Jerusalem brushes off Ankara threat to go to The Hague

Israel takes post-Palmer Report bluster by Turkey in stride: Ankara "riding the issue" to boost its position in Arab world, officials say.

Davutoglu 311 R (photo credit: REUTERS/Osman Orsal)
Davutoglu 311 R
(photo credit: REUTERS/Osman Orsal)
Turkey’s threat to take Israel to the International Court of Justice in The Hague following Friday’s release of the Palmer Commission report is a “pistol firing blanks,” Israeli officials said on Saturday, pointing out that the court only adjudicates issues brought to it by two disputing states, or referred to it for an advisory decision from the UN.
Israel won’t agree to go to the court, the official said, and the UN will be hard-pressed to ask for an advisory opinion after a UN body, the Palmer Commission, found that the blockade of the Gaza Strip was legal, as was Israel’s interception of vessels trying to break it.
Turks reduce Israel's diplomatic presence, expel envoys
Palmer: Gaza blockade lawful, IDF used ‘excessive’ force
Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu told Turkish television on Saturday that Ankara would apply to the International Court of Justice next week for an “investigation into what the Gaza blockade really is.”
This was one of five actions Davutoglu announced at a press conference on Friday, even before the Palmer Report was presented to UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, based on a leak of the complete report that vindicated Israel’s blockade but faulted the IDF for unreasonable and excessive force, even though it acknowledged Israel Navy sailors came up against strong, pre-meditated resistance by those on board the Mavi Marmara on May 31, 2010.
At his press conference, Davutoglu announced Ankara was expelling Israel’s ambassador, and freezing all military agreements. He also said Turkey would take measures for freedom of maritime movement in the eastern Mediterranean Sea, no longer recognizing the Gaza blockade, and support “flotilla victims” who take the matter to court.
Israeli officials said Saturday night it was unclear what the Turks meant by “taking measures for freedom of maritime movement in the Mediterranean,” but it was unlikely – as some could interpret the threat to mean – they would take any action that would risk a military confrontation.
The officials said Turkey threatened once before to send gunboats to accompany the Mavi Marmara on a return trip to Gaza, but that never happened.
Turkey and Davutoglu’s threats and bellicose comments were met for the most part by careful restraint in Jerusalem.
The Prime Minister’s Office issued a statement on Friday saying, “As advised in the report, Israel once again expresses its regret over the loss of life, but will not apologize for its soldiers taking action to defend their lives. As any other state, Israel has the right to defend its civilians and soldiers.”
Israeli officials said this unequivocal formal announcement of a refusal to apologize was a hardening of Israel’s position, which a few weeks ago was that it would consider apologizing for “operational mistakes.”
Officials in Jerusalem said Israel realized, however, that when Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan made the lifting of the blockade of Gaza, along with the apology and payment of compensation to the victims, one of the conditions to restoring ties, Ankara was not indeed interested in repairing relations.
According to the officials, Ankara is interested in boosting its position in the Arab world by “riding this issue” and fueling the fires of confrontation with Israel, not dousing them.
Israel, however, is not without its own cards in the relationship with Ankara, one of which is strong support in the US Congress, which could – if it saw fit – articulate in various ways its displeasure with Ankara.
Already, Congressman Eliot Engel (D-New York) issued a statement following Turkey’s decision to expel Israel’s envoy saying “Turkey should be ashamed of itself.”
“In an almost unbelievable act of hypocrisy, the Syrian ambassador sits comfortably in Ankara, while the Assad regime kills more than 2,000 of its own people, but Turkey has expelled the Israeli ambassador for Israel’s proper enforcement of a legally- established blockade,” said Engel, a senior member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee. “Rather than bashing the only real democracy in the Middle East, Turkey should focus on its own problems, such as ending its occupation of Cyprus once and for all.”
The US, according to Israeli officials, continues to be involved in efforts to defuse the situation.
Ban said during a visit to Canberra on Saturday he hoped “Israel and Turkey will improve their relationship.”
“My only wish is that they should try to improve their relationship and do whatever they can to implement the recommendations and findings of this panel’s report,” the secretary general said.
Both countries “are very important countries in the region. Their improved relationship, normal relationship, will be very important in addressing all the situations in the Middle East, including the Middle East peace process.”
Similar calls were made over the weekend by several European leaders, including the German and French foreign ministers.
The formal statement put out by the Prime Minister’s Office on Friday said Israel “cherishes the significant ties, past and present, between the Turkish and Jewish peoples. For that reason, the State of Israel has made numerous attempts in the last few months to settle the dispute between the two countries, but regrettably, these attempts have not been successful.”
The official said Israel hoped “a way will be found to move beyond this discord and will continue its endeavors to that end.”
In rare praise for a UN document, the statement from the Prime Minister’s Office called it “professional, serious and in depth,” and said Israel adopted the commission’s findings – though with reservations about its conclusion that unreasonable and excessive force was used by the IDF.
Regarding Turkey’s decision to expel Israel’s envoy, the statement said the ambassador, Gabi Levy, had already finished his term, had taken leave of his Turkish counterparts in Ankara, and was returning to Israel in the coming days. No replacement for Levy, whose retirement from the Foreign Ministry has been known for months, was ever named.
Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon said on Saturday Israel did not need to “subordinate its foreign policy to the whims of anyone else.”
“There was nothing to apologize for, and the Palmer Report proved there was nothing to apologize for,” he said, characterizing the Turkish behavior as “puzzling” and saying it impacts Israel’s interests but Turkey’s as well.
“The situation we have reached in relations with Turkey is not a matter of national pride but of interests and status,” he said.
Apparently referring to Turkey’s swiftly changing relationships with Syria and Iran, Ayalon said, “I think the geo-strategic situation of Turkey over the past few months has declined steeply, and this should have necessitated some humility from them.
“But they were not willing to compromise. I think that in the end we have to stand our ground, and on the other hand tell the Turks that from our point of view the incident is behind us, and now our interest is to cooperate. The lack of cooperation hurts us and the Turks.”
Reuters contributed to this report.