The findings of the United Nations’ Palmer Report, coupled with Israeli determination to withhold an apology over the deaths of nine Turkish nationals on the Mavi Marmara, have prompted Turkey to follow through on a threatening ultimatum regarding a major downgrade in Israeli-Turkish relations. The Turks have effectively “resorted to plan B,” even though the Palmer Report declared Israel’s blockade of the Gaza Strip is not illegal, a notion that inspired Turkish backing for the Mavi Marmara in the first place.
So what is plan B, exactly? In brief, it involves a major downgrading of diplomatic relations, expulsion of Israel’s ambassador, Turkish support for those who wish to bring legal charges against Israel, full support for the Palestinian UN bid, an end to military and intelligence cooperation and significant trade sanctions and reduction of investment projects in Israel. Turkey has even threatened to send warships to accompany future flotilla efforts, a potentially game-changing provocation in its own right.
If completely realized, the downgrading of relations between the two countries may be a genuine nail in the coffin for Israel-Turkish relations on almost every front. Bank of Israel Chairman Stanley Fischer remarked recently that the diplomatic row and damaged trade relations would pose severe consequences for Israel’s economy. Current trade relations between the two countries are set to amount to nearly $4 billion, or 3% of all Israeli trade.
The move will also likely serve to further strengthen our once-critical ally’s relationship with our enemies in the region. The Arab League has already declared its support for Turkey’s decision, and Hamas welcomed the expulsion of the Israeli ambassador from Turkey while calling the Palmer Report “biased,” blaming “Israeli-American” pressure. News of an upgrade in Turkish-Egypt strategic cooperation has spawned alarm in Israeli circles as well, especially as the two countries face similar diplomatic issues with Israel at the moment.
Erdogan himself declared the report to be “null and void.” Meanwhile, Ankara has decided to pursue other avenues in addressing Israel’s blockade of Gaza. Turkey is now going forth with a bid to take Israel’s blockade to the International Court of Justice in The Hague. If the Turkish government proceeds with its plan, its actions will undoubtedly bring tensions between Israel and Turkey to an all-time low, and perhaps even to the breaking point.
So much for the “Zero Trouble” foreign policy approach that Turkish Foreign Minister Davutoglu advocated only two years ago.
We don’t need another foe
Interestingly, some Arab countries have also expressed a desire to bring the Gaza blockade to the ICJ, yet have refrained from doing so, ostensibly because of American pressure. Turkey, which is a member of NATO, appears to be defying Western influence on this front. This itself is one of the most telling indications of the nosedive the Israeli-Turkish relationship has taken over the past few years.
Significant deliberation over whether to apologize and compensate the Turkish government has taken place since the incident took place in May 2010, including multiple high-level meetings conducted in Washington. However, these sessions always concluded in an impasse between the negotiating parties.
From a technical standpoint, Israel does have reason to apologize to Turkey and is clearly highlighted in the Palmer Report: Israeli interception of the Mavi Marmara was executed far from Gaza’s shores, in what were effectively international waters. Before storming the ship, Israel issued the Turkish vessel no final warning, giving the passengers on board legal pretext to defend themselves against Navy Commandoes.
However, the Turkish reaction also stretches the limits of reasonability. After strongly supporting UN involvement in assessing the aftermath of the Gaza flotilla affair, the sudden, outright rejection of the report on the basis of its conclusions comes off as hypocritical.
Political analysts and security experts have issued wide-ranging evaluations on the implications of Turkey’s actions. Whether Turkey follows through on all of its threats regarding relations with Israel remains to be seen. Undoubtedly, many Western nations will lobby aggressively for Israel and Turkey to resolve their differences quickly and avoid exacerbating tensions.
The fact is that there remains an opportunity for Israel and Turkey to emerge from this diplomatic row and resolve their differences. National honor plays a major role in the positions of both countries, and appeasement is apparently not in the cards for either country. Yet some elements in both countries are pushing for reconciliation, and each party realizes the enormous consequences of complete political fallout between Jerusalem and Ankara.
Unless further negotiations and mediation efforts are reinforced, both by local government officials and the international community, we may see the souring of relations between Israel and Turkey decline to a point that is beyond repair. The last thing we need right now is another enemy in the region.
Avi Yesawich is an independent journalist and political commentator. He holds degrees from Cornell University and Tel Aviv University, is an IDF combat reservist and co-founder of political blog/site www.israelicentrism.com
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