments made by Turkish leaders have been taken very badly. We are not happy about any hints of extremism or anti-Jewish beliefs and ideologies. These are very concerning and lead to lack of trust.”

However, Lipman says most Israelis are happy that relations have improved.

“Israelis really like the Turkish people and Turkish culture. They would love for there to be a strong relationship with the Turkish people,” he said. “Hopefully, things can calm down and we can see a lot of tourism in both directions.”

Israel, Turkey sign reconciliation deal

The foreign ministries of Israel and Turkey simultaneously signed a reconciliation agreement on Tuesday, six years after relations were cut off.

The director of Israel’s Foreign Ministry, Dore Gold, signed the agreement in Jerusalem. The identical agreement was signed in Ankara by Turkey’s undersecretary for foreign affairs, Feridun Hadi Sinirlioğlu, who had led his country’s negotiating team.

The agreement had been formally announced a day earlier.

“Israel has made an important strategic agreement in terms of security, regional stability and the Israeli economy,” Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Monday afternoon in Rome, where he had briefed U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry on the agreement.

Relations between Israel and Turkey broke down in the aftermath of the Mavi Marmara incident in 2010, when Israeli commandos boarded and killed nine Turkish citizens in clashes on a boat attempting to break Israel’s Gaza blockade.

Israel’s Security Cabinet is expected to approve the agreement when it votes on Wednesday even though Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman, Education Minister Naftali Bennett and Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked have said they would vote against it.

Under the deal, Israel will create a $20 million humanitarian fund as compensation to the families of the Mavi Marmara victims, which would not be released until Turkey passes legislation closing claims against the Israeli military for the deaths. Netanyahu has apologized for the deaths, another Turkish condition for the resumption of diplomatic ties.

Turkey withdrew its demand that Israel halt its Gaza blockade, but Israel will allow Turkey to establish building projects in Gaza with the building materials entering Gaza through Israel’s Ashdod Port. The building projects reportedly include a hospital, power station and desalinization plant.

Turkey also has agreed to assist in repatriating two Israeli citizens and the bodies of two Israeli soldiers being held by Hamas in Gaza.


Dozens killed, more than 100 wounded in suicide attack at Istanbul airport

UPDATED 4:02pm

Three suicide bombers opened fire before blowing themselves up at the entrance to the main international airport in Istanbul, killing at least 28 people, the provincial governor said earlier.

The number of people wounded in Tuesday's attack on Istanbul's main international airport rose to 106, broadcaster NTV said, citing hospital sources, while another network, Haberturk, said the number was 147, citing a justice minister.

Police fired shots to try to stop the attackers just before they reached a security checkpoint at the arrivals hall of the Ataturk airport but they blew themselves up, one of the officials said.

Speaking in parliament, Justice Minister Bekir Bozdag said that based on initial information he could only confirm there had been one attacker.

“According to information I have received, at the entrance to the Ataturk Airport international terminal a terrorist first opened fire with a Kalashnikov and then blew themself up,” he said in comments broadcast by CNN Turk.

There was no immediate claim of responsbility for the attack.

Ataturk is Turkey's largest airport and a major transport hub for international travellers. Pictures posted on social media from the site showed wounded people lying on the ground inside and outside one of the terminal buildings.

A witness told Reuters security officials prevented his taxi and other cars from entering the airport at around 9:50 pm (1850 GMT). Drivers leaving the terminal shouted “Don't enter! A bomb exploded!” from their windows to incoming traffic, he said.

Television footage showed ambulances rushing to the scene. One witness told CNN Turk that gunfire was heard from the car park at the airport. Taxis were ferrying wounded people from the airport, the witness said.


The head of Red Crescent, Kerem Kinik, said on CNN Turk that people should go to blood donation centres and not hospitals to give blood and called on people to avoid main roads to the airport to avoid blocking path of emergency vehicles.

Authorities halted the takeoff of scheduled flights from the airport and passengers were transferred to hotels, a Turkish Airlines official said. Earlier an airport official said some flights to the airport had been diverted.

