“We must care for our soldiers,” a military expert told me. “We must do everything possible so that they are not pursued with lawsuits throughout Europe.”
“What does ‘everything possible’ mean?” I asked. “We must not be tough,” he explained decisively. “Apologize; pay compensation – whatever we can. A state cannot send soldiers to take over a ship at sea, and then refrain from providing them with legal defense.”
I remained silent for a few seconds. My friend, the expert, is a veteran enough IDF officer with intimate knowledge of the takeover of the Marmara, yet he barely passes the test when it comes to understanding the role of the army in a democratic state.
The conversation between us took place several months ago, when it appeared that the crisis with Turkey is based on issues of honor. Messages were going back and forth between Jerusalem to Ankara, and international deals were being quickly formulated and called off. Yet to my friend the expert it appeared that we can lose much by “insisting on our national honor.”
Back then, I thought he was wrong. I still think the same today.
I will open by saying that the defense required by a solider is a protective vest, a helmet, and a good cover. Apologies and compensations don’t pertain to him. There is a military echelon whose job it is to fight, and there is a political echelon whose job it is to manage our ties with other states. At times, these ties involve diplomatic actions and other times they require us to utilize the army. This is the way of the world.
A soldier risks his life in the army. At times, imagine that, he also jeopardizes his vacation destinations.
The second reason my friend is wrong has to do with the difference between strategic damage and inconvenience. Turkey’s choice to undermine its ties with Israel constitutes strategic damage, yet it has nothing to do with the Marmara flotilla.
Currently there are three military powers in the Middle East: Turkey, Israel and Iran. The decision to replace the Turkish alliance with Israel with an alliance with Iran has been taken a long time ago. Erdogan initiated a communication channel with Hamas shortly after taking power, he acted against Israel in the wake of Operation Cast Lead, and he also stood behind the flotilla to Israel two years ago, even if so far Israel refrained from pointing the finger at him.
The strategic damage occurred when Erdogan took power. It simply took some time until the results became visible. Today, following the routine of belligerent statements and indictments we saw this week, we are merely in the inconvenience phase.
The third reason is the righteousness of our path. Seemingly it’s a primitive matter that should not be addressed in the framework of relations between states. In practice, this is one of the most critical components of regional stability.
In order to convince others, you have to believe in yourself. A state like Israel determines for others the limitations on attacking it; that is, the red lines it won’t allow to be crossed. This lesson could have been learned from the period of restraint in the face of Hezbollah attacks until 2006.
Yet in the Turkish context, Israel has adopted a battered wife approach, while continuing the policy of restraint in the face of Erdogan’s doctrine. The disregard continues, alongside defense deals.
There is no need to produce a head-on confrontation, but if we are right, we must say it out loud. It’s important in order to make it clear to the Turks that red lines do exist, rather than only a discourse of apologies and compensation. This is also important for us, so we don’t delude ourselves like some experts do.