January 8, 2009

Turkey a good choice to lead Gaza force

by Rick Francona

As we move toward the inevitable ceasefire in Gaza, one of the key elements for the Israelis in any arrangement is the introduction of an international force to monitor and enforce the agreement. That international force will be charged with insuring that Hamas does not launch rockets into southern Israel, nor rearm itself via the porous Egyptian border.

The Egyptian-French ceasefire proposal currently being talked about does not specifically address an international force - it only calls for a ceasefire followed by talks between Israel and Hamas. That may take some time - Israel still refuses to talk directly to Hamas, which it regards as a terrorist organization, and Hamas has not yet agreed to talks with a state they have vowed to destroy.

That said, there will be a ceasefire. The question is how do we get there? Who gives in, what are the conditions, who monitors the agreement, etc. Israel will stop its operations only when it receives guarantees of a stop to Hamas rocket fire and the prevention of the resupply of Hamas. Hamas has thus far refused to allow any external observers, and claims it will only talk after Israel halts its operations. The classic Catch-22.

Ultimately, we will get to the presence of an international force, most likely under United Nations auspices. That is how wars end in the Middle East. Most of these UN observer groups, the first of which was established in 1948, are still in place today. The fact that we keep having wars says something about the efficacy of the United Nations.

There are reports that Turkey will be asked to organize the new force. The choice of Turkey is an excellent idea.

Turkey is a unique country. It is a Muslim country, but not an Islamic country. The population is overwhelmingly Muslim, but there is religious tolerance - there are Jews and Christians in small numbers throughout the country. It is a secular state, and until the establishment of a democracy in Iraq, the only truly democratic country in the Muslim world. Yes, I am aware that Egypt and Syria have elections - no one actually believes there are truly representative governments.

Turkey is also a member of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), and is seeking membership in the European Union. It has one foot in Europe and the other in the Middle East. It's Muslim identity makes it acceptable to the Palestinians, even Hamas. The fact that it is not an Arab country makes it acceptable to the Israelis, not to mention the fact that Israel and Turkey have a longstanding military and intelligence relationship.

The Turks area signing up for a thankless task. There will be times when Hamas attempts to rearm or fire rockets into Israel. Will the Turks fire on fellow Muslims? Will they strictly enforce the anti-smuggling protocols? If previous United Nations efforts are a judge, the answer is no - they will merely report the violations to New York.

Thanks to the Turks for stepping up to the plate.