Into the Fray: Turkish tantrums

The loss of Turkey as a strategic ally is a huge blow. But it is a result of what Turkey has become, not what Israel has – or has not – done.

Breaking news (photo credit: JPOST STAFF)
Breaking news
(photo credit: JPOST STAFF)
... Shut up. Go back to Auschwitz!
... We’re helping Arabs go against the US. Don’t forget 9/11, guys
– Radio transmission from the Gaza bound flotilla in May 2010 in response to the Israel Navy’s warning that it was entering an area under naval blockade Nothing could illustrate more graphically the sentiments that prevailed aboard the Mavi Marmara than the invective hurled by the “activists” at the Israeli naval forces charged with enforcing the eminently legal and legitimate maritime quarantine of Gaza.
Nothing could better corroborate the telling first-hand account by Turkish journalist Sefik Dinç that the vessel carried a large number of Judeophobic Islamists spoiling for martyrdom, than the joint evocation of Auschwitz and 9/11.
Nothing could make demands for an Israeli apology to Turkey look more absurd when voiced by Ankara — or more shamefully self-demeaning when echoed by Israelis.
Accepted international practice Of course there was no need for the Palmer Report to know that the blockade of the terrorist haven in Gaza did not contravene accepted international practice. A cursory visit to the official US Navy website quickly corroborates that its special forces have conducted hundreds of “noncompliant” boardings well outside US territorial waters, and that similar operations are regularly “conducted by modern military and police forces globally “ Just as with the Mavi Marmara, “These mission[s]... set the conditions for security and stability in the maritime environment...
complement the counterterrorism and security efforts [and] disrupt violent extremists’ use of the maritime environment as a venue for attack or to transport personnel, weapons or other material.”
Indeed the cordoning of Gaza was far more benign than the US-led, UN-sanctioned blockade of Iraq. This embargo, imposed in 1990 by Security Council Resolution 661, had humanitarian consequences far beyond anything remotely approaching those in Gaza.
For almost decade a half, the prohibition on importing hundreds of civilian items (including painkillers and pencils, according to Time magazine; and hearing aids, musical instruments and shampoo, according to other sources) inflicted misery on millions of Iraqi citizens, causing hundred of thousands of civilian deaths including a dramatic increase in infant mortality.
Indeed, who can forget chilling response from he US’s then-UN ambassador Madeleine Albright to a question from 60 Minutes’s Lesley Stahl, regarding the consequences of the US-led sanctions against Iraq: “[H]alf a million children have died... more than in Hiroshima... is the price worth it?” Albright responded, “I think that is a very hard choice, but the... price is worth it.”
Significantly, the remark, made in 1996, caused no public outcry and proved no impediment to her later (unanimous) Senate approval as Bill Clinton’s secretary of state.
Moreover, unlike the case of Gaza, where the democratically elected Hamas theocracy regularly bombarded Israeli towns and villages, and pronounced its resolve to eradicate the Jewish state, none of the countries participating in the Iraq embargo had their populations directly threatened by the Saddam-regime, nor was their destruction its declared objective.
So while Israel’s blockade was directed against a terrorist entity whose murderous enmity toward it enjoyed wide public endorsement by Gazans, the sanctions against Iraq wrought havoc on a people in the grip of a tyranny, which in pre-Arab- Spring realities, it was helpless to resist.
But indignation leads me to digress.
What Turkey has become While it is indisputable that ties with a secular, Westward-looking Kemalist Turkey were of immense strategic value, they are unsustainable with an Islamocratic, Eastward- looking post-Kemalist Turkey.
Several years ago I co-authored an article with Gen. Cevik Bir, the former deputy chief-of-staff of the Turkish armed forces and arguably the driving force behind the Turco-Israeli nexus, analyzing the ties between the two countries. In the article we laid out what was then widely considered to comprise the bedrock upon which the bilateral ties were founded.
All the components of this bedrock have been eroded away.
The fundamental underpinning of the relationship was what The Washington Institute’s David Makovsky termed “a common sense of otherness” felt by two non-Arab, pro-Western states that set them apart from other counties in their region. But today Turkey is no longer a Westward-looking, secular state. It is seeking not only acceptance, but leadership in the Muslim world — now increasingly pursued by means of a hostile, humiliating demeanor toward the Jewish state.
In the past both Turkey and Israel were targets of Syrian hostility. Both had to contend with Damascus’s support of terror, territorial claims and water demands. This perception of a shared threat was a strong element cementing the relationship between Ankara and Jerusalem.
Today this no longer holds. Since 2003, with election of the AKP, Turco-Syrian relations have improved dramatically and until recently were seen as strong, even intimate. Although Bashar Assad’s slaughter of Syrian citizens has put a strain on the bilateral relationship, it would be unrealistic to believe that the perception of Syria as a common antagonist is likely to reappear to enhance to bond between Turkey and Israel The Turkish military, which was the foundation of the country’s secular civil society, the bulwark against its Islamization and the linchpin of the relationship with Israel, has been gravely weakened.
In the past, it forced the resignation of the government of Necmettin Erbakan, whose Welfare Party was the precursor to Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s AKP, following an anti-Israel rally in Istanbul. With impressive skill, resolve and daring, Erdogan, previously imprisoned and banned from politics for life, has managed to greatly diminish the influence of the armed forces with a purge of recalcitrant brass, arresting some for plotting rebellion and forcing others to resign.
Today the military is a shadow of its former self as a political force and it certainly cannot play the same role in fostering relations with Israel.
