Calm winds and following seas

Some major developments over the past year have decreased the political threat posed by a new flotilla.

May 30, 2011 23:13
3 minute read.
The 'Mavi Marmara'

The 'Mavi Marmara' 311 (R). (photo credit: Reuters/Emrah Dalkaya)

Ayear after the failure of the Turkish flotilla to breach the Gaza blockade and the ensuing violence, Israel may face a similar attempt again. But recent developments in the region mean that a new flotilla may be met with different reactions on both sides of the Mediterranean.

FOUR MAJOR developments over the past year have decreased the political threat posed by a new flotilla.

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The first is the simple fact that, despite much publicity and several announcements, no flotilla has sailed since the first was blocked exactly a year ago on May 31.

While the organizers’ rhetoric remains as viciously anti-Israel as before, the number of volunteers actually willing to brave the IDF’s reaction was so far much smaller than the IHH hoped for and not enough for an impressive show of force. The IDF had a year to analyze and learn lessons from the last incident, in which nine people died, and prepare new and innovative methods to stop any ship. The novelty factor of such a flotilla is now smaller since it lost the surprise effect, while doomsday prophesies about adverse world reactions to Israel’s stopping of the flotilla quickly faded against the dramatic pictures from Tahrir Square and the streets of Syria.

The second development is Turkey’s declining status in the Arab world as a result of the Arab Spring revolutions. Turkey’s leaders sought to ally themselves with the more extremist elements in the Muslim world, especially Iran. However, the populations of many Muslim countries reject extremism and demonstrate instead for more freedom, democracy and openness.

The ousting of the Tunisian and Egyptian governments, NATO’s attacks on Libya and the riots in Syria could bring similar demonstrations in Turkey against its radicalizing regime. By encouraging the first flotilla, Turkish authorities may have bitten off more than they could chew: While official European and American political reactions were mild, the Turkish economy is deteriorating as more firms are reluctant to invest in a country now perceived as increasingly radical and unpredictable.

Turkey’s trade deficit with the European Union, its largest trade partner, more than doubled in the previous year, from 8 billion to over 19 billion euros, while inflation soared to almost 9 percent.

European leaders fear that further radicalization in Turkey could bring similar radicalization of the large Turkish minorities inside the EU, especially in Germany, and discreetly signal Ankara of the need to moderate its anti-Israel rhetoric.

The third development is the expanding strategic alliance between Israel and Greece. Under previous governments, Greece traditionally took a pro-Palestinian line, but this position is rejected by a younger generation of Greeks who view Israel, with its economic success and flourishing hi-tech industries, as an example to follow.

Over the past two years, Greece and Israel came closer than ever before, with cooperation extending from intelligence and security to the scientific and economic fields. Greek society suffers greatly under a massive austerity plan, higher taxes and a bureaucracy which throttles innovation and economic expansion. Sick of their ailing economy and IMF meddling, many Greeks see the Israeli model of economic growth as the one to emulate. While the Greek-Israeli alliance is not aimed specifically against Turkey, it does present Ankara with a new variable in its relations with Israel.

The fourth development is the recent official opening of the Gaza-Egypt border. Contrary to initial Israeli reactions, this may turn out to be a blessing in disguise. While the opening of the border has no security significance, since heavy weapons and Hamas activists are regularly moved through tunnels under the border, it undermines the main ideological argument of the flotilla planners that Gaza is under siege. The border crossing will serve as a societal “safety valve” to allow ordinary Palestinians to visit families or travel for business abroad. In addition, the spirit of democracy and peaceful revolution may seep into Gaza from other Arab capitals.

The Israeli government should bear these developments in mind when formulating its reactions to a new flotilla.

The writer is deputy head of the political studies department at Bar-Ilan University and senior research fellow at the BESA Center for Strategic Studies.

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