The last action by Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu topping off United States President Obama’s visit was facilitated by the President who made the phone call to Turkish Prime Minister Erdogan and gave an introductory preface for Netanyahu’s apology over the Mavi Marmara interception during which IDF Naval commandos came under attack by IHH terrorists causing a firefight which resulted in nine IHH members deaths, eight of which were Turkish citizens and one was an American citizen. Prime Minister Netanyahu made his apology and promised to make compensatory payments to the next of kin of those who died during the confrontation. The entire confrontation was an effort by the IHH group with the cooperation of members of the Turkish government to break the internationally recognized naval blockade by Israel on ships wishing to carry cargo in or out of the Gaza Strip in order to prevent the transfer of arms or terrorists with Hamas and the other terrorist groups operating in the Gaza Strip. The Israeli blockade is recognized and has been determined to be legal and meeting all the requirements imposed by international law and has been approved by the United Nations. The blockade requires that ships unload their Gaza Strip bound cargoes at an Israeli port where the contents are examined for contraband and all which is not on the prohibited list of goods are then transferred into the Gaza Strip via recognized land crossing along with the regular daily shipments of aid provided by Israel.
The Mavi Marmara was the sole ship from the flotilla which refused to divert to the Israeli port and instead attempted to break the blockade. The goods on the other ships was inspected and transferred into the Gaza Strip where it sat until removed as the out of date foodstuffs and medicines were of no interest to Hamas or the people residing in the Gaza Strip as they receive sufficient supplies of fresh food and medical supplies as part of the support provided via Israeli truck transfers. The Mavi Marmara contained no supplies whatsoever and was solely intended to force a confrontation for the sake of propaganda against Israel and providing news footage which would show the IDF forces as being needlessly violent and using undue force against the IHH mercenaries who were to be portrayed as innocent, nonviolent human rights activists. Their plan was foiled as footage of the confrontation revealed the violence which was unleashed upon the Israeli soldiers as they rappelled onto the Mavi Marmara’s decks. They were set upon by terrorists wielding baseball bats, iron rods, knives and swords. The Israeli commandos were armed with paintball guns filled with pepper-ball ammunition and were forced to turn to their sidearms in self-defense. The result of the attacks was nine IHH members died and several IDF soldiers were hospitalized with at least one permanently disabled. The IHH members were recorded claiming their desire to either break the blockade or die as shahids, martyrs. There were miscalculations and planning errors made by the Israeli commanders who apparently thought that the flotilla was a protest stand and not a military operation intent on confrontation and possibly killing the IDF soldiers. The Mavi Marmara did not carry aid of any sort and was being utilized purely for the confrontation with intent on causing as much violence as they potentially were able. As to which side was at greater fault is dependent upon the person asked and needless to point out is that the Turkish government and many leaders blame Israel for using disproportional force and murdering the nine IHH members and the Israelis point to the film of the confrontation which shows the overt and potentially lethal force unleashed on the IDF soldiers as they boarded the Mavi Marmara and claims their actions were purely self-defense and completely legal.
Turkish Prime Minister Erdogan insisted that Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu make a formal apology and pay compensation to the families of the nine dead IHH members. Prime Minister Netanyahu refused to apologize and held fast to that position until he finally capitulated to President Obama’s demands onboard Air Force One under the coxing of United States President Obama. Even with the apology and offer of payment to the families, Prime Minister Netanyahu had not entirely surrendered and Prime Minister Erdogan had also compromised by accepting a phone call apology instead of a formal apology. The apology by Prime Minister Netanyahu has caused a fair amount of controversy in Israel with the divide along the lines one might expect with a few exceptions. Former Foreign Minister Lieberman made the first and likely most boisterous condemnation claiming that Israel should not be seen to grovel over defending herself. Minister of the Knesset Chetboun also objected claiming that the apology conveyed a message to IDF soldiers that the government does not have their backs in such situations and confrontations when facing violent terrorists. Meanwhile, Tzipi Livni and Shelly Yachimovich both supported Prime Minister Netanyahu making the apology claiming that good relations with Turkey outweigh pride and was the expedient thing to do. The question is whether or not the apology will return relations between Israel and Turkey to be as they were before the Mavi Marmara incident or if the relations have deteriorated too far already and if so why and at whose initiative?
There will be many who will propose that things between Turkey and Israel are on the mend and will point mainly to trade or anything else that they can show which supports such a claim. Tourism might even revive with time but the real signs that relations are improved would be on the political and military relations. Since the Mavi Marmara confrontation, Israel and Turkey have not had any further joint military exercises with Turkey insisting Israel not be included in what had previously been joint exercises the two nations and the United States and NATO. Those who will use trade as their proof are pointing to one aspect of Turkish-Israeli relations which had not suffered any real measurable amount as that was one area which remained healthy except for the military sectors. Most of the military trade between Israel and Turkey consisted of Israeli systems traded to Turkey which were curtailed as part of the freeze which had set in. The break began when Turkey cancelled all outstanding orders for Israeli military systems. Should this sector of trade resume it may be a sign of a return to healthy and friendly relations.
Turkey is currently in a state of siege with half a million Syrian refugees and a full blown civil war on their southern border. Adding to this is the undeniable fact that Iraq has sided with Iran and has been facilitating the Iranian supplying of Syrian dictator Bashir Assad’s forces including sending IRGC troops to fight against the rebels. They are also going to need to deal with what is essentially a Kurdish state on their eastern borders. Turkey will bear watching in the immediate future to discern which direction Prime Minister Erdogan will lead his country. Should he continue in the path he has been following the world will watch as Turkey slides closer to the Muslim world and discards their secular history returning to their Islamic past. Erdogan has wisely moved slowly initially, almost unperceptively, undoing everything that was built through the changes brought be Kemal Atatürk. We had discussed the trend towards Islamist principles and their trending away from Western culture and warned of the growing threat Turkey was going to pose for NATO on January 15, 2010, in an article titled <a href=http://beyondthecusp.wordpress.com/2010/01/15/the-turkey-problem-for-nato/>The Turkey Problem for NATO</a> and earlier noted the slide towards Islam as part of an article titled <a href=http://beyondthecusp.wordpress.com/2007/06/21/is-turkey-at-the-tipping-point/>Is Turkey at the Tipping Point?</a> back on June 21, 2007. Unfortunately most of the Western nations have blithely been ignoring all the signs right before their eyes and continue to ploy Turkey with arms and favorable treatment. But then again, if the recent deals made to arm Egypt and Saudi Arabia is any sign, the Western nations are blithely ignoring every warning sign. It is due to this limitation in foresight that it will be claimed that Israel and Turkey are friends once more and anything which can be attributed to that end will be applauded and touted as a great achievement. Hopefully, at least some in the Israeli leadership will not be blinded to the truth and will advise a cautionary approach in relations and trust towards Turkey. A little caution is always advisable and even more so when dealing with new friend, or as in this case a renewed friend. Israel should not be too quick to forget the bad blood that has come between them and Turkey or to forget and forgive that the Turkish government supported and assisted the IHH terrorists with their flotilla. Israel should not believe that they had no knowledge of the planned violence by the IHH members even though this will be exactly what the world will demand of Israel.
Beyond the Cusp