ISTANBUL – Turks are still seething with rage over last week’s Israeli attack on a Turkish vessel trying to break the years-long blockade of Gaza. Four of the nine peace activists killed aboard the ship were Turkish citizens. A score of peace activists were wounded; some claimed they were beaten when in Israeli custody ashore.
‘We are all Palestinians’ read banners being waved across Turkey. Turks, a very nationalist and combustible people, are taking the Israeli attack as an assault on their homeland.
Turkey’s prime minister, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, accused Israel of a “massacre,” warning, “Israel risks losing its closet ally in the Mideast if it does not change its mentality.” By “mentality,” Erdogan meant Israel’s rightwing, Likud coalition of PM Benjamin Netanyahu, with whom relations have steadily worsened.
Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu, a rising star in Turkey’s politics, accused Israel at the UN of “terrorism” and “piracy.” However, under international law, piracy is done by individuals, not states.
Israel’s supporters have launched a furious, world-wide offensive, insisting Israel’s naval commandos were only defending themselves and somehow victims of “terrorism.” blockading 1.5 million malnourished Palestinians prevents Gaza from becoming an Iranian naval and missile base.
Few outside pro-Israel circles agree with such hyperbole, to which Netanyahu is famously prone. His mantra that Israel had to defend itself mostly fell on deaf ears.
Britain’s new conservative prime minister, David Cameron, called the Gaza siege, “completely unacceptable.” UN chief Ban Ki-moon said Israel was punishing civilians, which constitutes a clear violation of the Geneva Conventions.
France’s foreign minister, Bernard Kuchner, demanded Israel lift the siege and offered the attractive compromise of having all ships bound for Gaza searched for arms by French naval vessels.
French philosopher Bernard-Henry Levy accused Israel’s Likud government of “political autism.” Both men are Jewish. Israel’s respected center-left newspaper “Ha’aretz” called the maritime raid “a disgraceful failure.”
A leading Israeli thinker, Uri Avnery, who was assaulted in Israel this past weekend by rightwing thugs, called Netanyahu, “crazy.”
The Obama administration, following previous US policy, blocked UN condemnation of Israel, further infuriating the Muslim world against the United States. This after the undiplomatic Hillary Clinton insulted Brazil and Turkey by sneeringly dismissing their sensible plan to diminish Iran’s uranium stockpile.
Israel’s worldwide condemnation was ironic because it has been attempting to divert international attention away from the frightful suffering of Gaza’s people by beating the war drums about Iran’s non-existent nuclear threat. This policy has backfired.
The whole world is now looking at Gaza – whose wretched people hailed originally from land now occupied by Israel and have ended up crammed into the world’s largest open-air prison camp. One would never learn from the news that Gaza’s Hamas-led government is the Arab world’s only fairly elected democratic government.
Israel’s right wingers have sailed their beleaguered nation into a political ambush that even the Wall Street Journal, the Likud Party’s leading US voice, termed “one of Israel’s worst public relations disasters in years.”
The maritime fiasco further deepened Israel’s growing isolation and dangerous, nuclear-armed bunker mentality.
As Uri Avnery said, Israel had isolated itself by trying to isolate Gaza.
Turkey has long been Israel’s strategic ally and sole friend in the Muslim world. The Ottoman Empire had an honorable tradition of sheltering Jews from Christian persecution. Turkish- Israeli trade is close to $4.5 billion; some 80,000 Israeli tourists vacation annually in Turkey.
Until PM Erdogan’s Justice and Development Party, or AK, was elected in 2007, real power in Turkey was wielded from behind a façade of parliamentary democracy by hardline, rightwing generals of its powerful, 510,000-man armed forces.
Turkey’s brass have overthrown four governments since World War II and once ousted Erdogan from office. They particularly detest his AK party, which espouses principles of Islamic welfare, cuts in defense spending, friendship with Greece, and joining the EU.
Turkey’s dinosaur generals, and their allies in the security establishment, courts and academia, are militant secularist Kemalists who fear and loathe religious and political Islam that challenges their privileges and power base, look down on Arabs, and are ideologically close to Israel’s rightwing military establishment. Israel has sold Turkey billions in arms deals, producing fat commissions for all involved.
Israel’s crack air force trains in Turkey and had been planning to use Turkish airspace to attack Iran. The two nation’s intelligence agencies cooperate closely.
After a series of intrigues collectively know as, “Ergenekon,” the government has broken up cabals of far-right Turkish officers and civilian plotters trying to launch another military coup.
Turkey’s bullying military has been largely pushed out of politics, at least for the time being.
“Ergenekon” ruptured the secret Israeli-Turkish link and the dominance of the military. This allowed PM Erdogan to articulate Turkish public opinion by denouncing the killing of 1,300 Palestinians in Israel’s heavy bombing of Gaza in 2008-2009, beginning the rapid souring of Turkish-Israeli relations.
Now, Netanyahu’s bungling has shot Israel in both feet. To paraphrase Tallyrand, worse than crime, it was an error.
The world is demanding Israel end its brutal siege of hungry Gaza. If Gaza’s Palestinians will stop firing their useless home-made rockets at Israel and negotiate a prisoner swap with Israel (Israel has been balking at the exchange ratio), the end of this siege, which bans even delivery of spices and children’s toys, could be in sight.
However, Israeli-Turkish relations may never recover. Erdogan has emerged as the Muslim world’s most important leader, embarrassing all those Arab leaders who did nothing about Gaza. Their only response to the maritime killing was to call another meeting of the ever-useless Arab League.
When Israeli’s emotions cool down, they will see how rash and foolhardy Bibi Netanyahu, has been. He looks more each day like Israel’s version of his good friend, George W. Bush.