Sometime this week, some 1,000 activists on one or two large Turkish ships accompanied by 15 other craft were to be making their way to Gaza. But they are nowhere on the horizon, although Israel has been preparing to prevent their breaking the blockade.
So what happened? Just a month ago, various “Free Gaza” blogs were ablaze with hopes for the latest flotilla. Gaza TV News and Freedomflotilla.eu both reported that the Turks were going to send not only the Mavi Marmara( the ship Israel boarded on May 31, 2010), but also another “1,000-ton-capacity aid ship.”
This phantom ship was supposed to set sail on May 31, 2011 to commemorate the fate of the first flotilla, in which nine Turkish activists were killed. Accompanying photos of the ghost ship showed a type of freighter. Alas, it seems the story was smoke and mirrors; if there was a ship, it never sailed.
One man who posted on a freedom flotilla blog noted: “We hope that the Turkish people who have always extended their helping hand to Gazans will also help the loading of this ship with their donations.”
Reliance on the Turks to provide the shipping capacity and spearhead the
aid convoy has become a failing portion of the overall architecture of
the Free Gaza Movement.
Specifically, it is the reliance on the financial muscle and political
influence of Insani Yardim Vakfi (Foundation for Human Rights and
Freedoms and Humanitarian Relief-IHH).
The IHH, founded in 1995 to support Bosnian Muslims, is an Islamic
(probably Islamist) charity. In 2010 it purchased the Mavi Marmara and
loaded it with 600 activists to sail to Gaza. The motives for its sudden
interest in Gaza were never entirely clear. Its connections to the
governing party of Turkey, Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s Justice and
Development Party, were never entirely understood either. What is clear
is that Ergodan reacted with extreme anger when nine activists died
aboard the Marmara. In a June 2, 2010 speech before the Turkish
parliament he raged “in an absolutely illegal way did they [Israel]
attack, spilling the blood of innocent humans.”
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Later he reportedly referred to the dead as martyrs, and seemed to infer
that the flotilla’s actions had the consent of the Turkish government.
The IHH talked tough in the waning days of 2010 and through May 2011.
Then it revealed that it would postpone sending any ships until after
Turkey’s June 12 elections.
This intimated that it needed the approval of the ruling party, and also
feared that sending its ships before the election could create a
provocation that would harm Erdogan.
The decision to not send the ships came after two interesting occurrences on June 7.
First it was reported that Kemal Kılıçdarolu, leader of the opposition
Republican People’s Party, had criticized the government for not
thinking of the consequences of the Gaza flotilla’s actions. Then Ahmet
Davutoglu, Turkey’s foreign minister (who was also standing for
election), said: “The aid flotilla should wait to see what happens with
the Rafah border crossing being opened, and to see how Israel perceives
the new [Palestinian unity] government.”
Erdogan’s party handily won the June elections.
Then on June 17 the IHH’s leader, Fehmi Bulent Yildirim, noted that the
flotilla would not depart because of technical difficulties; “the exact
reason has nothing to do with the government or the state... the
Israelis, unbelievably, damaged our vessel.”
Really? The ship was released by Israel and returned to Turkey in August
2010. Presumably if it had technical difficulties, the IHH would not
have claimed so often that it would be sailing. When the IHH was asked
why a smaller freighter it had purchased was not going to be joining the
other freedom-flotilla craft, Yildirim claimed that this smaller ship
had to accompany the Marmara, as if they were one package.
Indeed they are one Turkish package. The pathetic little fleet of
sloops, yawls, dinghys, ketches and catboats that Western pro-Gaza
groupies have arranged has neither the muscle, capacity nor
headline-generating images needed to break the blockade or create any
sort of international incidents. It is as if Admiral Nelson had been
forced to bring only rowboats to Trafalgar to face French ships of the
But the real question remains: how to decipher this Turkish enigma?
Already commentators have come to understand that the IHH’s actions are
closely linked to the governing party, because the two organizations
share a similar, Islamic-inspired political ideology.
It has also transpired that there are deep divisions in Turkish
political circles over how wise it is to harm relations with Israel,
particularly the secular opposition and the nationalist (i.e
non-Islamist) daily Hurriyet have shown a willingness to challenge the
Erdogan narrative. Davutoglu, who has always gained accolades for his
deft handling of Turkish foreign policy, has revealed himself to be very
pragmatic on the Gaza issue, realizing that the opening of Rafah
negates the flotilla’s raison d’etre. But if all this pragmatism has
suddenly come to the surface, what sort of judgment prevailed a year ago
that allowed a cruise ship full of radical activists to depart for
Gaza? What were the activists going to do if they actually got to Gaza?
Rumors abound that Turkey wishes to be the mature leader of an Arab
democratic awakening, and sees the Gaza issue as a side-show. Others
speak of secret backroom talks between Israel and Turkey.
Nuh Yilmaz and Kilic Bugra, ham-handedly writing in Foreign Policy on
June 21, claim “Turkey will continue to extend and deepen its ties with
different political actors and the people of the Middle East.”
What’s going on in Turkey is a mystery, and that enigma should raise many eyebrows in Israel.The writer has a PhD from Hebrew University, and is a fellow at the Jerusalem Institute for Market Studies.
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