(Editor’s update: Adds State Department comment regarding Israel’s non-participation in the counterterror forum, in second- and third-last paragraphs.)
(CNSNews.com) – Turkey’s foreign minister told an international forum Thursday that the fight against terrorism does not permit “complacency” about any particular terrorist organization, and he warned that terrorists will quickly seize upon and exploit any gap in international efforts.
The remarks, at the opening of a Global Counterterrorism Forum (GCTF) meeting in Istanbul, come from a government that wants international support for its campaign against the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) but has embraced the Palestinian terrorist group Hamas as a legitimate “resistance movement.”
The Obama administration last fall selected Turkey to co-chair the GCTF, a “signature initiative” in what the administration calls its “smart power approach to counterterrorism.” The forum comprises 29 countries, but controversially excluded Israel, despite that country’s long experience with terrorism.
Addressing the event alongside Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu warned that terrorists are “in constant search of loopholes in our defenses and to adapt themselves accordingly.”
“While all of our countries are confronted by the threat of terrorism, it is a non-spoken reality that sometimes we have varying threat perceptions and national priorities vis-à-vis terrorist organizations and offenders,” he said.
“That said, I believe one thing is crystal clear to all of us: No country is immune from this threat and we cannot win the fight against terrorism unless we join hands. Moreover, this fight does not allow for complacency against any particular terrorist organization, irrespective of national threat perceptions or priorities.”
Davutoglu said a counter-terrorism strategy will only deliver tangible results “if it enjoys international cooperation and the true support of other nations. Any loophole in this chain, and terrorists will immediately zero in on that soft spot and capitalize on it.”
He went on to make a case for international support for Turkey’s struggle against the PKK.
“We expect full support in this fight from the global community, in line with their international obligation,” he said. “The PKK should not be able to continue its activities abroad, particularly in Europe under seemingly legal structures and facade organizations. Their continuing ability to do so is an affront to us all.”
The PKK’s violent 28-year campaign for some form of Kurdish autonomy in south-eastern Turkey has cost the lives of almost 40,000 people – three-quarters of them PKK members – in a country with a population of 80 million.
Around 1,400 Israelis have been killed in terrorist attacks since 1987, the year Hamas was established as the Palestinian offshoot of Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood. While many of those attacks were carried out by Fatah-affiliated and other groups, a study of suicide attacks during the first five years of the so-called second intifada that began in 2000 found Hamas responsible for 40 percent. Israel’s population is 6.8 million, of which 5.8 million people are Jewish.
The U.S. has designated Hamas as a “foreign terrorist organization” since 1997, but Turkey’s Islamist-leaning government disagrees with that assessment.
“Let me give you a very clear message, I don’t see Hamas as a terror organization,” Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, a vocal critic of Israel, told U.S. interviewer Charlie Rose in May 2011. “It is a resistance movement trying to protect its country under occupation.”
Recalling that Hamas had won Palestinian legislative elections in 2006, he said “calling them terrorists, this would be disrespect to the will of the Palestinian people.”
“Hamas is a resistance group fighting to defend their land,” Erdogan told Turkish media in 2010. “I also told these to U.S. officials. I don't accept Hamas as a terrorist organization.”
Clinton told the GCTF meeting that the U.S. “strongly” supports Turkey in its fight against the PKK. Apart from al-Qaeda and affiliates, it was the only terrorist group she mentioned by name in her almost 1,600-word opening remarks.
The Turkish government’s support for Hamas – Erdogan has also met with its leaders – is in line with the longstanding principle of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC), as stated in its 1998 convention on combating international terrorism, that “peoples’ struggle including armed struggle against foreign occupation … shall not be considered a terrorist crime.”
That stance by Muslim and Arab states, largely the result of their support for the Palestinian cause, has been a major hurdle blocking efforts at the United Nations to agree upon a universal definition of terrorism.
Upon its formation last September, the GCTF issued a political declaration that did not specifically define terrorism, but did include a “condemnation of all acts of terrorism, which cannot be justified on any grounds whatsoever.” Members expressed their “continuing commitment to oppose terrorism irrespective of the motives of the perpetrators of such acts.”
Composition aims to ‘bridge’ Western-Islamic divisions
The political declaration also stated, “We recognize the growing number of countries with relevant experience and expertise in countering and preventing terrorism, and we seek to maximize these assets through close cooperation.”
Given that goal, Israel’s exclusion from the list of GCTF founder members was glaring. Israel is among the world’s leading targets of terrorism, and arguably a world leader in responding to the threat – both in the government and private sector.
The makeup of the founding group indicates that the Obama administration views the initiative as part of its broader outreach to the Muslim world; eleven of the 29 countries are OIC members, some of which are hostile towards Israel.
A senior administration official, briefing reporters on background ahead of the meeting in Istanbul, confirmed the outreach aim.
“The GCTF sought from the outset to bridge old and deep divides in the international community between Western donor nations and Muslim majority nations,” he said. “And it has, I think, done that quite effectively.”
Apart from OIC and Western countries, the official noted that the rest included “other great powers – China, India, Russia – as well as geographic representation from all continents. So that sort of explains the composition.”
In response to queries about Israel and the GCTF, the State Department said in a statement Friday that the administration’s idea with the forum “was to bring together a limited number of traditional donors, front line states, and emerging powers develop a more robust, yet representative, counterterrorism capacity-building platform.”
“A number of our close partners with considerable experience countering and preventing terrorism are not included among the GCTF’s founding members,” it said. “We have discussed the GCTF and ways to involve Israel in its activities on a number of occasions, and are committed to making this happen.”
The 29 countries are Algeria, Australia, Canada, China, Colombia, Denmark, Egypt, France, Germany, India, Indonesia, Italy, Japan, Jordan, Morocco, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Nigeria, Pakistan, Qatar, Russia, Saudi Arabia, South Africa, Spain, Switzerland, Turkey, United Arab Emirates, the United Kingdom and the United States. The European Union is also a member.