Turkey’s playing chicken

Unless there are (again) any last minute changes, Tomorrow (Friday, September 2nd) the Palmer Report will be submitted and handed to the UN Secretary-General, Ban Ki-Moon. The Palmer Report is a summary of a UN inquiry into the flotilla incident at the end of May 2010 (where Israel’s Navy boarded a flotilla of ships sailing to break its’ naval blockade on Gaza and the erupted violence ended with the deaths of nine Turkish activists on board). After a long strain in relations, the flotilla incident marked the biggest rupture in Israeli-Turkish relations. The Palmer Report is an attempt by Secretary-General Moon in conducting an objective investigation of the incident (seeing as how the so-called “Human Rights Organization” in Geneva is controlled by a majority of anti-Israeli countries and holds a clear bias towards it). It is also an attempt to recover the relations between Israel and Turkey. That is one of the reason why the publishing of the report has been postponed time and time again since June 2011. It should be noted that this an agreed inquiry, the first of its’ kind, that had both an Israeli and a Turkish representative.

Turkey’s demands

Turkey claims that Israel has acted illegally. In its’ view, Israel assaulted civilians and peace activists sailing freely to Gaza in an attempt to break what they perceive as an illegal blockade. To Turkey’s narrative, Israel violated international law when it attacked the flotillas in international law and its’ soldiers boarded the ships with the intent of killings activists in order to deter future flotillas. It demands an Israeli apology to the incident and pay compensations to the families of the “victims”.

It should be noted that flotilla was not sailing under a Turkish flag, but rather the flag of the Comoros island. Nevertheless, its’ origin was well-known.

Israel’s narrative

Israel has a different view on things – first of all, this wasn’t the first and it wasn’t the last flotilla attempting to break Israel’s blockade of Gaza. It was, however, the biggest. In only one out of six ships, there were casualties. Israel views its’ blockade on Gaza legal and a legitimate method of war against Hamas who took over the Gaza Strip by violence in 2007 and has declared war and terror against Israel’s civilians. The blockade is a method to stop large shipments of weapons that can from reaching Hamas and the other militants in Gaza. Such flotillas who has humanitarian aid cover large quantities of weapons and ammunition have been found in the past on “Karin A”, “Francop”, and last March on “Victoria”.

Israel’s narrative is that it gave the ships sufficient and numerous warning that they were about to enter a blockaded area and have been responded that they ships do not intent to change their course and that they are headed the blockaded Gaza. That is when Israel sent its’ Navy to stop the ships by boarding and seizing control over it. To Israel’s narrative, while the flotilla had over 600 activists, a group of a few dozens, boarded separately when the flotilla was docked in Cyprus (at a Turkish port, it seems). These were not peace-activists but terrorists with the sole intention of inciting, creating violence and harming the soldiers that would board the ship (Israel has noted that it will do so to any ship attempting to break its’ blockade and has done so in the past). Due to lack of intelligence, the soldiers were prepared to only except mild resistance and not head-on violence. It was then that they opened fire and in resulting battles the none-peace activists were killed. Also, during the confrontation, 4 soldiers were abducted by the activists, one managed to break free and jumped ship.

Regarding the claims of international waters, Israel maintains that since the destination of the flotilla was known and since its’ blockade is legal, it had every right to intercept the ships in international waters, a few miles off the waters of Gaza. It did so because the flotillas were sailing slow (in order to have the confrontation be at broad daylight), and wanted to intercept the ships at night. Israel refuses to the apologies for what it perceives as no more than a provocation and an attempt to harm its’ soldiers, as well as de-legitimize it. Israel’s official stand is that it refuses to pay compensations (although there were reports of it willing to pay through a third-party fund).

