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Israel ex-defence chief says Erdogan seeking 'neo-Ottoman empire'
by Staff Writers
Jerusalem (AFP) March 15, 2017


Israeli ex-defence minister Moshe Yaalon accused Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Wednesday of seeking a "neo-Ottoman empire" while warning of growing instability in the Middle East.

Yaalon, seeking to build a campaign to become Israel's next prime minister, spoke of his concerns while addressing regional issues in a meeting with foreign journalists.

The ex-minister, forced out of office last year as Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu sought to expand his right-wing coalition, accused Erdogan of pursuing "hegemony by establishing (a) neo-Ottoman empire using the Muslim Brotherhood ideology, not just within Turkey".

He also accused NATO-member Turkey of working against Western interests.

His comments came with Turkey and the European Union undergoing an explosive crisis after key EU members the Netherlands and Germany blocked Turkish ministers from holding rallies to back constitutional changes expanding Erdogan's powers.

Yaalon named Turkey under Erdogan as one of three "radical" elements seeking to expand their influence in the Middle East, also mentioning Iran and jihadists such as the Islamic State group.

He said he believed the situation had evolved in that way because of what he called former US president Barack Obama's administration's decision to "disengage" from the Middle East.

"And the vacuum has been filled by these three elements struggling for hegemony in the region," he said.

Yaalon also took implicit shots at Israel's influential far-right while seeking to build his campaign to become the country's next premier.

With four-term premier Netanyahu's legal woes mounting, challengers have circled in anticipation of the possibility that he would be forced to resign.

Yaalon, who has also served as military chief of staff, has sought to present himself as a practical and experienced hand who can move the country away from what some see as a drift too far to the right.

Earlier this week, he quit Netanyahu's Likud party and has announced plans to start his own.

"All the slogans, the ideas which are good for likes on Facebook, this is not a policy," Yaalon said, implicitly referring to far-right figures such as Education Minister Naftali Bennett, who also aims to be premier.

"I've heard too many slogans in our politics in the last couple of years, ignoring the reality on the ground, ignoring the facts -- at the end, ignoring our interest."

Yaalon said those advocating drastic steps such as annexing most of the occupied West Bank -- as Bennett has done -- were more concerned with populist rhetoric than solving the problem.

The 66-year-old clashed with Bennett and other hardliners before leaving the government last year, particularly over the case of an Israeli soldier caught on video shooting dead a wounded Palestinian assailant as he lay on the ground.

Yaalon and top military brass condemned the actions of the soldier, since convicted of manslaughter, while Bennett and others defended him.

Yaalon said the conflict with the Palestinians should be managed for now to avoid further eruptions of violence.

"We are not going to reach a final settlement in the coming future," he said.

SUPERPOWERS
Chinese ships allowed to survey Philippine territory: Duterte
Manila (AFP) March 13, 2017
Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte said Monday he had agreed to allow Chinese surveillance ships into Filipino waters, contradicting his defence minister who described their presence as "very concerning". Duterte also told reporters he did not want to have a "fight" with China over Benham Rise - waters recognised by the United Nation as indisputably Philippine territory - partly because ... read more

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