Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Appeasing Ankara

by Ruthie Blum

According to a report in the Turkish daily Hurriyet on Monday, Israel has agreed to allow building materials for the construction of a hospital to be transported from Turkey into the Gaza Strip. This relaxation of the naval blockade on the terrorist enclave is part of the Egypt-brokered cease-fire agreement that ended Operation Pillar of Defense, the week-long war that Israel waged against Hamas in November.

But Israel apparently hopes that its "goodwill gesture" will help to heal the damaged relationship with Turkey, which reached an all-time low in May 2010 when Turkish ships filled with pro-Palestinian activists set sail for Gaza, in direct defiance of the Israeli blockade. Though the protest flotilla was ostensibly bearing "humanitarian" goods, the activists on one of the boats, the Mavi Marmara, were armed. However, the Israeli soldiers dispatched to prevent the boat from reaching its destination were equipped mainly with paintball guns. This put them at a severe disadvantage, and many suffered stabs and blows as soon as they landed on deck. Taken off guard, they were also thrown overboard. During the clash that ensued, nine activists were killed and dozens of Israeli soldiers were wounded.
Joined by hostile voices in the international community, Turkey condemned Israel for the incident. Though the Israeli government expressed regret at the loss of lives, it refused to apologize for its soldiers' act of self-defense. 

Not only has Turkey continued to insist that Israel financially compensate the families of the flotilla casualties, it also conducted a trial, in absentia, against Israel Defense Forces brass. Naturally, a conviction was secured.

For the past two and a half years, the government of Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan has done nothing but show its true colors internally and externally — distancing itself from the secular West and allying itself with the Islamic world. This has not put a dent in Washington's attempts to look the other way. Nor has it stopped the Obama administration from instructing Israel to do something to coax Turkey into "reconciling."

No stranger to appeasement, Israel has continued to talk about its crucial relations with Turkey — as though the "little rift" will soon be mended and all will be well. Indeed, last month, when he was still serving as Deputy Foreign Minister, Danny Ayalon gave an interview to the Turkish press in which he said he believed that Israel should apologize for the events of the flotilla in a letter "similar to the one sent by the United States to Pakistan after the death of 24 Pakistani civilians in an attack that was carried out (by the U.S.)" This, said Ayalon, would be a "creative" way to settle the differences between the two countries.

Well, it sure would be creative — like a good piece of fiction, that is. Israel is certainly capable of making the colossal mistake of writing such a letter. But doing so would "settle" nothing.

In the first place, Erdogan has specified three preconditions for even considering repairing ties with Israel. Israel accepting exclusive blame for the flotilla catastrophe is only one of them. The second is a massive amount of money to be paid to the families of the dead activists. The third is to lift the Gaza blockade. 

Anything short of total capitulation from Jerusalem will be met with a cold shoulder from Ankara. This is not mere speculation, as recent statements emanating from the Turkish leadership indicate.

Two weeks ago, airstrikes attributed to Israel were carried out against a Syrian weapons convoy headed for Hezbollah in Lebanon. Though Turkey itself had attacked a Syrian military outpost in October, Erdogan was quick to deride Israel for its "mentality of waging state terrorism …We cannot regard a violation of air space as acceptable. What Israel does is completely against international law. It is beyond condemnation."

Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu went even further, adding threats to his rhetoric. "If Israel were to attack any Muslim country," he warned, possibly hinting at Iran, "Turkey would respond."

These are not the words of a government anxious to kiss and make up with a former friend; they are the drumbeats of war with a newfound foe. No amount of bricks and mortar brought into Gaza to build a hospital will cure that particular illness. In fact, Erdogan won't even give Israel credit for the "goodwill gesture." Instead, his government is downplaying it — ironically by calling it "humanitarian," rather than political. This is Turkey's way of saying that it doesn't count as a precursor to patching up differences with Israel.

It also will enable Erdogan, who is looking forward to attending the inauguration of the hospital when it is finished, to make a silver-tongued speech aimed at pleasing Hamas.

Nevertheless, Israeli pundits are viewing this new development with odd optimism. They hope that when a coalition is finally formed and the next government is in place, there will be room for turning over a new leaf with Turkey.

This is as delusional as the belief that if Israel stops settlement expansion, the Palestinian Authority will come peacefully to the proverbial negotiating table. For Erdogan, as for Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, normalization with Israel is a liability, not an issue of national interest worth cultivating. 

Let us pray that Netanyahu's coalition will reflect an understanding of this reality and be prepared to act — not appease — accordingly.

Ruthie Blum is the author of "To Hell in a Handbasket: Carter, Obama, and the 'Arab Spring.'"


Copyright - Original materials copyright (c) by the authors.

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