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SECURING AMERICA, STRENGTHENING ISRAEL

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Turkey into the Abyss

JINSA Report #: 

1,118
September 7, 2011

The Palmer Report, the UN review of the Mavi Marmara flotilla incident, largely vindicated Israel. Most importantly, it declared Israel’s blockade of Gaza to be legal and questioned the true intentions of the flotilla organizers, particularly the IHH, an Islamic organization close to the AKP with links to terrorist organizations.

JINSA has long warned that the ruling AKP political party under Prime Minister Recep Tayip Erdogan had no love for Israel (or the United States for that matter) and, as such, it has engaged in increasingly dangerous behavior unbecoming of a NATO member. Since its ascension to power, AKP leadership has been looking for excuses to sever their relationship with Israel as part of a wider plan to increase Turkey’s profile in the Arab Middle East. The downward spiral did not begin with the flotilla incident.

The AKP’s actions and pronouncements during the pre-flotilla era is quite revealing in this regard. Prior to the flotilla incident, Erdogan made a series of statements with the intent to create distance between Turkey and Israel. Here are but a few of them:

On Jan 18, 2009, he declared: “Israel is using disproportionate force. What is Gaza? Is it part of your country, part of your land? I speak with the head of state of Palestine and he tells me two thirds of Israeli land belongs to them. Therefore, we must review this.”

On Jan. 29, 2009, he ambushed Israel’s head of state, President Shimon Peres, with an aggressive and insulting tirade in front of a large audience at the Davos summit. At one point during his rant he declared, “you know how to kill really well.”

In February 2009, he declared: “For two years Gaza has been occupied. Gaza has been the biggest open prison, just like a concentration camp.” The Palmer Report confirmed there is no humanitarian crisis in Gaza.

Israel’s response to these attacks was non-confrontational. Understanding that a public spat would play directly in AKP’s hands, Jerusalem’s muted response did not provide Erdogan enough ammunition to sever relations with Israel at the time, since it would entail costs to the Turkish economy and to the Turkish military. But Ankara's hostility to Israel and concomitant move away from the West continued.

In April 2009, Turkey and Syria conducted a joint military exercise and signed cooperative military agreements. AKP also improved its relations with Iran and brokered with Brazil the Iran nuclear fuel swap.

In May 2010, Turkey summarily cancelled long-running Israeli-Turkish naval and air exercises.

For years, Israel has been subject to venomous anti-Israel and anti-Jewish propaganda appearing in media associated with AKP.

There is no doubt that the May 31, 2010 flotilla incident did not occur in a vacuum. It was a deliberate policy designed to provoke Israel with the intention of creating a pretext for downgrading Turkey’s relationship with Israel and score points on the Arab street.

Since then, AKP has not rested. But despite its best efforts to repeat the flotilla incident in 2011, Israel along with the United States and friends in Europe (especially Greece) were able to derail the attempt without confrontation.

Undeterred, last week Erdogan used both Israel’s refusal to apologize for the deaths that occurred when activists on the Mavi Marmara savagely attacked Israeli soldiers and the Palmer Report’s reproach of Israel’s handling of the Mavi Marmara itself as an excuse to withdraw Turkey’s ambassador to Israel.

Following that action, a list of steps to be taken against Israel were announced by Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu, the most troubling of which threaten to create an unprecedented atmosphere of war including the declaration that Turkey will ‘take measures for freedom of maritime movement in the eastern Mediterranean Sea’ and that Turkey will take Israel to the International Court of Justice. Subsequent reporting of Turkish government statements noted the pronouncement that the next time Turkey sends a flotilla to break Israel’s Gaza cordon - that the UN report declared to be legal - Turkish warships would accompany it. While many will undoubtedly dismiss the statements as mere bluster, they carry grave implications including the very real possibility of a naval confrontation in the Mediterranean.

That Turkey, a NATO member, has militarily threatened Israel, a country long ago declared by the United States to be a Major Non-NATO Ally and a democratic country that maintains cooperative relations with all other NATO members, is well more than a little troubling. At a minimum, it is something for the NATO Council to consider and the U.S. Government should take the lead in this regard.

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