Following the recent developments in Nagorno-Karabakh, Presidents Aliyev and Pashinyan were supposed to meet in Granada, Spain on October 5. Only days before the scheduled meeting, French Foreign Minister Colonna visited Yerevan where she said: “I would like to publicly state that France has agreed on future contracts with Armenia which will allow the delivery of military equipment to Armenia so that it can ensure its defense.” You’ll understand that I can’t go into more detail at the moment.” A few days later, citing unnamed sources, Azerbaijani media said that Mr. Aliyev had decided against the Granada meeting after France and Germany allegedly objected to President Erdoğan’s participation in the talks. French promise to send arms to Armenia was only a knee-jerk reaction, a reflection of Paris’ colonial instincts during times of trouble in Africa. It undermines efforts to achieve peace. Should Paris be interested in peace-making somewhere, it can turn to Libya, a country that was completely devastated thanks to the Sarkozy-led intervention in violation of a UN Security Council Resolution.
In Granada, Prime Minister Pashinyan met with President Michel of the European Council, President, and Chancellor Scholz. In a statement issued after the meeting by Charles Michel, Emmanuel Macron, and Olaf Scholz underlined their unwavering support to the independence, sovereignty, territorial integrity, and inviolability of the borders of Armenia. In an oblique reference to the Zangezur corridor, they called for greater regional cooperation and the re-opening of all borders, including the border between Armenia and Türkiye, as well as for the “opening of regional connectivity links” based on full respect of countries’ sovereignty and jurisdiction, as well as on the principles of equality and reciprocity.[i]
As I said in my last post, what Baku and Yerevan now need is constructive advice on dealing with the current challenges and moving toward lasting peace, not encouragement for continued conflict. They need to be told to bury the hatchet for good. Because the two countries are and will remain neighbors. The lasting enmity between them has only proved destructive for both. Today, they are almost where they were more than three decades ago after enormous suffering, devastation, and loss of life. Hopefully, a meeting between the leaders of Armenia and Azerbaijan will be held sooner than later.
The big shock of the past week was Hamas’ unprecedented attack on Israel on the 50th anniversary of the Yom Kippur War. Prime Minister Netanyahu immediately declared that Israel was at war. Later Israel formally declared war against Hamas to carry out a wider mobilization of military reserves. Already hundreds have lost their lives on both sides.
As Israel’s longest-serving Prime Minister, Mr. Netanyahu has done great services to his country. He has successfully steered the Trump administration’s Middle East policy to Israel’s advantage and secured firstly, the recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital by Washington, and secondly, the normalization of relations between Israel, the UAE, Bahrain, Sudan, and Morocco through the “Abraham Accords”. These countries reached out to Israel because while Iran exports revolution, Israel exports technology and know-how. All of this made the question of Palestine somewhat of a secondary issue.
Benjamin Netanyahu was already the longest-serving prime minister in the country’s history, having served for 15 years. The problem was he just could not let it go. The October 2022 election was Israel’s fifth in less than four years and it brought him back to power with the Israeli far-right. From day one his coalition government’s plan to “overhaul” Israel’s legal system led to massive protests by Israelis committed to democracy. Moreover, the increased pace of settlement activity in the West Bank led to growing tensions with the Palestinians.
Yet, the main topic of the past weeks was a rapprochement between Israel and Saudi Arabia. Reportedly, Riyadh was seeking security guarantees from Washington and US support for the development of a civilian nuclear program, both of which could face resistance among Biden’s allies in Congress. To sell the deal at home, Saudi Arabia was also pushing Israel to make undefined concessions to the Palestinians, something that has met with opposition from members of the most religious and right-wing government in Israel’s history.
Interestingly, Asharq Al-Awsat, citing Haaretz, had reported last Tuesday that Israel was considering a series of measures to de-escalate tension in the Gaza Strip by expanding the number of permits it issues to Gazans allowing them to work in Israel. Moreover, it said that President Biden had told Prime Minister Netanyahu during their meeting in New York last week that preventing violent escalation against the Palestinians would help the US administration strengthen communications with Saudi Arabia.[ii] In other words, some trouble was expected, but not this.
The only thing one can predict at the moment is that this is going to be one of the bloodiest confrontations between Israel and the Palestinians. Whether Mr. Netanyahu would survive the war as a political leader is a question. Looking at the past I am tempted to say he might. But there are other questions more important than his political survival:
- What would the current turmoil entail for the highly tense relations between Iran and Israel?
- Mr. Netanyahu has said that Israel will “exact a huge price” on Hamas. How would the Arab countries react if the war extends to the punishment of the Palestinians beyond Hamas and Hezbollah? The latter has said that the attacks were “a message to those seeking normalization with Israel”.
- What would be the long-term implications for the already shelved two-state solution?
- What if Israel were to invade Gaza and stay there? After all, the Gaza Strip is 41km (25 miles) long and 10km wide, an enclave bounded by the Mediterranean Sea, Israel, and Egypt. But with 2.1 million inhabitants it is a densely populated area making military operations costly in terms of human life.
- The West was unanimous in voicing support for Israel following the Hamas attacks. With the Ukraine conflict turning into a grinding war, how the Global South would react to a new “long war” in the Middle East where the West has clearly taken sides?
This new war could not come at a worse moment for the improved Israeli-Turkish relations. Türkiye’s Energy minister was supposed to visit Israel soon. President Erdoğan recently said that Mr. Netanyahu would visit Türkiye in October or November and that he would pay a return visit to Israel after that. The transport of Israel’s natural gas to Europe appeared high on the agenda.
On Saturday, the Turkish Ministry of Foreign Affairs issued a well-balanced statement saying that Türkiye is ready to contribute to the best of its ability to ensure that these developments can be taken under control before they escalate further and spread to a wider area.[iii]
This was a sound statement. Ankara would be wise not to engage in the inflammatory anti-Israel rhetoric of the past years, continue with this balanced approach, and urge restraint to both sides. Such an attitude would also rhyme with Ankara’s declared support for lasting peace between Armenia and Azerbaijan.
A country’s foreign policy is shaped by its identity, sense of belonging, world outlook, and geographic location. This last one is a constant; others are subject to evolution, change, and definition/redefinition within the limits of reason. Geographic location has placed Türkiye in the middle of three conflict areas, the Balkans, the Caucasus, and the Middle East. Sadly, our identity is changing. Nonetheless, we must at least not lose sight of our long-term interests in a turbulent neighborhood. Our interests lie in the pursuit of peace, not self-defeating ideological obsessions.
Another tragic development of the past week in the broad Middle East was the powerful earthquakes that struck western Afghanistan last week, resulting in the death of more than 2,000 people, with the death toll likely to rise. Afghanistan is still on the map but sadly no longer on the minds of the countries that turned it into the cruel hands of the Taliban of the Middle Ages.
The world is suffering from wars, the earlier-than-expected consequences of the climate crisis. But the most serious problem confronting the world is the lack of global leadership.