What's the world coming to? The Guardian publishes an opinion saying the Moscow is right?
Giora Eiland is a former head of Israel’s National Security Council
Originally appeared in The Guardian
The recent tension between Russia and Turkey reminds me of two meetings I held many years ago – one with a Russian and the other with a Turk – that could help to shed some light on the current behaviour of both countries.
About a dozen years ago, the head of a Russian thinktank visited Israel. As head of the National Security Council, I met him, along with several other senior defence officials, and we heard him say that the greatest threat to world peace was Islamic State. True, the name “Isis” wasn’t mentioned then, but the phenomenon that it represents was predicted with astounding accuracy.
The Russian official warned about the formation of an Islamic caliphate in Iraq, which was in the process of disintegrating; he warned that this caliphate would try to take control of the Middle East and, from there, would send its long arms northward, via the Islamic former Soviet republics. At the same time, it would try to take advantage of the weakness of the west and would turn its attention to Europe.
His conclusion was that Russia, the western powers and Israel shared a common enemy and it was in their utmost interests to join forces to defeat it. I heard similar messages when I met other Russian officials over the years. They also criticised the US’s war in Iraq – which they described as “imbecilic” – and which they said would only accelerate the arrival of a caliphate.
About a year before that meeting with the Russian, I met a senior Turkish official. That was at a time when relations between Jerusalem and Ankara were excellent. At that meeting, the Turkish official spoke openly about his country’s world view. “We know that we cannot get back the lands that were under the control of the Ottoman empire before 1917,” he said, “but do not make the mistake of thinking that the borders that were dictated to us at the end of the first world war by the victorious countries – mainly the UK and France – are acceptable to us. Turkeywill find a way to return to its natural borders in the south – the line between Mosul in Iraq and Homs in Syria. That is our natural aspiration and it is justified because of the large Turkmen presence in that region.”
There are three conclusions that we can draw when we examine the current situation in the light of those meetings. First, that Russia predicted long ago the rise of Isis and that Moscow sees the organisation as a major strategic threat. Second, that the Russians are right to expect the west to prioritise the battle against Isis, and leave disagreements over other matters until later.
Third, although Turkey is a member of Nato, it is not acting in a way that promotes Nato’s interests. Rather, it is dragging the organisation into a skirmish in order to protect Turkish interests – including attacks on the Kurds, who are the only ones actually fighting Isis on the ground, as well as unnecessarily provoking the Russians. According to the Russian president, Vladimir Putin, Turkey is even providing Isis with financial assistance.
The conclusion should be obvious: the threat that Isis poses is similar to the threat that Nazi Germany posed. Coordination between Russia and the west will not guarantee that the battle against Isis is won, but without it that battle will surely be lost. The French president, François Hollande, seems to have accepted this, and we can only hope that he manages to persuade the other Nato countries both to restrain Turkey and to join forces with Russia.
Israel may have something of a conflict of interests on this issue, but we should always bear in mind what would happen if Isis were to gain in strength and take control of Syria, Jordan and the Sinai. For Israel, too, the conclusion is clear: victory over Isis must come first.