My Word: Stormy waters

If any prime minister should be censured for his role in the flotilla disaster, it is Turkey’s Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

Mavi Marmara Raid 311 (photo credit: REUTERS)
Mavi Marmara Raid 311
(photo credit: REUTERS)
When State Comptroller Micha Lindenstrauss last week published his scathing report on Israel’s handling of the May 2010 Gaza flotilla affair, I, sadly, did not emit a “What took you so long?” or even a “So what else is new?” I barely managed an “I told you so,” but I take no pleasure in that.
The report is important for pinpointing deficiencies in the decision-making procedure – but only as important as implementation of its recommendations. The value of Lindenstrauss’s assessment lies in changes being instituted before any final decision is taken regarding possible non-diplomatic action against nuclearizing Iran, or the need for any other operations that have yet to hit the public radar.
The initial publication of the report was accompanied by staccato-like headlines fired in rapid succession, sounding strangely familiar. The lack of coordination and consultation between the various bodies affected by the operation is not new. In fact, many of the criticisms sounded like those of the Winograd Commission’s findings into the handling of the Second Lebanon War in 2006, during Ehud Olmert’s watch.
As expected, the latest report underlines the special relationship between Binyamin Netanyahu and Ehud Barak. The prime minister and defense minister trust each other as only two veterans from the same elite IDF unit can, and they are reluctant to let others into their old boys’ club.
Apparently they were more influenced by the famous (and successful) operations of their younger days and less by today’s battlefield in cyberspace and the world media.
Sending in the commandos, even armed incongruously with paintball guns rather than with guns blazing, was destined to grab the worst type of attention.
Hours before the operation took place, I metaphorically crossed my fingers, clenched my teeth, and prayed that there would not be a confrontation.
As I said at the time, I would have preferred to see the flotilla being bombarded with roses and notes reminding the activist passengers of why there is a naval blockade on Gaza in the first place (and anyone who has forgotten should ask a resident of Sderot or other southern communities that have suffered years of missile fire).
Some lessons do seem to have been learned: The subsequent flotilla and “flytillas,” for example, were largely prevented at source – before the “peaceniks” could be caught on camera clashing with Israeli police and security forces. Those who landed at Ben-Gurion Airport in April were greeted with a sarcastic letter from the Prime Minister’s Office thanking them “for choosing to make Israel the object of your humanitarian concerns,” when they could have chosen Syria, Iran or even Hamas-controlled Gaza – all a far cry from Israeli democracy.
Indeed, even when the 600-or-so participants of the (in)famous flotilla were trying to get into Gaza – turning down Israel’s offers to deliver their humanitarian aid through the regular channels – thousands of Gazans were desperately trying to get out, because the Gaza Strip under Hamas rule is no holiday resort.
The fact that nine Turkish activists died aboard the Mavi Marmara and 55 were injured (in addition to the nine naval commandos who were wounded) shows that something went wrong.
Nonetheless, in all the soul-searching, it should be remembered that the bad guys in the affair are not Netanyahu and Barak (whatever you might think of them personally or politically). If any prime minister should be censured for his role in the flotilla disaster, it is Turkey’s Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
Erdogan has taken his country hostage and continues to use the Marmara to make international waves.
His professions of dedication to justice are touching, but they have a chilling touch. Erdogan’s decision late last month to put the Israelis involved in the flotilla affair on trial in absentia crosses the fine line from chutzpah into absurdity. And in case anyone was in any doubt about how the Turkish courts will rule, keep in mind the date for the trial. It was not by chance that October 6 was chosen.
There can be no greater symbolism than the anniversary of the start of the Yom Kippur War, marked all over the Middle East as an Arab victory over the Zionists.
Erdogan is not like those “peace activists” taken for a ride by the Marmara’s Hamas-affiliated IHH. Erdogan is at the helm, steering Turkey from the safety of Western waters towards, well, it depends which way the wind blows – somewhere between Assad’s Syria and Ahmadinejad’s Iran.
If Turkey is so interested in war crimes, it could start by examining what is going on in these regimes.
And, incidentally, the Israeli parliament last week commemorated victims of the massacre of Armenians; The Turks don’t even admit it took place.
The flotilla affair has been examined by more than Lindenstrauss: In Israel, the IDF and the state-appointed Turkel Committee have investigated the incident and found Israel did not violate international law. When the UN Palmer Commission report found the naval blockade of Gaza was a “legitimate security measure” to prevent arms smuggling into Gaza, Turkey rejected the findings.
If I, sitting in my living room in Jerusalem, could figure out that the Israeli commandos were likely to be met by violence rather than a “welcome aboard” sign and free cocktails, then Erdogan, in his office in Ankara certainly could have guessed as much. Even Netanyahu and Barak had raised the issue, but not sufficiently formulated a plan to deal with it.
Olmert as prime minister encouraged Erdogan to become a statesman and mediate a peace treaty between Israel and Syria. Thank heavens the initiative failed. Assad has shown his true colors, and they are nothing like the colors of peace.
The state comptroller’s findings are disturbing, but they are at least a sign of democracy. Erdogan wants to prosecute the IDF’s former top brass for its role in the Marmara affair but he is responsible for the presence of the Islamist activists on the ship in the first place.
There is more at stake than Erdogan’s ego. Egypt is in disarray; Syria is a blood bath. In the New Middle East, so different from Shimon Peres’s dream, the Turkish leader can choose between an attempt to repair the relationship with Israel or continuing to reach out to Tehran.
The direction he takes will affect us all.
For now, Erdogan is not just rocking the boat, he is hijacking the ship and setting it on a dangerous course.
The writer is editor of The International Jerusalem Post. [email protected]