Serious Middle East news … or political backdrop?

HAIFA, Israel — After just over four weeks in Israel, I can categorically state that I have totally OD’d on the two news stories that seem to be on every local and international station or online news website I go to: the Rio Olympic games (locally), and the U.S. presidential race (worldwide).
Thankfully, the former ended this week. But the election coverage will continue and only increase as we get nearer to Nov. 8.
My problem is the endless stream of talking heads and “experts” (usually a former politician, campaign staffers from both parties, a retired military officer, two journalists — from the left and the right — and a scholarly professor who has a formula that can predict the results), that pop up on multiple stations. Within one minute it’s easy to know which candidate the station supports. And since it’s the same talking heads, regurgitating the same data and story-of-day, it gets pretty boring pretty quickly.
I was hoping to find fresh faces and analysis from my usually trustworthy stand-by news sources like Fox, CNN, SKY (England), Sputnik (Russia), PressTV (Iran), and even Al-Jazeera USA (online), but to my surprise (or not…) they all had more or less the same talking heads with the same rudimentary and predictable partisan talking points.
But the horrific terrorist attack in Turkey on Sunday, where a young boy of 12, recruited by Daesh (ISIS), blew himself up at a Kurdish wedding in the Southeastern city of Gaziantep, killing 51 celebrants and wounding dozens more, snapped me back to the reality of the Middle East.
Here are some of the news stories you may have missed. One has a possible connection to the elections.

Turkey and Israel

Last Saturday, Turkey’s parliament approved a reconciliation agreement signed with Israel in June, ending the six-year rift between the two regional powers over the Marvi Marmara boarding incident. Both countries will reappoint ambassadors, and military and commercial ties (which were never really disconnected) will be “re-established.”

Turkey and the United States

Scheduled before Saturday’s Islamist terrorist attack on Aug. 24, Vice President Joe Biden is visiting Turkey for meetings with President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Prime Minister Binali Yildirim. This is the first visit by a high-ranking U.S. official since the failed coup attempt in July. While the ongoing war against ISIS will no doubt be high on the agenda now, I understand that the main reason for the visit was to discuss the deterioration in U.S.-Turkey relations, and the delicate subject of extraditing fanatical Sunni cleric Fethullah Gülen, whom Erdogan accuses of organizing the failed coup.
Also on the agenda will probably be the recent request from Erdogan’s new “best friend” Vladimir Putin to use Turkey’s air force base at Incirlik for bombing raids against anti-Assad Arab and Kurdish rebels in Syria (in addition to the bases Russia is already using in Iran).
This could be a major humiliation to the U.S. if Erdogan agrees to the request, since:

  1. The base was built by the U.S. for the American and Turkish air forces.
  2. It’s the main U.S. “coalition” and NATO staging area for airstrikes and rescue missions in Syria, Iraq and potentially Iran.
  3. The U.S. stockpiles over 50 B-61 thermonuclear (hydrogen) bombs at Incirlik.
  4. Putin is supporting the forces the U.S. is fighting (Assad).
  5. Turkey is fighting the Kurds that the U.S. is supporting.
  6. Russia and Iran are developing close military relations, etc.

So if this is such an important tactical and strategic issue for the safety and security of the United States and Israel, am I the only one that’s wondering why Vice President Biden is going to try to thwart it? Especially after Turkey’s Prime Minister Yildirim said Saturday that he sees no reason why Russia and the U.S. can’t “share” the base.
Why Biden? Such a high-level meeting would not be held unless the outcome is known and agreed on in advance. If failure, then the meeting would be canceled in advance and further staff-level negotiations would probably be held. If successful, then the president, not the VP, should be in the limelight at the photo-op. Unless…
I have a wild theory. Could it be that Joe Biden is the understudy who is being prepared to stand in at the last moment as the Democrats’ presidential candidate if hypothetically the position becomes available, and that this whistle-stop trip to the Middle East where he is meeting key leaders very briefly is for the photos to support his international “credentials” with voters? I said it was a wild theory…
Could be serious news, could be political backdrop, or could be both.
Agree or disagree, that’s my opinion.
Lt. Col. (IDF res) Gil Elan is president and CEO of the Southwest Jewish Congress, and a Middle East analyst. Email: briefings and SWJC events are listed at:
DISCLAIMER: Opinions are the writer’s, and do not represent SWJC directors, officers or members.

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