- In May 2010, Israel's Gaza Freedom Flotilla Mavi Marmara
mother ship attack, killing nine Turkish citizens, stoked tensions between
the two countries.
- At the time, Turkey warned it might sever diplomatic
relations unless Israel apologized, consented to an independent international
investigation, and ended its Gaza siege.
- Israel, however, refused and stonewalled. Frayed ties
followed. In fact, they began deteriorating earlier in the new millennium
despite years of closer military, economic, political, technological, cultural,
academic, and practical relations.
- The 1993 Oslo Accords, in fact, facilitated them based
on (false) notions that Israel sought peace. Even so, relations were less
than entirely cordial. Underlying tensions persisted that grew as peace
proved illusive, Israel choosing confrontation that erupted during the
September 2000 Al-Aqsa (second) Intifada.
- At the time, then Prime Minister Bulent Ecevit criticized
Israel harshly. The 2003 Iraq war also caused friction, positioning both
countries on separate sides. Israel favored eliminating a regional rival.
Turkey wanted the status quo, opposing Iraq's partitioning and establishment
of a de facto Kurdistan on its border.
- Israel's preemptive 2006 Lebanon war caused more tensions.
So did Cast Lead from December 27, 2008 - January 18, 2009, inflicting
mass casualties and destruction. Prime Minister Recep Erdogan, in fact,
accused Israel of war crimes, including using illegal terror weapons like
white phosphorous, saying:
- "No one can claim that phosphorous shells are not
weapons of mass destruction," exaggerating to make a point.
- He also condemns Israel's lawless Lebanese overflights,
sometimes at low altitudes, calling them "unacceptable action(s) threaten(ing)
global peace." Moreover, he denounces regular Gazan air attacks and
ground incursions, asking at one time:
- "Is the Israeli government in favor of peace or
not? Gaza was bombed again yesterday. Why? There were no rocket attacks.
(Israel has) disproportional capabilities and power and (it) use(s) them.
They do not abide by UN resolutions. They say they will do what they like.
We can in no way approve of such an attitude."
- Then at the 2009 World Economic Forum, Erdogan walked
off the platform after a heated exchange with Israeli President Shimon
Peres that included condemning Cast Lead. The conflict disrupted Turkey's
Israeli/Syrian mediation efforts at the time under its "zero problems"
policy with neighboring states, hoping to further its assertive regional
role, and position itself as a lead player to facilitate, among other goals,
- Erdogan, in fact, said:
- "Turkey is coming to share the burden of the EU
rather than being a burden for it. In order to be a global power, there
must be a global vision and relations with different regions....Turkey
will be the gate of the EU opening to Asia, the Middle East and the Islamic
world....The full security of the EU passes through the full membership
- In other words, Turkey wants to position itself as an
indispensable regional power, mediator and peace maker, while maintaining
ties East and West. In fact, Foreign Minister Affairs Ahmet Davutoglu said:
- "The new global order must be more inclusive and
participatory....Turkey will be among those active and influential actors
who sit around the table to solve problems rather than" watch them
- Nonetheless, because ongoing tensions continued, Turkey
cancelled Israel's participation in its October 2009 Anatolian Eagle military
exercise, rankling its officials though concerns were thought to be temporary.
- However, after the Mavi Marmara incident, considerable
friction followed, including hostile public comments. Last January, for
example, Erdogan said Israel's Turkel Commission Flotilla massacre investigation
lacked credibility or value for concluding no violations of international
law when, in fact, Israeli commandos committed cold-blooded murder.
- He also wants Gaza's siege ended, said Hamas is Palestine's
legitimate government, and called Netanyahu's Israel's worst ever, adding
that Foreign Minister/Deputy Prime Minister Avigdor Lieberman is its "greatest
- Turkey wants Middle East security. Israel often threatens
it. Both countries also vie for regional dominance, while at the same time
cooperating on military, intelligence and other mutually strategic interests.
- Under Erdogan, Turkey seeks a greater Middle East role,
including as an intermediary between divergent sides while fulfilling its
NATO membership obligations. In March, it sent five ships and a submarine
to Libya's coast. In fact, Hurriyet Daily News quoted Erdogan saying:
- "Turkey said 'yes' to three tasks within NATO: the
takeover of Benghazi airport for the delivery of humanitarian aid, the
task about control of the air corridor, and the involvement of Turkish
naval forces in the corridor between Benghazi and Crete."
- Moreover, since April, NATO's Libyan air operations have
been run from its Izmir, Turkey Air Command Headquarters for Southern Europe.
- In addition, from May 1 - June 2, Turkey hosted an opposition
forces "Change in Syria" conference without pressing for regime
change. In fact, after President Abdullah Gul's key advisor, Ersat Hurmuzlu,
told Saudi Arabia's al-Arabya television that Assad had less than a week
to meet protester demands, he retracted saying:
- "We are not redesigning others' houses. It is Syria's
own problem," in contrast to Saudi and US media sources openly calling
for regime change, as well as Obama demanding Assad "reform,"
or "get out of the way."
- In contrast, Turkey knows if Syria boils over, it faces
multiple problems, including a much greater refugee crisis than now. Also,
its hope to become a "Northern Alliance" leader will be dashed.
As a result, it wants to spearhead change to further its own standing,
as well as perhaps accomplish the impossible - please all sides and avoid
greater regional conflict.
- Against Western and Israeli interests, however, it may
achieve little, but in its own neighborhood, it's determined to try, including
reports of reconciliation with Israel. More on that below.
- At the same time, the more assertive Turkey becomes,
the more at odds it is with Washington, its key NATO/EU allies, and Israel.
In fact, trying to please all sides while positioning itself as an indispensable
regional player, may cause it more problems than it achieves, especially
given Washington's aim for unchallenged Mediterranean Basin control from
North Africa through the Middle East, into Central Asia to Russia and China's
borders, using Turkey for its own strategic interests.
- Secret Turkish/Israeli Negotiations
- On June 21, Haaretz writer Barak Ravid headlined, "Israel
and Turkey holding secret direct talks to mend diplomatic rift," saying:
- With Washington's support, both countries are trying
to resolve differences, according to an unnamed Israeli official. "A
source in the Turkish Foreign Ministry and a US official confirmed that
talks are being held," though aides to Netanyahu and Foreign Minister
Lieberman declined comment.
- In addition, Washington held talks with senior Turkish
officials, to improve Israeli relations and get Ankara to abandon its late
June Flotilla II participation, now cancelled without resolving Mavi Marmara
- In fact, a UN inquiry report is due out early July. Both
sides represented on it "want to use (the) release as an opportunity....to
put the affair behind them and rehabilitate ties."
- Erdogen's reelection also leaves him freer to be "pragmatic,"
provided he can successfully broker a Syrian solution peacefully. At the
same time, Netanyahu earlier said "Israel had no desire to continue
a tense relationship and would be happy to have any opportunity to improve
the situation," provided, of course, it concedes little in return
for a lot, the way it always negotiates like Washington.
- Stephen Lendman lives in Chicago and can be reached at
- Also visit his blog site at sjlendman.blogspot.com and
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