The recent confrontation between elements of the Israeli navy and Gaza-blockade runners off the coast of Israel proves two things. Firstly, that perception is everything and “facts” can be used to support either side of and issue; and, secondly, that nations and (mainly) left-wing movements solidly aligned against Israel will never cut that nation any slack regardless of how much it has been provoked.
It is self evident that running a blockade should not automatically be justification for a death sentence, however, it should also be self-evident that well-prepared activists intent on breaking a naval blockade should act prudently so as to not provoke a heavily armed force to the point it acts imprudently.
One outcome of this tragic incident is it has given Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan a much sought after justification to vent against Israel, heretofore a friend of Turkey. No stranger to hyperbole, Erdoğan was convicted of religious hatred in 1998 and served four months of a 10-month sentence. Now he warns Israel not to test Ankara’s patience.
“Turkey’s hostility is as strong as its friendship is valuable,” Erdoğan is quoted as saying. “Israel in no way can legitimize this murder, it cannot wash its hand of this blood.”
Surely these comments can be interpreted as indicating a change in Turkish military posture in the event that another flotilla is dispatched to the Gaza Strip. Given, however, that Turkey is a member of NATO, it is doubtful—though by no means certain—Turkey would send navy ships to guard a future flotilla.
Notwithstanding Israeli-Turkish cooperation in the past, I don’t see friendly relations between those countries continuing at former levels so long as the Islamist, Erdoğan, and his Justice and Development Party holds a majority of the seats in the Grand National Assembly of Turkey—and that’s not likely to end any time soon.
Of course, Erdoğan could be playing to his political base, which has plenty of anti-Israel sentiment. Thousands of Turks protested across the country and demonstrators shouted “down with Israel!” near the Israeli ambassador’s residence in Turkey. And the pro-Islamic newspaper Yeni Safak described the Israeli troops as “The children of Hitler” in a banner headline.
So comments of his like, “Nothing will be the same again,” said as he gestured angrily, with voice shaking, should be taken alongside the fact that other officials were delivering messages of restraint, and Turkey said it was not canceling plans to accept $183 million worth of Israeli drone planes this summer. Add also Deputy Prime Minister Bulent Arinc assurances on Monday, “No one should expect us to declare war on Israel over this.”
The challenges Turkey has faced in its bid to join the European Union has, it seems to me, caused Turkey to seek friendships elsewhere in its own region and to reach out to improve its relations with Iraq and Syria. These are not the sort of relationships one would ordinarily see as compatible with friendly relations with Israel.
Much is still to be learned about actions and motives on both sides of the Mavi Marmara boarding incident. One thing is clear to this writer, however: this was not simply a humanitarian mission to deliver aid to residents of Gaza—that could easily have been done with the cooperation of the Israeli navy. Rather, it was a calculated attempt to break the Israeli blockade of Gaza by a mixed group of activists, including the IHH, short for the Foundation for Human Rights and Freedoms and Humanitarian Relief.
The IHH has been accused of maintaining ties with a number of terror organizations, including the Montreal cell behind Ahmed Ressam, the Millennium Bomber, who has been convicted of conspiring to commit terrorist acts in France, and of several terrorist acts in the United States after attempting to detonate explosives at the Los Angeles International Airport.
The IHH does not seem to be the benign humanitarian organization it claims to be—is anything about the Middle East what it seems?