Christian Science Monitor (Link) - Ariel Zirulnick (September 2, 2011)
Turkey-Israel relations dipped to a new low today over a long-awaited United Nations report on the Gaza flotilla debacle, freezing a key regional alliance despite more than a year of attempts to resuscitate ties.
Turkey announced today that it is expelling Israel’s ambassador and suspending all joint military agreements after failing to secure a formal apology from Israel for the deaths of eight Turks and one Turkish-American on May 31, 2010, when Israeli commandos boarded the Mavi Marmara, the flagship of the flotilla.
The convoy of ships had been seeking to break Israel’s naval blockade of Gaza, which Israel said was necessary to prevent the Islamist militant group Hamas from obtaining weapons but which many in the international community had objected to on humanitarian grounds.
The UN report, due to be formally released today but leaked yesterday by The New York Times, surprised many by declaring Israel’s blockade of Gaza as legal. While it criticized Israeli commandos for using “excessive and unreasonable” force in halting the mainly Turkish flotilla, it requested merely that Israel “express regret” for the deaths and pay unspecified reparations to the families, the Times reported.
Turkey and Israel had developed strong ties over the past two decades, with trade worth $3 billion a year and significant military cooperation. But the 2009 Gaza war between Israel and Hamas drew condemnation from Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, sparking a deterioration of relations on numerous fronts.
Immediately after Israel’s fatal flotilla raid, Turkey withdrew its ambassador to Israel. Prior to yesterday’s report in the Times, Mr. Davutoglu said that if Israel did not apologize for its attack on the ship, which left nine dead (eight of them Turkish citizens), Turkey would downgrade its diplomatic ties with Israel, stand against it in international forums, and possibly sever economic ties, the Jerusalem Post reports.
A commentary piece in the liberal Israeli newspaper Haaretz questioned the timing of the announcement by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu this week that it would not apologize, arguing that it would have been better to rely on the public findings of the report.
But the Associated Press reveals suspicion in Jerusalem about Turkey’s motives that have hardened Israel’s position.
In an OpEd in the Turkish newspaper Hurriyet Daily News, Barcin Yinanc writes that while Israel may have thought that time would quell Turkey’s anger over the attack on its ship, Turkey is now pursuing a “plan B” against Israel that will result in a further deterioration of relations.
Israel no longer has to worry about losing an ally because it has already done that, Ms. Yinanc writes: “For Israel the stakes are no longer about losing a valuable friend, but it is about gaining a new opponent.”
Turkish Prime Minister Erdogan now says that in order for Turkey to restore its ambassador to Israel, the Jewish state must not only apologize and pay reparations, but end its naval blockade on Gaza.
That is unlikely, given the UN’s backing of Israel’s position in its so-called Palmer report, due to be formally released today. The special UN panel that produced the report was led by New Zealander Geoffrey Palmer with former Colombian President Alvaro Uribe. Joseph Ciechanover Itzhar served as a representative for Israel, while Süleyman Özdem Sanberk represented Turkey’s interests on the panel.
The panel concluded that neither Turkey nor Israel intended the sad results of the flotilla, reports the Jerusalem Post.
The Palmer report wrote that the flotilla “acted recklessly in attempting to breach the naval blockade. The majority of the flotilla participants had no violent intentions, but there exist serious questions about the conduct, true nature and objectives of the flotilla organizers, particularly IHH. The actions of the flotilla needlessly carried the potential for escalation,” the Post wrote.
Europe ~ Gog/Magog ~ Islam ~ Israel ~ Signs of the Times