Exit Strategies

The Israel Lobby's Turkish Connection


The fallout from Israel's May 31st seizure of an aid convoy headed for the Gaza Strip is revealing some new dimensions to the incident. Credible information has surfaced that the Turkish NGO organizing the ill-fated Peace Flotilla, Insani Yardim Vakfi (known as IHH), has ties to the international jihad. IHH allegedly raised funds and recruited Muslim fighters for holy war in the Balkans and Chechnya.

In the ongoing crisis in relations between Tel-Aviv and Ankara, Israel’s most fervent supporters in the United States have been quick to seize upon the IHH charity’s jihadist connection. Yet they omit the fact that key figures within the Israel lobby have long encouraged the use of mujahideen in Eurasia to advance U.S. interests. And the very same lobby that now warns of Turkish power has been instrumental in its rise.

It’s inaccurate to claim that the mission to Gaza was just a grand terrorist ploy, but certain activities of its sponsors should not be overlooked, especially in a geopolitical context. If IHH was involved in finance and logistics for past conflicts in Bosnia and the Caucasus, such operations would align with Turkish strategic interests. This is especially relevant since the flotilla had Turkey’s informal support.

AIPAC and the usual array of neoconservatives are currently in overdrive to defend Israel’s botched raid and link the Gaza aid effort to terrorism. The neocons have also quite suddenly begun to express alarm at Turkey’s growing role in the Middle East now that the Jewish state's relationship with Ankara is at an all-time low. So while the IHH-jihadist connection deserves to be publicized, it’s far from the whole story.

Over the past two decades Israeli and Turkish interests in Washington have enjoyed a cozy partnership of mutual benefit. In 1989, the ever-ambitious Doug Feith and Richard Perle founded International Advisors, Inc. to increase defense technology transfers to Turkey. Since that time, the Israelis and Turks built a noticeably close Beltway alliance, with the Turkish lobby playing sorcerer’s apprentice to AIPAC, JINSA and other Jewish policy organizations.

Throughout the 1990s and up to the present day the Israel lobby has provided groups like the American Turkish Council expertise in managing the cash flows that power K Street and Capitol Hill, as well as access to its networks in government and the defense industry. This assistance has ranged from the relatively overt business of influencing legislation (such as killing Armenian genocide bills) to joint intelligence collection of advanced U.S. weapons technologies. Needless to say, Israeli and Turkish espionage gets little play in the media. The success of both lobbies’ political operations has led to a growing convergence of interests with lawmakers and the foreign policy establishment, so spy scandals are quickly swept under the rug.

Besides Perle and Feith, other prominent partisans for Israel have been instrumental in securing U.S. support for Turkey. These include Paul Wolfowitz, the late Congressman Tom Lantos, and former ambassadors to Ankara Mort Abramowitz and Marc Grossman. According to the former FBI translator-turned-whistleblower Sybil Edmonds, many of these figures were also under investigation for their close contacts with Israel’s Mossad and MIT, the Turkish intelligence service.

Even when examining the public side of influence campaigns, the intimate links between Israeli and Turkish lobbying organizations in the U.S. are immediately apparent. The Sunlight Foundation’s 2008 record of Turkish embassy contacts is largely a story of meetings and communications with AIPAC, JINSA, the ADL, the American Jewish Council and similar parties. The Israel lobby may rail against Turkey in the aftermath of the flotilla debacle, but this newfound concern belies years of collaboration in manipulating Washington’s power centers.

In addition to snagging lucrative consulting contracts, the neocons fostered the Turkish connection for purposes both ideological and strategic. Drawing inspiration from the thought of scholar Bernard Lewis, the neocons saw Turkey as a model for the development of the Open Society alongside “moderate Islam”[1]. Richard Perle implied that the nation would serve as a platform for U.S. ambitions to transform the “Greater Middle East” after the September 11th attacks. Neoconservative policy planners have also been consistent advocates for Turkish entry into the EU and Muslim immigration to the Continent.

Alongside its status as a longtime Israeli ally, Turkey has been pivotal to U.S. plans for routing Caspian energy resources from Central Asia into Europe. Oil pipelines like Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan and the prospective Nabucco natural gas project are intended to create an East-West Corridor under American control. Militarily, the U.S. alliance with Ankara allows the Pentagon to enhance its power-projection capabilities within Eurasia. And while the Turks are proving less cooperative than desired, Washington still looks to harness their regional clout to eventually confront Iran and undermine Russia along its southern periphery.

In its bid to attain a dominant position in the heart of Eurasia, the U.S. runs covert action programs employing Islamic fighters. This has been the case since the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in 1979, and the neocons have formed the vanguard in support of this policy. It has been alleged (and it is highly likely) that these operations have been carried out in close coordination with Turkish intelligence and associated paramilitary outfits. Far from being limited to cooperation with the Kemalists, these ventures extend to transnational Islamist networks such as Pennsylvania-based Fethullah Gülen’s organization.

From the conflicts in the Balkans to Chechnya, luminaries of the Israel lobby have been behind initiatives to create U.S.-aligned Muslim states in Europe. In the run-up to Operation Allied Force in 1999, a veritable who’s-who of neoconservatives including Elliott Abrams, John Bolton and William Kristol pressed mightily for the bombardment of Orthodox Serbia and Kosovo’s occupation. They were successful in their entreaties and would go on to sponsor Kosovar Albanian independence in 2007.

The neocons have also played a prominent role in U.S. policy elites’ efforts to exploit instability in Chechnya. Former New York Congressman Stephen Solarz and Abrams, in addition to many of the usual suspects, are active members of Zbigniew Brzezinski’s American Committee for Peace in the Caucasus (ACPC). The ACPC’s ultimate aim is to detach the Muslim republics of the north Caucasus from Moscow, thereby paving the way for new energy pipelines westward and Russia’s further fragmentation. Organizations such as the ACPC grant the perpetrators of atrocities like the Beslan massacre respectable cover in a wider geopolitical game.

Whatever opinion one might hold regarding the justice or injustice of the May 31st flotilla raid, it has exposed deep contradictions in the Israel lobby’s dealings with Turkey and jihadist groups in Eurasia. The IHH charity has been linked to mujahideen activities in the Balkans and the Caucasus; strangely enough, so have some of Israel’s most influential devotees in America. To top it off, the neocons are issuing fearful proclamations regarding Turkey’s ascent when the movement’s leadership helped facilitate the emergence of a powerful neo-Ottoman state.

The men from Washington’s top foreign lobby may style themselves champions of Israel. Never, though, should they be mistaken as defenders of the West, given their complicity in its dissolution.

[1] Neoconservatives also look to the Ottoman Empire as an exemplar of tolerance for its time. They hold European Christendom in general contempt as an unenlightened outpost of barbarism.