The Palmer Report

The Palmer report’s main points have already been leaked to the media before its’ initial publication date – June 2011. The most recent leak was posted by The New York Times today. Turkey has called the commission’s’ first draft “a difficult” one. It is known to say:

  1. Israel’s blockade of Gaza is legal and adheres all international laws and principals regarding the imposing of a naval blockade.
  2. Israel’s interception of the flotilla in international waters was legal.
  3. However, there was a disproportionate response and soldiers took grave measures to protect themselves (The report finds that the Israeli soldiers were in danger and met great violence on board but their response was extremely harsh and disproportionate). The report is set to have eye-witnesses who claim to have seen soldiers firing live ammunition in many accounts. Israel has responded that it can give answer to any event. Its’ independent Turkel commission’s report have pointed out that it found 133 incidents of confrontation (among them three involving live ammunition being used and three others with physical force being used). It found 127 incidents, including those mentioned specifically (live ammunition and physical force) to be just and marked six others as not having enough evidence and material to determine either way.
  4. The report is highly critical of the organizers, the Turkish IHH organization, and has found that it made preparations for violence and has in fact organized a violent resistance.
  5. The report alludes to Turkey’s responsibility and spurring of the events, saying it did not make enough efforts to stop the activists.
  6. The report does suggest that Israel apologizes for the results of the interception and will find some way to compensate the families, but does not demand it or find it a necessity under international law.

The Changes in Turkey and its’ policies

The Prime Minister of Turkey, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, is leading a very hard line against Israel in the past years. He has been in office since 2003 and has lately been elected for a third term in succession. While the change itself can be spotted at around Israel’s operation in Gaza (Cast Led operation, known throughout the world as The Gaza War), it had early signs to it.

Erdogan himself has been raised in a very Islamic traditional way, and has been sentenced in 1998 for ten months in prison after publicly reading a poem glorifying the symbols of Islamic religion and referring to Muslim people “Our soldiers”. The poem’s conflicted with Turkey’s secularism principals.

Back in 2006, when Hamas claimed it has won the elections in the Palestinian Authority (when in fact it got the most votes but had not enough to form a coalition, which it refused to form), Turkey has invited Hamas’ leader and prime minister, Ismail  Haniya. To this day, Turkey recognizes Hamas’ dictatorship and government over the people in Gaza, even after the violence coup in 2007 and without Hamas accepting one single international condition, including abandoning the ways of terror and recognizing Israel’s right to exist. It is somewhat surprising that a country who constantly battles its’ own threats of terror from the Kurdish resistance it so keep to embrace other terrorists in the neighborhood.

The changes in Turkey are not surprising, and are not necessarily about Israel, per se. Turkey is trying to be perceived as an important power in the region. It is a gateway for the Western world to the rest of the Arab and Muslim world – the largests Muslim country in the area, with borders to numerous Arab and Muslim countries (borders which are of interest to the West) as well as ties and influence. Moreover, the secular movement in Turkey these past three decades and the slow and steady move towards democracy make Turkey a possible ally for many in the region.

These leverages that Turkey holds are not lost on Erdogan. It is one of the reasons why his government feels more powerful and allows itself an open confrontation and continued provocations against Israel, because it knows how dear it seems to the West. Trying to be seen as an important global power in the region, Turkey has brokered conversations  between Israel and the Palestinians, Israel and the Syrian government and even Israel and Hamas in an effort to sign a swap deal that will release Gilad Schalit from Hamas’ captivity. However, these conversations have all fell through under Turkey’s mediation, which is another reason why it allows itself this confrontation against Israel. Israel, in Turkey’s eyes, hasn’t managed to help stabilize Turkey as a significant power in the Middle East.

Turkey, of course, is not foreign to the Western world who covets its’ hidden diplomatic treasures. On the contrary – for years now, it has been attempting to become a member of the European Union. However, much works to its’ disadvantage, mainly the issues of its’ occupation of Cyprus and the fear of the European public of being flooded with Muslim immigrants.

Regarding the over 30-year old occupation of Cyprus, Turkey is the only country in the world (give or take an ally or two I’m forgetting here) to recognize its’ own sovereignty on Cyprus. While the international community has expected (and still expects) that Turkey will remove its’ forces and people from North Cyprus and give the territory back to what it considers its’ rightful owners (Cyprus itself), Turkey is still refusing. It is surprising how a country who refuses to accept what the international community has determined regarding a territory in its’ control and continues to occupy land has so much criticism and what to say about a country in what can be seen as a similar situation (though they are different!)

