Avigdor Lieberman is anything but a fool, and to his credit has on many occasions displayed a knack of striking a popular chord with hawkish Israelis. His aggressive manner and inclination to ignore diplomatic niceties enthuses those who welcome a contrast to the conventional diplomatic behavior expected of a Foreign Minister.
Besides, many Israelis are depressed and infuriated by leaders who they believe are frequently too defensive and wimpish when responding to bogus misdemeanors by hypocritical rogue states notorious for their own behavior.
Needless to say, Lieberman also appreciates that his aggressive outbursts garner electoral support for his party – especially from Likud voters, disappointed that their Prime Minister has assumed a centrist political position and too often excessively sugar coats his diplomatic statements.
The Turkish imbroglio was an ideal opportunity for Lieberman to adopt a populist platform. Most of us, whilst appreciating the necessity not to exacerbate the existing tensions between ourselves and Turkey, have come to the realization that Turkey under Prime Minister Recep Tayip Erdogan is effectively a lost cause.
The rupture in our relationship with Turkey has absolutely no bearing on our actions. It was most likely a byproduct of Erdogan’s realization that Turkey’s entry into Europe would never succeed. As an Islamist he then made a calculated decision to draw closer to the radical Islamic camp including Iran. He also discovered that playing the anti-Semitic card provided him with increased support especially from Turkish voters in rural areas.
There was considerable frustration and even anger when the media began circulating rumors suggesting that due to US pressure, our Prime Minister was contemplating extending an apology to Turkey and also compensating the families of the terrorists killed on board the Mavi Marmara. There was a feeling that if an apology is to be made it should be directed towards our soldiers who were sent to deal with violent terrorists, while only being armed with paintball guns.
Many of us also believe that by groveling to Erdogan, besides compromising Israel’s national dignity, we would enable him to demonstrate that his alliance with Hamas and Hizbullah was paying off and this would further undermine those moderate Turks who remain opposed to the dramatic political changes initiated into their country by the Islamist government. It would also enable Erdogan to garner more votes at the forthcoming elections. By providing compensation, it could set the precedent for IDF soldiers to face international legal sanctions.
Lieberman described the demands from the Turkish Prime Minister Erdogan and Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu as a chutzpah and called them liars. He said “the one who needs to apologize is the Turkish government for supporting terror, the IHH, Hamas and Hizbullah. There’ll be no apology, just the opposite, we are expecting one from Ankara.”
To be preached morality by the Turks in the light of their past behavior towards the Armenians – and today towards the Kurds – is surely bizarre. As a commentator I concur with the sentiments expressed by Lieberman. Especially so, as the most recent remarks by the Turkish authorities were made the day after a massive government approved demonstration of over 10,000 in Istanbul had greeted the ship raided by the Israeli commandos on its way to Gaza with placards calling “death to Israel” and “we will fight until we take over Jerusalem.” The previous day in Damascus, the ship’s participants had been welcomed by Hamas leader Khaled Mashaal.
However, the question is whether a Foreign Minister is entitled to make such abrasive remarks in his private capacity, when government policy, for better or for worse, had been to ignore the provocative remarks being made by Turkish spokesmen. For him to deny that he speaks for the prime minister is outrageous. It makes our government appear like an unruly football team.
Such independent forays by ministers bring an element of chaos into the government. When they involve the Foreign Minister, it can only lead to total anarchy. It is surely a sad day for Israel when the Prime Minister’s office is obliged to make a statement that the Foreign Minister was speaking in his personal capacity.
Our government is obliged to speak with one voice and must display a united front. This applies particularly so today when we face so much malevolent hostility throughout the world and remain heavily reliant on the support of a problematic American administration.
If Lieberman has strong views opposed to government policies, he should present them within the cabinet. If he fails to convince the majority to support him, he has the choice of remaining silent or resigning and calling on the public to support him.
When individual ministers launch public outbursts – even if what they say makes sense- they nevertheless undermine the government. They also provide credence to the claims and that the Netanyahu government comprises of unstable factions and is incapable of implementing any policy.
If Netanyahu fails to dissuade his ministerial colleagues from launching undiplomatic outbursts in order to curry favor from their constituents, there is little doubt that his government will soon disintegrate.
This column was originally published in the Jerusalem Post