During his joint news conference with the Tunisian Interim Prime Minister Beji Caid el Sebs, Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan stated, “Israel will not be able to move in the eastern Mediterranean as it wishes. It will see our determination in this regard,” while referring to his country’s ability to have frigates and assault vessels in the eastern Mediterranean “at any time” to ensure freedom of movement. This was a follow-up to the deployment of three Turkish warships to the eastern end of the Mediterranean with the stated mission to escort a potential flotilla to Gaza in order to break the Israeli internationally recognized blockade of the Gaza Strip. This came immediately after the United Nations released the Palmer Report which, though expressing Israel had possibly used more than necessary force (there’s a new claim against Israel that was so unexpected), declared the Israeli blockade, deployed to impede the importation of weaponry and other supplies of war into Gaza be sea, to be perfectly legal and as such allowed to take legitimate actions to enforce inspection of all cargo entering Gaza through Israel or by sea. Should any entity or country desire to export armaments, explosives or other items not allowed to pass the Israeli blockade, they are free to use the Egyptian border at the Ramallah crossing into Gaza which Egypt has opened allowing everything to enter into Gaza.
This latest threat comes after a week of rapid deterioration of relations that have been steadily unraveling since Prime Minister Erdogan took office in 2003. The downturn of relations accelerated greatly since last year’s confrontation on the Mavi Marmara during the Turkish Flotilla to break the blockade. Prime Minister Erdogan has been demanding an apology by Israel setting a deadline for before the release of the Palmer Report. Upon the release of the report, Erdogan’s official position was that the report was tainted and influenced by anti-Islamic interests or pro-Zionist interests making the Palmer Report inconsequential. Israel has offered and expressed regret that force was necessitated which caused casualties including nine dead and offered to make some restitution but refused to offer the formal apology demanded by Turkey’s Erdogan. This led to Turkey reducing their relations with Israel to the lowest level just short of fully breaking off relations. Erdogan insisted that the Israeli Ambassador return to Israel as well as that one level below Ambassador leaving only the minimalist contingent downgrading Israel’s Embassy to consular level. The Turkish Ambassador was also recalled by Turkey from Israel and all military trade and agreements have been cancelled but business in other fields have been allowed to continue though there is some strain even on those levels. This has all come down to the positioning of three Turkish warships off the Israeli coast remaining in international waters and Prime Minister Erdogan has threatened to order the Turkish Navy to provide full military escort to any ships desiring to make port in Gaza. Such a move would be an actual act of war and the expression of intent to commit such an act is tantamount to a declaration of hostilities.
Thus far, Israel has not responded to the Turkish brinkmanship, at least not officially. Israel still intends to continue to enforce their blockade even if this would lead to a direct confrontation between the Israeli naval forces and those of Turkey, should they enter Israeli waters without permission. This is a very serious and dangerous standoff which does not bode for a peaceful ending. In the meantime, Turkey Prime Minister Erdogan is touring the countries which have changed leadership during the “Arab Spring” (referred to here at BTC as the “Arab Winter”) making accusations and denunciations of Israel, pledging support for whatever new regimes come to power and calling for them to join Turkey in the efforts to restrict Israel. Let us all hope that Turkey is purely posturing and Erdogan is not intending to provoke a war with Israel, especially if his aim is to drag all of the Middle East and North Africa into open warfare against Israel. It might be time for NATO to call for calm and use any influence they may have on Turkey, a member of the NATO alliance, to stand down from the threatening stance and mediate a solution that ends the thus-far one sided escalating of rhetoric before it becomes provocative actions that can easily get out of hand and pass the point of no return. Hopefully, nobody is actually attempting to cause a shooting war and all this remains portentous bluster and does not become explosive discharge.
Beyond the Cusp