Wimpiness, not wisdom The calls for Israel to capitulate to Turkish coercive diplomacy in order to restore relations with Ankara are not only shamefully servile, they are infantile.
When they come from prominent opinion- makers in the Israeli media and academia, they are deeply disturbing.
There is no longer a compelling confluence of the strategic interests for Israel and Turkey. The perception of shared values and common threats no longer exists.
For the foreseeable future, there will be no way to resurrect the entente, with or without apologies, accommodation and/or appeasement.
We had better get used to the idea and strategize accordingly. Nothing useful will result from waxing nostalgic over an irretrievable past.
Suggestions by “oracles” such as Haaretz that such prostrated submission be accepted as “a small price to pay for such a strategic asset as relations with Turkey” are absurd, reflecting wimpiness, not wisdom.
It is, at best, juvenile to believe that Turkey would restructure its strategic interests depending on whether or not it received an unwarranted apology. If Ankara ascribed strategic value to ties with Israel it would not sacrifice them simply because such an apology was not forthcoming.
Prof. Shlomo Avineri typifies such misconceptions.
Oozing condescending paternalism, he writes, “From their viewpoint, we killed nine Turkish citizens,” and goes on to pontificate with misplaced self-righteousness: “It is therefore important that Israel announce now that it is establishing a compensation fund for the families of those killed – beyond the letter of the law.”
Well, no! What should be conveyed to the Turks is our viewpoint, i.e., Israeli outrage that the Turkish government facilitated the dispatch a gang of Judeocidal extremists, to breach a legal naval blockade set up by a friendly power, and who attempted to lynch members of our armed forces who were compelled to exercise their legitimate right of self-defense.
Clearly any suggestion that compensation be paid to families of the would-be murderers is offensive and counterproductive...
and likely to serve as a precedent opening the floodgates for a tidal wave of claims for compensation for every unsavory extremist virtuously dispatched to the hereafter by legitimate IDF action.
From Palmer to Palmerston This brings us to the Palmer Commission, which also included a recommendation for compensation, and for expressions of regret by Israel.
These misplaced proposals underscore that the commission should never have been appointed in the first place, or at least should have been given an entirely different mandate. For apart from arriving at the eminently self-evident conclusion that Israel’s blockade did not contravene international law and the IDF commandos had the right to defend themselves, the commission criticized Israel for the use of force that was “excessive and unreasonable.”
It would be intriguing to know just how the folks on Palmer Commission would determine what force is “reasonable” when trying to avoid being disemboweled by a frenzied lynch mob.
Of course the real focus of an investigative commission pursuing political truth rather than political correctness would not be the IDF interception of the Mavi Marmara, but why the need to intercept it arose at all.
Indeed, the exigencies of good governance should have dictated that Ankara itself launch an inquiry into the events that led up to the incident, and into who was responsible for provoking confrontation with an long-time ally that led to the deaths of its own citizens.
After all as Dinç points out, “The Turkish government, by not preventing the incident, and the IHH, by insisting on entering Gaza, led to... destabilizing the Middle East region again.”
The present government in Ankara has no desire to repair its relations with Israel.
The flotilla incident was not a reason for the rupture, merely a good excuse. The crude Midnight Express-like harassment of Israelis at Istanbul airport this week should dispel any doubts as to the true proclivities of the Erdogan regime.
Israel must resign itself to the loss of Turkey as a strategic ally – as it did with Iran.
The working assumption must be that Ankara has taken a strategic decision to turn toward the Muslim world. Even a cursory review of Edogan’s personal history should drive this home.
There may be many reasons why Turkey changed direction — poor, corrupt governance by its secular elites, repeated rejection of its EU accession bid. But whatever the reason(s), Turkish reaction to the Mavi Marmara incident is a reflection of, not a reason for, this transformation.
Rather than mourn the loss, Israel must begin to devise way to compensate for it.
It should find counsel and comfort in the words of Lord Palmerston, to the House of Commons, in March 1848: “We have no eternal allies, and we have no perpetual enemies. Our interests are eternal and perpetual, and those interests it is our duty to follow.”
Accordingly, Israel must seek alternative alliances with other actors on the international stage to offset the damage.
It will not be easy, but neither is it impossible.
Ties with Romania and the Balkans states including Greece, with Armenia and with the Kurds, who all have a lessthan- felicitous relationship with the Turks, should be enhanced and strengthened — while recognizing that they too are unlikely to continue indefinitely.
Assertive action in this direction would not only be beneficial to Israel but would bring home to Ankara that ditching allies is not cost-free — something that might become clearer next time its military tries to buy advanced drones from its new pals such as Egypt or its civilians need urgent assistance to cope with a major earthquake.
National honor as a strategic assert Binyamin Netanyahu’s government should be largely commended for its stance. It should not heed the calls of those who dismiss the value of national honor (as long as that honor is Israel’s, not Turkey’s), and who advocate servile supplication as a strategy. Israel would do well to recall Winston Churchill’s stinging rebuke of British and French appeasement: “[They] had to choose between war and dishonor. They chose dishonor. They will have war.”
Even if the confrontation with Turkey does not go beyond the bounds of a diplomatic war, the worst thing Israel can do is to cultivate an image of weakness and submission.
Nothing would increase the chance of hostilities more than reinforcing the classic anti-Semitic imagery of Jewish helplessness, or cultivating the perception in the minds of friend and foe that the proud, defiant Israeli has morphed into the craven, cringing Jew-boy.