Will Gaza Flotilla Raid Mark End of Turkey-Israel Relations?

By Joshua Mitnick; Scott Peterson | The Christian Science Monitor, June 7, 2010 | Go to article overview

Will Gaza Flotilla Raid Mark End of Turkey-Israel Relations?


Joshua Mitnick; Scott Peterson, The Christian Science Monitor


Turkey called for an international investigation into the Israeli raid on the Gaza flotilla sent to break the aid blockade. At security meeting in Istanbul today, Turkey positioned itself as a leader in crafting a regional response. Turkey-Israel relations are fraying rapidly.

After decades of close Turkey-Israel ties, Turkish officials today asserted that friendship can continue under only one condition: If Israel conforms with international law and human rights standards. A close, 15-year relationship between the two countries appears on the brink of collapse.

Turkey's Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu said normal ties could not be restored unless Israel accepts an international investigation into the fatal raid on the Gaza aid flotilla, something it rejected last week.

Leading a summit on Eurasian security that opened Monday in Istanbul, Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan sought to take the lead in orchestrating a regional response to Israel's raid on the "Freedom Flotilla" that tried to break the Gaza blockade. Nine Turkish citizens, one of whom had dual US citizenship, were killed in the raid, sparking widespread Turkish fury.

IN PICTURES: The Gaza flotilla and the aftermath of the Israeli naval raid

"If there is any so-called hate, that is the hate of the Israeli government. If there is any form of terror in the Mediterranean, this was in the state-terror organized by Israel," Mr. Erdogan said at a joint press conference with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. "There have been more than 100 resolutions in the [United Nations] regarding Israel, and almost none of them have been implemented by Israel.... We need to follow and pursue these resolutions to [fruition], and we are very pleased that our brother Syria is supporting us."

"There can be no open-air prisons for people. This is a crime against humanity, and there is no way this can be associated with universal values or humanitarian values," added Erdogan. "As long as there is bloodshed and tears shed in Gaza, we cannot remain silent."

Why Turkey is pushing the Gaza issue

Israel sees Turkey's intense pressure as a sudden, opportunistic shift designed to boost its regional standing by capitalizing on widespread Muslim anger over Israel's treatment of Palestinians, particularly in Gaza.

Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman this week drew a comparison to Israeli-Iranian ties, which were close in the 1970s but collapsed following the Iranian revolution. Criticism of Israel has become a vehicle for Turkey to gain regional prominence, he said.

"We were good friends for a decade, and now they are changing their policy. It's not our fault. This flotilla is just an excuse; it could be something else, '' says Tal Nahum, a spokesman for Mr. Lieberman's political party Yisrael Beitenu. "Israel is paying the price of the new Turkish policy to receive more popularity in the Muslim world.''

But Turkish leaders, bolstered by other Muslim leaders in Istanbul for the security conference, say their concern over Palestinians goes back decades. As they become convinced that the US either will not - or cannot - substantively change Israeli policies, Turkey appears to be trying to back Israel into a corner where it will be forced to change.

"Turkey is today supporting Gaza, and less than a century ago, Turkey opposed giving Palestine to the Israelis," said Mr. Assad. "So we have had one objective through history. We have now a kind of common cause, through the blood of your martyrs and our martyrs. We have embraced the same causes, and made the same sacrifices. …

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