Turkey's Central Role in Israeli Flotilla Crisis

From ally of Israel to regional rival?

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One country is emerging as a key player in the regional and international reactions to the Israeli flotilla raid: Turkey. As Israel's most important Muslim ally, the only Middle East member of the NATO security pact, and a current non-permanent member of the United Nations Security Council, Turkey is matched only by the U.S. in its importance to the international proceedings. Turks also played a key role in the flotilla itself, which was heavily funded by Turkish money and filled with Turkish activists. Turkey has suggested it may send its navy to escort a future convoy to Gaza. The backlash has also been among the strongest in Turkey, where thousands of demonstrators initially gathered to protest the Israeli raid. Here's Turkey's role and why it matters.

  • Gives Turkey Excuse to Break From Israel  Stratfor's George Friedman writes, "The incident also wrecks Israeli relations with Turkey, historically an Israeli ally in the Muslim world with longstanding military cooperation with Israel. The [conservative and religious] Turkish government undoubtedly has wanted to move away from this relationship, but it faced resistance within the Turkish military and among secularists. The new Israeli action makes a break with Israel easy, and indeed almost necessary for Ankara."
  • Turkey Deliberately Provoking Israel?  Mother Jones' Kevin Drum sighs, "it almost seems as if Turkey was deliberately trying to provoke an incident that would justify cutting off relations with Israel. After all, the Israeli commando raid may have turned out more deadly than anyone expected, but something like it was always probable and the Turkish government surely knew it."
  • Greater Rival to Israel Than Iran  The Washington Post's David Ignatius appraises the events: "Once Israel's most important regional ally, Turkey now seeks to challenge Israel's hegemony as the local superpower. Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan is a Muslim populist with a charismatic message: We won't let Israel push us around. Where Iran's president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, is often a buffoon, Erdogan is a genuinely tough if erratic rival."
  • Could Become New U.S. Rival In Middle East  Foreign Policy's Steven Cook warns, "It is hard to admit, but after six decades of strategic cooperation, Turkey and the United States are becoming strategic competitors -- especially in the Middle East." If the Israel-Turkey alliance falls apart, and the U.S. continues to back Israel, then it will lose Turkey's crucial support in the region. Turning this essential ally into an enemy could dramatically hinder U.S. foreign policy in the Middle East.
  • Worst-Case Scenario: Turkey Invokes NATO Charter  Politics Daily's Paul Wachter cautions that Turkey could invoke Article V of the NATO charter, which states that an attack on one member nation is an attack on all. This means that if Turkey escorts another flotilla, and Israel again raids it, every NATO member--including the U.S.--would have to choose between joining against Israel or functionally ending the NATO treaty.
  • Turkish Group Behind the Flotilla  The New York Times' Sabrina Tavernase reports on the Insani Yardim Vakfi (IHH), a Turkish group that declared "We are very thankful to the Israeli authorities," for raiding their flotilla. "The group brought large boats and millions of dollars in donations to a cause that had struggled to meet its objectives. Particularly galling to Israel is the fact that the group comes from Turkey, an ally, but one whose relations with Israel have become increasingly strained."
  • ...Is The Group Violent?  Tavernase reports, "The organization was founded in the early 1990s, first as a charity for the poor in Istanbul, Turkey's largest city, and later for Bosnian war victims. It now runs charity and relief work in more than 100 countries ... Israeli authorities say I.H.H. bolsters Hamas, which runs Gaza and which they see as doctrinally committed to destroying the state of Israel. It also charges that the group has links to Al Qaeda and has bought weapons, charges the group denies." Indian journalist Nitin Pai points out, "As you guys know, even [Pakistani Taliban front group] Jamaat-ud-Dawa is a charitable organisation. Scepticism about the Turkish 'charity' is warranted."
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.