Those Chemical Weapons

"Just before departing for Jordan on Friday, Obama scored a diplomatic coup when Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu apologized to Turkey for a 2010 commando raid that killed nine activists on a Turkish vessel in a Gaza-bound flotilla,"  said CNN.  Prime Minister Netanyahu explained that the urgent need to deal with Syria motivated his call to Erdogan.  But Erdogan's subsequent response made it appear the apology was the only first payment in a long series of installments now scheduled to be paid.

The Washington Times said that  Erdogan explained, in a public address, that there would be no quick restoration of ties with Israel.

“We have said: ‘An apology will be made, compensation will be paid, and the blockade on Palestine will be lifted. There will be no normalization without these,” he said. “Normalization will happen the moment there is an implementation. But if there is no implementation, then I am sorry.”

These words were characterized as playing to the gallery; that it "was largely seen as effort to ease concerns of his religious and pro-Palestinian support base".

In form at least Erdogan's statement sounded an awful lot like 'your credit card has already been charged, however, we reserve the right not to deliver the product if it is not available or out of stock; your address is not correct or verifiable, there was an error in our price quote or we have reason to believe that you are under 13 years of age.'

More to the point the process of normalization that Erdogan describes can take a long time. But the crisis in Syria may not wait. So taken all in all, was Netanyahu hustled by Obama into an apology? France 24 suggests the narrative is not as it seems: that Israel and Turkey were long looking for a pretext to effect a reconciliation;  that in fact it was Netanyahu who maneuvered Obama into appearing to be the big man of the region.

National Security Adviser Yaakov Amidror, who played a central role in Israeli efforts to mend the relationship, admitted on Saturday that the chemical weapons threat was a major element.

"We're in a situation where between us and Turkey there is a country which has chemical weapons and is falling apart, and which probably used chemical weapons with very damaging abilities that could spread throughout the whole region," he told Channel 2 television.

"The more coordination there is between us and the Turks, the easier it will be to deal with a problem that could explode in our face tomorrow morning."

He denied that the deal had come about as a result of American pressure, saying it had been an Israeli idea.

"We approached the Americans with it, and the Americans helped us consolidate it with the Turks. There have been talks between us and the Turks for a long while," he said.

Israel's immediate fear was clearly Hezbollah. The Jerusalem Post carried an article in January 2013 quoting Saudi sources saying that "Syrian President Bashar Assad has been transferring weapons to Hezbollah since the beginning of 2012, including two tons of mustard gas and long-range missiles capable of carrying chemical warheads and traveling 300 kilometers."

But geography raises the interesting question of how Turkey could possibly help interdict the arms route from Syria to Hezbollah. It was out of the way. Turkey is in Syria's north, far from the southerly route which leads directly into Lebanon's Bekaa Valley. Moreover, the Christian Science Monitor suggests that it was Turkey which needed Israel's help in finding the chemical weapons rather than vice-versa.

“Turkey’s intelligence assets are not anywhere near Israeli intelligence assets,” says Michael Koplow, an analyst of Turkish and Israeli affairs at the Israel Institute in Washington, who recently returned from a two-week trip to Turkey.

“The Turks don’t want to be caught with chemical weapons deployed in Aleppo, which is only 50 miles from Turkish border, and not know about it ahead of time,” says Mr. Koplow, author of the blog Ottomans and Zionists. “It’s at a point where they need the Israelis’ cooperation.”

So why approach Turkey? What did Netanyahu hope to take delivery of from Ankara by allowing it to charge his diplomatic credit card? Perhaps nothing.  Quite  literally nothing. One possibility is that Israel has purchased Ankara's inaction -- the undertaking to do nothing -- in the coming drama.

Erdogan's job is to turn a blind eye to whatever he's not supposed to see. However this still leaves open the mystery of who will do the heavy lifting if Assad collapses. Somebody obviously, but who?

ABC News quoted outgoing Defense Secretary Leon Panetta as saying that US troops would not secure Syrian weapons in "a hostile atmosphere". It quoted Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Dempsey who "said he’d recently spoken with his Turkish, Israeli, Lebanese and Jordanian counterparts, with the intent of 'messaging' that those inside Syria responsible for any use of chemical weapons would be held accountable.”

That still doesn't explain who does anything physical. If the US won't do it, neither could Israel. An occupation of Syria in the force required to secure the weapons would be beyond Israel's capability, not to mention likely to inflame the region. This is the missing piece. The piece that no one seems to be able to find.

Perhaps that is because the Queen is on the other side of the chessboard.  The Wall Street Journal writes that John Kerry is learning that in strategy as in real estate location is everything.  There were consequences to redeploying from the Middle East to Afghanistan. "The strategic cost of President Obama's election-driven total withdrawal from Iraq is now becoming clearer. On Sunday Secretary of State John Kerry was reduced to pleading with Iraqi officials to search Iranian flights that fly over Iraq on their way to arming Bashar Assad's Syrian government. "

One of those consequences was that American power would be stuck in landlocked Southwest Asia rather than available for action in the Middle East with a major port to its rear.

At best, the partial rapproachment between Israel and Turkey simply removes one more obstacle to action. It does not solve the problem of who bells the cat.

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