Fury Over Raid Isolates Israel

Relations between Jewish state and longtime ally Turkey may never recover after foolish flotilla attack

STANBUL - Turkey is seething with fury at its closest allies - Israel and the United States - after Israel's killing of at least nine peace activists, four of them Turks, on a Turkish-flagged vessel seeking to break Israel's years-long blockade of Gaza.

Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan accused Israel of a "massacre," warning, "Israel risks losing its closest ally in the Mideast if it does not change its mentality." By "mentality," Erdogan meant Israel's right-wing Likud coalition.

Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu, a rising star in Turkish politics, accused Israel of "terrorism" and "piracy."

Israel's supporters are furiously counter-attacking, insisting Israel's naval commandos were only defending themselves. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu even claimed blockading 1.5 million malnourished Palestinians prevents Gaza from becoming an Iranian naval and missile base.

Few agree with him. Britain's new pro-Israel prime minister, David Cameron, called the Gaza siege, "completely unacceptable." UN chief Ban Ki-moon said Israel was "punishing civilians," a clear violation of the Geneva Conventions.

France's foreign minister, Bernard Kouchner, demanded Israel lift the siege. French philosopher Bernard-Henri Levy accused Israel's Likud government of "political autism." Both men are Jewish. Israel's respected center-left newspaper Ha'aretz called the maritime raid "a disgraceful failure."

A leading Israeli thinker, Uri Avnery, notes, "The Gaza blockade does not isolate Hamas. It isolates Israel."

The Obama administration blocked UN condemnation of Israel, further infuriating the Muslim world against the United States. This after the U.S. insulted Brazil and Turkey by sneeringly dismissing their sensible plan to diminish Iran's uranium stockpile.

Canada's conservatives backed their ideological allies in Israel.

The world condemned Israel. Israel's right wingers and their bunker mentality sailed the beleaguered nation into a political ambush that even the Wall Street Journal, the Likud Party's leading U.S. voice, termed "one of Israel's worst public relations disasters in years."

Netanyahu reportedly ignored his cabinet secretary, Zvi Hauser, who warned against using force to stop the peace flotilla. The maritime fiasco further deepened Israel's growing isolation.

Turkey has long been Israel's strategic ally and sole friend in the Muslim world. The Ottoman Empire had an honourable tradition of sheltering Jews from Christian persecution. Turkish-Israeli trade is close to $4.5 billion; some 80,000 Israeli tourists safely vacation annually in Turkey.

Until Prime Minister Erdogan's Justice and Development Party, or AK, was elected in 2007, real power in Turkey was wielded from behind a facade of parliamentary democracy by hardline, right-wing generals of its powerful, 510,000-man armed forces.

Turkey's brass have overthrown four governments since the Second World War and once ousted Erdogan from office. They particularly hate his AK party, which espouses principles of Islamic welfare, cuts in defence spending, friendship with Greece and joining the EU.

Turkey's generals, and their allies in the security establishment, courts and academia, are militant secularist Kemalists who detest religious and political Islam, scorn Arabs, and are ideologically close to Israel's right-wing military establishment. Israel has sold Turkey billions in arms deals, producing huge commissions for both sides.

Israel's crack air force trains in Turkey and had been planning to use Turkish airspace to attack Iran. The two nations' intelligence agencies co-operate closely.

After a series of intrigues collectively know as "Ergenekon," the government has broken up cabals of far-right Turkish officers and civilian plotters, averting another military coup. Turkey's bullying military has been largely pushed out of politics.

Ergenekon broke the secret Israeli-Turkish link. Erdogan denounced the killing of 1,300 Palestinians in Israel's heavy bombing of Gaza in 2008-2009, infuriating Israel.

Now, Netanyahu's bungling has shot Israel in both feet. To paraphrase Talleyrand, worse than crime, an error.

The world is demanding Israel end the brutal siege of hungry Gaza. More blockade-busting ships are at sea.

Israeli-Turkish relations may never recover. Crowds across Turkey wave banners, "We Are All Palestinians." Erdogan has emerged as the Muslim world's most important leader.

When Israeli's emotions cool down, they will see how foolhardy Bibi Netanyahu, Israel's George Bush, has been.

© 2023 Eric Margolis