(photo credit: IDF Spokesperson.)
The results are in: Over 50% of readers voted the Gaza flotilla raid as the biggest Israeli news story of 2010. In second place were the fatal Carmel forest fires, with almost 35% of the vote.
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Pistol shots before the break of down on May 31, 2010, signaled the plummeting of Israel-Turkey relations to an all time low. The shooters, frogmen from the IDF’s elite Shayetet 13 naval commando unit had rappelled from black-hawk helicopters onto the deck of the Mavi Marmara in the Eastern Mediterranean, where they were swarmed by a stick-wielding mob.
When the dust settled, nine Turkish citizens lay dead, seven IDF commandos were injured, and Israel was dealing with a fresh round of international condemnation.
The Mavi Marmara
was one of six ships taking part in the “Gaza Freedom Flotilla” organized by the Free Gaza Movement and Turkish charity IHH that sought to break the Israeli blockade on the Gaza Strip. The ships brought some humanitarian supplies, but their most important cargo were the cameras and broadcasting equipment that aired their message around the world in real time, before the Israeli hasbara machine could even get its shoes on.
The deaths on board the Mavi Marmara
shone a light on the Gaza blockade in ways which surpassed Hamas is
Gaza's wildest dreams. Instantly, people across the world began to
question whether the blockade was purely a security measure, or a form
of collective punishment against the people of Gaza meant to weaken the
ruling Hamas government. For the first time, the international community
began to ask why items such as pasta or coriander were intermittently
banned by the Israeli blockade, which on paper was presented as a
security measure meant to protect the Israeli homefront from Hamas
rockets and Iranian-supplied armaments that would rain death on the
Israeli countryside if the blockade was lifted. Less than a month later,
Israel approved a plan to allow virtually all non-military items to
enter the Gaza Strip. Egypt also eased their restrictions on the
territory, opening the Rafah border crossing on the border with Gaza.
On the Israeli side, many saw the incident as the swan song of Israel’s
solid, mutually beneficial military and economic alliance with Turkey.
Instantly, large swaths of the Israeli public forgot that Turkey was the
first Muslim country to recognize Israel (in 1949) and to disregard the
strategic strength and billions of dollars in free trade annually that
Israel gains from the alliance. Instead, Israelis began to question the
merits of an alliance with Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s Turkey, which long
before the Gaza flotilla raid showed signs of a worrying tilt away from
the secular, western foundations of the modern Turkish republic.
In a sense, the raid on the flotilla was the culmination of a decline in
Israel’s relations with Turkey ever since Erdogan became prime minister
in 2003. The writing was already on the wall, with a number of highly
publicized incidents including Erdogan’s verbal sparring with President
Shimon Peres at the World Economic Forum in Davos in 2009, and Deputy
Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon highly publicized upbraiding of Turkish
diplomat Ahmet Oguz Celikkol in January 2010, who he forced to sit in a
low chair in a tense meeting held to express Israeli concerns over a
grossly anti-Semitic miniseries aired on Turkish TV.
Like other military and diplomatic conflagrations in the past, the Gaza
flotilla’s aftermath was most felt in its exposure of Israeli
weaknesses. Instantly, the world saw that even with Israel’s vaunted
military and feared intelligence agencies, the country had no solution
for a lightly-armed group of protesters playing chicken with the Israeli
navy on the high seas. The flotilla also showed that in the absence of a
sweeping, precise military solution, Israel’s diplomats fall far short
of filling the void.