Nevertheless, Turkey is still not a part of the European Union. It is making important efforts and just in the past few months have declared the releasing of dozens of imprisoned journalists (it claims were involved in illegal activity and were not jailed for their journalistic work) and have agreed to begin returning items it confiscated throughout the years from minorities.

Turkey’s duplicity and hypocrisy

But again – Turkey sees that becoming a member of the European Union is still very far and might not happen in the coming years, maybe not even under this administration’s term. Which is why it can be seen not only getting close to the west, but also the east, and more specifically to the Arab and Muslim world that the west refers to as The axis of evil. Under Syrian president Bashar al-Assad started slaughtering his own people, the relations between Turkey and Syria have been very good, and Turkey has gotten close to Iran, to the point where it helped it try and fool the west by signing a deal with Brazil that allows Iran to develop nuclear abilities.

Let’s review the aforementioned ties (a small list of examples to Turkey’s hypocrisy):

You see, Erdogan had spoken to his public very passionately against Israel and its’ actions in Gaza. After The Gaza War, it bluntly blamed Israel for “killing innocent babies” and vowed to always “protect our Muslim brothers”. It is once again very surprising how a country that to this day claims the deaths of so many Armenians in one of its’ offensives is a tragic unfortunate result of war and not premeditated murder (or worse), yet manages to be very decisive about the intentions of another country during war.

It seem peculiar that Erdogan would present himself and Turkey as “protectors of Islamic brothers” – in May of 2010, Turkey brokered and took an active part in a deal between Iran and Brazil that would allow Iran to continue enrichment of uranium, despite the Western world stand regarding the Iranian government, and on Turkish soil no less. Turkey made a great deal of effort to portray warming relations with Iran. Just six months before that, protests in Iran were violently quietened. Police and military were sent to shoot live ammunitions and kill protestors, the Iranian government has imposed strict rules on opposition and countless dissidents of the regime had been incarcerated, executed and tortured horribly in Iranian prisons. The protest found no success – it was handled with that much violence. That was just a spike in normal Iranian relations to its’ people – on an everyday basis, the Iranian regime oppresses and taken away basic human rights of its’ people. Yet, Erdogan, who speaks so passionately against Israel, does not speak when it comes to others. He just warms his countries diplomatic ties with the dictators.

As for Syria – Before the protests began there, the relations were as well warm. Just last October, Erdogan visited Syria and Bashar al-Assad in a warm visit. No calls for human rights, no mentions of the Syrian government continued oppression of its’ people (or of Palestinian refugees living in its’ territory). Just warm relations. In fact, it wasn’t until 11 weeks AFTER the protests had begun, 11 weeks AFTER the bloodshed and continued firing of live ammunition towards protesters, 11 weeks AFTER slaughter and torture had begun, 11 weeks AFTER the internet began being flooded with videos of the kind of violent oppression used against the Syrian people that Turkey took a harsh line towards Syria (in comparison, Israel’s operation in Gaza last for three weeks and in the meantime dozens of rockets were flying towards Israel everyday, including in the days before the offensive). It seems that it wasn’t until Syrian refugees went running to the border with Turkey and Turkey had become a host to hundreds and thousands of refugees that it began to make any kind of talk against the Syrian government, Bashar al-Assad and its’ actions. Only then did Turkey say the Syrian handling of its’ people is unacceptable. Before, when Assad was just one of the harshest dictators in the region for decades, it was acceptable in Turkey’s eyes.

