Many commentators have warned about Turkey’s aspirations for leadership in the Gaza confrontation. A point overlooked is it is not a Muslim problem, so much as an Arab political problem. Turkish involvement is not really welcome anywhere except to the extent that they provide a diversion from the Arab handling of the Gaza problem. The same is also true of the Persian involvement. Support for HAMAS is not a path to leadership in the Arab world for outsiders. Arab leaders also apparently judge that strong support for HAMAS does not advance their interests. Therefore one must wonder why Turkey has become involved and what its involvement. Is Turkey going its own direction towards becoming a more powerful and secular country? This is a question that policy makers in Washington and Tel Aviv may be asking themselves.
This situation between Turkey and Israel resulted from the Israeli commandos attack on 31 May of a Turkish ship, part of a Turkish-led aid flotilla bound for the Gaza Strip, killing nine Turks on board. Israeli officials said the raided vessel contained Islamist militants. Turkey condemned what it called “Israeli barbarism, piracy and state terror.” The ship, one of six in the flotilla, had been heading for Gaza trying to break the naval blockade of the strip of land where 1.5 million Palestinians live and Hamas rules.
What are the concurrent and subsequent events that need to be considered?
• Turkey withdrew its ambassador to the US after the House of Representatives approved a resolution saying that Turkey had committed genocide against the Kurds in the early part of the 20th century.
• Turkey and Brazil brokered a deal for enriching Iranian uranium.
• Turkey voted against the Iranian sanctions resolution in the United Nations.
• Turkey is limiting some of the agreements that it has with Israel, but not all of the military equipment that the Israelis are building for the Turkish military. (Turkey is awaiting the delivery of four Heron UAVs from the team of Israel Aerospace Industries and Elbit Systems. The Turkish armored vehicle manufacturer BMC is producing more than 400 mine-Resistant, Ambush-Protected vehicles in cooperation with Israel’s Hatehof company.)
• The Turkish military, which has a history of opposing secular government, has seen its power reduced.
• Turkey withdrew its ambassador to Israel and demanded both an official apology and reparations, neither of which has nor will occur.
• Israel Aircraft Industries has recalled its staff from Turkey based upon security concerns. (Those employees brought back to Israel were believed to be specialists who had been training the Turkish military on how to use Israeli-made UAVs. Israeli officials stressed the measure was “just a temporary move” and insisted Israel’s contract to supply Turkey with 10 Heron UAVs was still going ahead.)
• Iran is sending ships manned by Qom Guards with alleged goods for Gaza seeking a confrontation with Israel. This Iranian action is supported by Turkey.
• Israel agreed in principle to ease the Gaza blockade by switching from having a list of allowable items to one of prohibited items. (European diplomats said two land crossing would be opened to deliveries. The U.N. would inspect incoming goods and the EU is ready to help fund the new system and that implementation could take weeks or months.) (The agreement is only slightly more liberal than prior Israeli offers. HAMAS’ is expected to object that Israel retains control of the list of goods.)
This series of actions will probably result in an embarrassment for Hamas and Turkey.
The announcement once again shifts the burden of choice to the HAMAS administration, which rules Gaza. To Hamas the welfare of the Palestinians in Gaza is less important than compromising their rejection of Israel. HAMAS will not compromise, but eventually the goods will get through. Hamas’s rejection will place Turkey in the awkward position of not supporting the welfare of the Palestinians in Gaza. The propaganda surrounding this could be significant.
One cannot imagine that the Iranians will recall their ships and could end up in a confrontation, not with Israel as desired, but with the UN or UN sanctioned naval forces from some other Mediterranean states. Will Iran again thumb its nose at the UN? Where will the US be on this? Will it again back down to Iranian bravado? Given the Turkish activities it is doubtful that the US will continue to support Turkey’s entrance into the European Union and other such western organizations. Will Turkey come to its senses and realize that it has a set of losing positions? Could this cause a reaffirmation of its power by the Turkish military? Probably the first indication of a change in position by Turkey will be some kind of easing of the tensions between Turkey and either the US or more likely Israel.
What do you think?