Turkey has suffered a spate of bombings this year, including two suicide attacks in tourist areas of Istanbul blamed on Islamic State, and two car bombings in the capital, Ankara, which were claimed by a Kurdish militant group.

In the most recent attack, a car bomb ripped through a police bus in central Istanbul during the morning rush hour, killing 11 people and wounding 36 near the main tourist district, a major university and the mayor's office.

Turkey, which is part of the U.S.-led coalition against Islamic State, is also fighting Kurdish militants in its largely Kurdish southeast.

Netanyahu formally announces reconciliation deal with Turkey

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu formally announced a reconciliation agreement with Turkey, ending a six-year cut in diplomatic ties.

“Israel has made an important strategic agreement in terms of security, regional stability, and the Israeli economy,” Netanyahu said Monday afternoon in Rome.

Turkish Prime Minister Binali Yildirim made an announcement simultaneously in Ankara. The agreement will be signed on Tuesday in Jerusalem and in Ankara.

Israeli news outlets reported that the agreement had been reached in Rome on Sunday, citing an unnamed senior Israeli official involved with the negotiations.

“I don’t run the country according to tweets or headlines, but according to what is good for the country’s security, economy and interests,” Netanyahu said. “This agreement is important and isn’t devoid of criticism. Gas and the Israeli economy will be promoted by the agreement. This doesn’t mean we’ve started a honeymoon period, and I’m not trying to embellish [the agreement]. But our critical interests are promoted by this deal.”

Relations between Israel and Turkey broke down in the aftermath of the Mavi Marmara incident in 2010, when Israeli commandos boarded and killed nine Turkish citizens in clashes on a boat attempting to break Israel’s Gaza blockade.

Netanyahu enumerated the seven main points of the agreement,  including protecting the commanders and fighters of the Israel Defense Forces from criminal and civil charges; maintaining the naval blockade of Gaza, and assistance from Turkey in repatriating two Israeli citizens and the bodies of two Israeli soldiers being held by Hamas in Gaza.

Netanyahu also said the agreement “opens the door to cooperation on economic and energy issues,” including selling natural gas to Turkey.

The family of Hadar Goldin, one of the soldiers whose body is being held by Hamas, rejected the deal, saying Netanyahu acted in opposition to his promises that the deal would return their son’s body and that of Oron Shaul. Both soldiers were killed during Israel’s 2014 war with Hamas in Gaza.

Lieberman, majority of Israelis oppose Turkey reconciliation deal

More than half of Israelis oppose the newly announced reconciliation deal with Turkey, according to a Channel 10 poll.

In addition, Israeli Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman said he is against the deal, several Israeli media outlets reported Monday.

Channel 10’s poll found that 56 percent of Israelis oppose the deal that ends a six-year break in diplomatic ties between the two countries, while another 11 percent has no opinion, i24 news reported.

Under the deal, to be signed Tuesday in Jerusalem and Ankara, Israel will pay $20 million in compensation to the families of the nine Turkish citizens killed in a 2010 raid on a ship, the Mavi Marmara, attempting to break Israel’s Gaza blockade, Turkish Prime Minister Binali Yildirim said, according to i24news.

Critics of the deal include those who object that it does not demand that Turkey use its influence with Hamas to  resolve the fate of two Israeli soldiers killed in Gaza and whose remains have never been repatriated. Others say Israel does not owe an apology or compensation to those killed on the Mavi Marmara ship because the activists attacked the Israeli soldiers.

Lieberman, who sees Turkey as unrepentant antagonist of Israel,  said he plans to vote against the deal when it comes before the security cabinet later this week. “We won’t make a campaign out of it just as I didn’t in my opposition to the [Gilad] Shalit deal at the time, but my position is known,” he said.

Lieberman was referring to the 2011 Israel-Hamas deal in which Israeli prisoner Gilad Shalit was released in exchange for the release of 1,027 Palestinian prisoners.

The Channel 10 poll, which interviewed 500 Jewish Israelis and 100 Arab Israelis, found that while Arabs mostly supported (72 percent) the deal, Jews mostly opposed (65 percent) it.

The poll’s margin of error was 4.2 percent.