Ankara’s clear signals

Finding equitable resolution to 'Mavi Marmara' incident would not be beyond skills of senior diplomats from our two countries.

mavi marmara passengers 311 (photo credit: IDF Spokesperson)
mavi marmara passengers 311
(photo credit: IDF Spokesperson)
Ankara will accept nothing short of a public apology and full financial compensation for the Mavi Marmara raid as a condition for improving diplomatic relations with Jerusalem. That was the message sent out over the weekend by Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu.
“No friendship of whatever kind can overshadow the fact that Turkish citizens have been killed,” Davutoglu noted, and went on to blame “conflicting signals” from Jerusalem for the current diplomatic chill between the countries.
The foreign minister’s allegations, fiercely and undiplomatically contested on Sunday by his counterpart Avigdor Lieberman, are disingenuous. If Turkey truly wished to resolve the ongoing tension between the countries over the Mavi Marmara, it could do so in an atmosphere of mutual respect, sensitivity and trust. Instead, Ankara has insisted that Israel issue a humiliating apology and provide compensation in a way that might expose IDF soldiers to international legal action.
Tellingly, there has been no Turkish recognition of the brutal violence perpetrated by so-called “peace activists” on board the Gaza-bound Mavi Marmara seven months ago. Ankara has not been willing to admit that the IDF soldiers who boarded the ship to enforce the naval blockade of Hamas-controlled Gaza, which has become a base for terrorist activities against Israel, killed the nine Turkish activists while defending themselves against iron bars and other potentially lethal instruments.
The resolution demanded by Turkey does not conform to the kind of terms demanded by friendly nations. And for all of Israel’s genuine desire to heal relations with what was hitherto a vital regional ally, meeting those terms would be self-defeating. Apparently, that is Ankara’s intention.
AHEAD OF national elections slated for 2011, Turkey’s ruling Islamic party, the AKP, seems to have an interest in capitalizing on widespread anti-Israel sentiment among the more religious rural population which makes up a large portion of its constituency. Hurriyet, a secular daily critical of the AKP, has lamented this change in Turkish foreign policy, which has brought it increasingly into the political orbit of Iran and Syria and their proxies, Hamas and Hizbullah.
It hasn’t always been this way. After the AKP’s rise to power in 2002, Turkey had initially sought to maintain the relatively good relations fostered with Israel in 1993 after the signing of the Oslo Accords.
Turkey and Israel have common ground for cooperation. They are the region’s only two democracies and have strong secular political frameworks. The two countries’ defense forces were galvanized by a perception of shared military threats from the dominant Arab states surrounding them. Turkey even served as a mediator for indirect talks between Israel and Syria.
But more recently, the change has been sharp. Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan fostered ties with Hamas, whose leader Khaled Mashaal’s visit to Ankara in February 2006 was the first significant blow to relations with Israel. In parallel, Turkey improved ties with Syria, as symbolized by the scrapping of the visa regime between the two countries in October 2009.
At the World Economic Forum meeting in Davos in January 2009, Erdogan made a concerted effort to publicly distance his country from ours. He exploited an appearance together with President Shimon Peres at the gathering, which coincided with the end of Operation Cast Lead, to accuse Israel of “barbaric attacks” and responsibility for “crimes against humanity” in Gaza, storming off the stage in a theatric show of rancor.
The Turkish government’s quasi-sponsorship of the Gaza flotilla, and the fallout since the Mavi Marmara interception, merely mark an unfortunate confirmation of Ankara’s ongoing policy of distancing from Israel while fostering closer ties with Iran and Syria.
A beam of light was Turkey’s alacrity this month in sending firefighting planes to help fight the Carmel blazes. But that beam was dimmed, first when Erdogan made it bluntly clear that this aid should not be misconstrued as a sign of Turkish recalibration on the Mavi Marmara affair, and again this weekend when Davutoglu risibly claimed that Israel would not have done the same for Turkey.
It is no wonder that high-ranking Israeli and Turkish officials who met recently in Geneva failed to reach a reconciliatory agreement. Finding an equitable resolution to the Mavi Marmara incident would not be beyond the skills of senior diplomats from our two countries, but it would necessitate genuine mutual goodwill.
Sadly, Turkey’s entire approach to the affair – itself an extension of its policy of solidarity with a Hamas government that came to power through violence and rules Gaza through fear – bespeaks anything but goodwill.
Contrary to what Davutoglu would have us believe, the failure to resolve diplomatic tensions has nothing to do with “conflicting signals” coming out of Jerusalem and everything to do with the clear and grim signals emanating from Ankara.