Analysis: Turkey also stands to lose

By
June 7, 2010 06:18

Ankara’s role in flotilla story doesn't look good.

4 minute read.



Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan

Erdogan311. (photo credit: Associated Press)

Talk to our envoys in Europe, and they will say that the flotilla disaster is just one of a string of recent Israeli missteps responsible for the harshest censure of Israel seen and heard on the Continent in years.

It is not just the Mavi Marmara incident, but also the decision to build 1,600 housing units in Ramat Shlomo when US Vice President Joe Biden was in Israel in March, and the alleged passport forgery used in the hit in Dubai in January against Hamas commander Mahmoud al-Mabhouh, that has led to an accumulated sense in Europe that something is badly off kilter in Israel.

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That’s the bad news.

The good news is that the Europeans are also having severe doubts about Turkey.

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If Israel, from the European perspective, stumbled badly with the Ramat Shlomo incident, Turkey – again from a European point of view – raised a few eyebrows in that same month when Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, prior to receiving German Chancellor Angela Merkel in Ankara, revitalized the proposal for the establishment of Turkish-language schools in Germany. Erdogan also implied that he considered himself the prime minister of Turks living in Germany, which elicited the following response from Merkel: “If there are worries or hardships for people with Turkish roots living here – I am their chancellor, too.”

And if the passport forgery incident in Dubai tarnished Israel’s image in Europe, Turkey’s proposal a few weeks ago – along with Brazil – to get Iran to transfer some of its low-enriched uranium abroad did not help Ankara’s image in Europe, which at the time was keen – along with the US – on getting sanctions through the UN Security Council. Turkey’s move was widely seen in European capitals as throwing Teheran a life raft.

And not only was the EU perturbed by this Turkish proposal, so were the Russians, who saw the proposal as a blow to Russian pride, since Moscow had proposed a similar idea a few months ago that was rejected by Iran.

Add to all the above the strange incident during Russia’s 2008 war in Georgia when a radar installation inside Turkey that could have supplied important information to NATO on what was going on inside Georgia inexplicably went down, and what you get is a growing suspicion and concern inside Europe about what exactly Turkey is up to.

Erdogan’s caustic criticism of Israel is doing nothing, according to diplomatic officials, to settle the unease inside European institutions and NATO concerning Turkey’s direction.

And this could – if Israel so chose – be used as leverage over Ankara to get the Turkish government to pull back and turn down the heat before a fire erupts that is certainly detrimental to Israel, but would also burn Turkey. It will be interesting to watch in the coming days whether Israel more and more openly implicates the Turkish government in responsibility for planning, organizing and carrying out the flotilla initiative.

Some diplomatic officials think that this is a new aggressive tack that Israel should take. The idea is not to match Erdogan’s vitriolic rhetoric, but rather to just expose the degree to which the Turkish government – which says it wants to be a part of Europe and a “bridge builder” between East and West – was involved in last week’s disastrous events.

Up until now, Israel has been extremely careful not to respond to Erdogan’s bitter tongue-lashings in kind. Yet there are other ways, beyond getting into a megaphone screaming match with Erdogan, for Israel to react.


For instance, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu told the cabinet Sunday that according to information currently in Israel’s possession, the group on the ship that attacked the IDF soldiers “boarded separately in a different city, organized separately, equipped itself separately and went on deck under different procedures. In effect, they underwent no checks.”

Although Netanyahu didn’t point a finger at the Turks, there was a hint here that none of this could have taken place without Turkish government collusion.

And Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman, in an interview with Army Radio, also hinted at the direction Israel may be taking along this route, saying he was not opposed to an investigation, including the involvement of international elements, of the flotilla because Israel had nothing to hide, and because it would be good to “put everything on the table, and also show what the place of the Turkish government was in this whole story.”

And the place the Turkish government had in this whole story is not something that will likely add to Turkey’s luster in the EU, NATO or – for that matter – in Washington.


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