Again – these are just a few examples. It should be noted that when the terror attack against Israel occurred two weeks ago and Israel retaliated, Turkey did not condemn either side. At the same time, a terror attack by the Kurdish rebels has left several Turkish soldiers dead and Turkey retaliated. By its’ own admission, it targeted over 130 Kurdish targets on Iraq’s territory (some report says 228 targets). Over 160 people died, over 100 wounded. Turkey claims they were all militants. As simple as that. I guess it too knows that there are not many around the world who would really investigate who the casualties are or the Kurds claims of small children been killed, and that it has enough global support and leverages to not be condemned at all. Yet again, it is surprising how a country that retaliates by targeting from the air and washes all responsibility, claiming it was only targeting military objectives, is so quick to condemn another country who operates the same and even admits that not casualties are militants or terrorists (and puts the blame on the militants and terrorists who forced them to be used as human shields).

Turkey’s Playing Chicken

The Palmer report is probably going to be published tomorrow. There are many indications to it. General-Secretary Ban Ki-Moon was hoping that Israel and Turkey manage to find a reconciliation before its’ report and have postponed it time and time again. But Turkey does what every country thinks it can when trying to so-called “negotiate” with Israel – it declares its’ demands and refuses to budge. That’s not the way a negotiation works. Turkey’s demand that Israel would make an affirm, decisive apology (though the report only suggests Israel makes a remorse for the lost of lives, since its’ interception and blockade are legal) and pay full compensations. Israel refuses and it awaiting the publication of the report.

The Palmer report, which had a Turkish representative in the commission’s panel, is much worse for Turkey than it is Israel (though it’s hard to claim its’ truly good for any side – that’s the ways conflicts go, BOTH sides make mistakes). That can be seen in a flood of statements made by Turkey’s foreign minister, Ahmet Dwalo, and Erdogan himself, as well as leaks in Turkish papers. Among them are the returning of the Turkish highest-ranking official from Israel (after the Ambassador had been returned after the incident last year), expulsion of the Israeli Ambassafor from Ankara and refusing an appointment of new Ambassador, ending all military contracts with Israel (which only recently helped Turkey fight the terror from the Kurds), making a significant contribution to the unilateral Palestinian move and to the campaign to de-legitimize Israel and more.

Turkey has a lot to loss from these actions. The warm embrace of the West, especially with the warming ties with Iran and the burned bridge with Assad (who the West considers as the next Gaddafi, meaning his days are numbered), could find itself less warm as well the process to join the European Union. Turkey, after all, is invested in two home fronts – against the Kurdish resistance and in the fight over the territory in Cyprus. Not to mention, in the last decade, more and more Western countries have recognized Turkey’s actions against the Armenians as genocide (such as Germany, Australia, Canada and even the US congress to name a few).

The relations with Israel are important to Turkey, not just to Israel. Some of the reasons to that are mentioned above. But Turkey’s hard line against Israel that won its’ almost-extreme leadership the popularity of the public (at least, the extreme public) and its’ inner politics does not allow it to do a complete 180, or even a “mild” 90 degree turn. Which is why it is playing chicken – making threats, spewing slogans, contributing to the incitement and hate towards Israel. Turkey has a lot to gain to, but it trying to threaten the other side to blink first. The end result is probably going to be the same as of two vehicles driving towards each other, playing a game called (how conveniently) Chicken – if no one diverts first, the two vehicles will crash into each other. That is a hardly a pleasant result and no side can really be considered “a winner”.

It is Surprising – a collection from the post

It is somewhat surprising that a country who constantly battles its’ own threats of terror from the Kurdish resistance it so keep to embrace other terrorists in the neighborhood.

It is surprising how a country who refuses to accept what the international community has determined regarding a territory in its’ control and continues to occupy land has so much criticism and what to say about a country in what can be seen as a similar situation (though they are different!)

It is once again very Surprising how a country that to this day claims the deaths of so many Armenians in one of its’ offensives is a tragic unfortunate result of war and not premeditated murder (or worse), yet manages to be very decisive  about the intentions of another country during war.

Yet again, it is surprising how a country that retaliates by targeting from the air and washes all responsibility, claiming it was only targeting military objectives, is so quick to condemn another country who operates the same and even admits that not casualties are militants or terrorists (and puts the blame on the militants and terrorists who forced them to be used as human shields).

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