We need an international inquiry – without US

It would be a mistake, from Israel’s point of view, to overburden the US and ask it to judge between Turkey’s claims and its counterclaims on the flotilla incident.

June 8, 2010 21:52
4 minute read.
Palestinian flags wave in Gaza port, foreground, a

gaza prepares for flotilla 311. (photo credit: AP)

Ever since the beginning of Operation Cast Lead in late December 2008, the writing was on the wall as to the bleak future of Israel’s relations with Turkey. The Turkish political leadership has made a strategic decision to turn east. Recep Tayyip Erdogan, the populist prime minister, is conveying this in his own personal style. Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu gives it a professorial gloss. There is now enough evidence to conclude that Turkey’s attitude toward Israel is part of a broader and dramatic shift in its strategic outlook.

Ankara is right in assessing as slim the prospect of entering the European Union and, at any rate, the negotiations with the EU have served the AKP ruling party’s purpose of weakening the other most formidable center of power – the military.

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Turning to the immediate neighborhood, while not burning economic bridges to the West, may seem a reasonable strategy to a regime with strong ideological affiliation to Islam.

The problem is that while Davutoglu pursues the policy of zero problems with Turkey’s neighbors, it clashes with some of Israel’s security concerns, piling up areas of conflict between these two regional powers. Israel’s silence on the convoys of Iranian weapons to Hizbullah passing through Turkey’s airspace can be explained only by its reluctance to pull the rug from underneath the defense industry’s arms sales to Turkey. The suspicious deal on nuclear enrichment Turkey (and Brazil) reached last month with Iran is further evidence of a strategy which runs contrary to Israel’s security concerns. It may also run contrary to the interests of some of Turkey’s other traditional allies.

BUILDING THE bridges to Teheran- Damascus-Hamas-Hizbullah is therefore the background on which the Mavi Marmara chain of events has to be viewed. Israel may have made tactical mistakes dealing with the flamboyant Erdogan, especially during Cast Lead.

Former prime minister Ehud Olmert should have called him minutes before the IDF entered Gaza to explain that he could not have told him about the impending operation, but that Israel had no option other than to defend its citizens. Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu should have sent a special envoy to explain to his Turkish counterpart why he decided not to pursue the Syrian track of negotiations to which Ankara played host and mediator. None of this has been done, but this should not be perceived as the major reason for the growing rupture between Jerusalem and Ankara.

In these circumstances, the Turkish culpability in the recent flotilla affair should be exposed. Israel’s failure to get a full picture of the passengers’ identities before its soldiers boarded the boat does not mean Turkey was unaware of them.

Preparations in Turkey for the flotilla took months, giving ample time for the authorities to discover who was behind the provocation. This is a serious matter, which may have far reaching implications for Israel’s security. It may be an early warning for other problems, such as Turkey’s possible refusal to comply with UN sanctions against Iran, those already adopted and any future ones.

Israel should therefore agree to an international commission of inquiry.

It should, however, insist that the mandate of the commission includes the investigation of the events that led to the clash at sea. Related to this is the US role in such an inquiry. The US is heavily involved in Iraq, it has a presence in the Gulf and is extensively deployed in Afghanistan.

It would be a mistake, from Israel’s point of view, to overburden the US and ask it to judge between Turkey’s claims and its counterclaims.

THOUGH IT seems that the bilateral relations with Turkey have deteriorated beyond repair, it would be wise to try quiet diplomacy, especially in the context of the blockade on Gaza, where a policy review is required. Israel should allow all foodstuffs to enter and, under certain conditions of scrutiny and monitoring, even cement and metals.

Turkey can play a central role in that case, giving the two governments an honorable exit and parachute instead of the free fall of their bilateral relations. Turkey’s private sector is involved in a positive and constructive manner in the economic development in the West Bank. Turkey and Israel have mutual economic interests. The discovery of large natural gas reserves makes Europe a natural market and Turkey is an important link. The two states would be missing great opportunities if they could not find a way to reconcile between their conflicting regional interests.

The writer is director of the Institute for National Security Studies. He served as ambassador to Jordan and the European Union. This article was excerpted from a speech he gave at an INSS conference entitled “Towards Nuclear Disarmament?” on Tuesday.

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