Turkey-Israel Relations Have Hit Rock Bottom

Prof. Atilla SANDIKLI
13 September 2011
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Israel’s raid on the international flotilla of ships carrying aid for Gaza on  May 31st  2010 has resulted in a deadlock for Turkish-Israeli relations. The raid turned deadly when nine Turkish activists were killed and many were wounded on the Turkish-owned ship, the Mavi Marmara.


As a result of Turkey’s initiatives, the United Nations Security Council made a presidencial statement and it was decided to establish an international commission for the inquiry of the incident. The inquiry panel consisted of two independent members (one of whom being the former New Zealand Prime Minister Geoffrey Palmer, and the other being the former Colombian President Alvaro Uribe) along with former Undersecretary of Turkish Foreign Ministry Özdem Sanberk, and the former Director General of the Israel Foreign Ministry, Joseph Ciechanover Itzhar. The inquiry panel based its research on the reports and documents submitted by Israel and Turkey, and as a result, it prepared a report called  ‘the Palmer Report.’ The Palmer Committee Report was finalized in July, but publication of the report was repeatedly delayed. On August 28th 2011, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu demanded a further six month-delay in the publication of the report. However, Turkey rejected this suggestion. The report was leaked by the New York Times and this has led Turkey-Israel relations to hit rock bottom.


This analysis tries to answer questions such as: “What progress has been shown in Turkey-Israel relations? Are they similar to the past incidents? What are these similarities? What is the scope of the Palmer Report and Turkey’s sanctions enforced against Israel? What could be the reasons and repercussions of these sanctions?”


Ups and Down in Turkey-Israel Relations
Given Turkey-Israel relations in the course of history, good relations between the Jews and the Turks have played a remarkable role in establishing the ground for Turkey-Israel relations. Turkey had been among the first states to recognize the establishment of Israel on May 14th 1948 and in 1950, it built embassy-level diplomatic relations with Tel Aviv. However, these positive developments have hit rock bottom several times because of Israel’s ambitions and aggressive policies. For instance, the bilateral relations underwent a rupture because of Israel’s harsh reactions towards the Baghdad Pact and as of the mid-1955, diplomatic contacts between the two have considerably decreased. Within the scope of the Suez crisis, Israel, in collaboration with England and Israel, started to occupy the Sinai peninsula. Upon this, based on the Baghdad Pact decisions, Turkey lowered its level of diplomatic representation to charge d’affaire with Israel and Şefkat İstinyeli, Turkey’s ambassador to Israel, was recalled.


Similarly, the rupture in Turkey-Israel relations evolved into a crisis with Israel declaring Jerusalem as the country’s eternal capital. Turkey harshly reacted to the Basic Law that was put into force by Israel, adding that it did not recognize this resolution regarding Jerusalem. Moreover, Turkey summoned the charge d’affaire (serving at the Tel Aviv embassy at that time) to Ankara and later, pursuant to the 478th resolution of the UN Security Council that was taken on  August 20th  1980, Turkey closed its representative office in Jerusalem. Following the September 12th coup d’état in Turkey, as a reaction to the resolution regarding Jerusalem, Turkey’s National Security Council, which was established under the leadership of Turkey’s Chief of General Staff Kenan Evren and with the participation of the command forces, restricted its relations with Israel on November 26th  1980 and lowered its representation level with the country. In accordance with the resolution that proposes “the non-interruption and the symbolic maintenance of the bilateral relations,” Turkey summoned all its officials in Tel Aviv including its charge d’affaire, undersecretary, and the military attaché to Turkey.


Turkey-Israel relations have started to improve as of the early 1990s. Within this context, in 1991, Turkey raised its representation level in Israel to the embassy level and high-level visits were conducted between the two countries. In 1996, the bilateral relations underwent a new period with a series of agreements in the fields of military, economy and technology. Within the scope of the Turkish-Israeli Defense Industry Cooperation Agreement, the project of modernizing the F-4 and F-16 aircrafts owned by the Turkish Air Force began to be implemented. Within the scope of the Military Training Cooperation Agreement, eight Israeli F-16 war crafts, for the first time, performed their training flight in Konya -a province of Turkey- under the name of ‘Anatolian Eagle.’ On June of the same year, twelve Turkish war crafts flew to Israel. Furthermore, in the Mediterranean, in January  1998, a search and rescue exercise including Israeli ships was carried out, which was called the ‘Reliant Mermaid.’

As the underlying reasons of the aforementioned agreements between Israel and Turkey, these facts could be shown: Syria and Greece, which aided the PKK terrorist organization in the past, signed a bilateral military training agreement in 1995 and thus Turkey was surrounded by hostile neighbors. Turkey found it difficult to receive military and technological aids and tools from the West because of its tense relations with the European Union. Furthermore, after 1998, Abdullah Öcalan (Kurdistan Workers Party leader) was expelled from Syria, laying the foundation for Turkey to later  sign the Adana Agreement with Syria. These, in turn, paved the way for the establishment of the good relations between Turkey, Syria and Iran. Likewise, Turkey attempted to establish better ties with the Arab world. In the same period, Turkey acquired the status of the candidate country  for future full membership in the European Union. This helped Turkey in strengthening its commercial, political and cultural relations with the Middle East. These developments also reduced the intensity of the relations between Turkey and Israel, elevating the two countries  from close strategic cooperation to the mutually balanced relations.


Turkey-Israel relations lost impetus in the 2000s as a consequence of the change of government  in Israel and suspension of the peace process in general. With the Ariel Sharon administration coming to power, violence towards the Palestinian people increased. Following the Al-Aqsa intifada and Israel’s increasing operations on the Palestinian occupied lands, in April 2002, wide-ranging protests against Israel took place in many provinces throughout Turkey. Turkey accused Israel of carrying out genocide, thereby worsening  bilateral relations. Despite certain tensions in the political area, economic and military relations between the two countries showed a rapid growth. Modernization project of the 170 Turkish M-60 tanks had been given to an Israeli firm on  March 30th 2002, two days before then Turkish Prime Minister Bülent Ecevit accused Israel of carrying out genocide.


With the AKP (Justice and Development Party) administration coming to power in Turkey, mutual economic and political relations have been maintained, although tensions in the bilateral relations have, at times, become strained. After the Iraqi war, various news sources stated that there was Israeli presence in northern Iraq and the (Israeli secret service) Mossad agents were training peshmargas. (1) This has resulted in mistrust towards Israel  thrust in  bilateral relations. Israel’s operation on the Rafah refugee camp in 2004 and its applications that completely ignored human rights changed Turkey’s outlook towards Israel. Explanations coming from Turkey’s Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and then Foreign Minister Abdullah Gül indicated that the relations between the two countries would not be the same. Turkey accused Israel of having a recourse to state terror and it was stated that Turkey could not remain silent about Israel’s actions. Turkey’s reaction in this sense increased the Arab world’s respect towards Turkey. After a short term of tension, the bilateral relations improved thanks to Turkey’s attempts. Prime Minister Erdoğan sent its foreign policy advisors to Israel and in January 2005, then Foreign Minister Gül visited Israel. Moreover, the Turkish Union of Chambers and Exchange Communities initiated the project for the development of the Eretz industrial area.


Additionally, Turkey aspired to the consolidation of peace and stability in the region, and for this purpose, improved its relations with the neighbor countries and tried to contribute to the solution of the regional problems. Within this scope, Turkey enhanced its relations with Syria and took the lead in confidential communications for the settlement of the Syria-Israel conflict. In a special meeting in which the Prime Ministry Principal Consultant of Turkey, Ahmet Davutoğlu also participated, Davutoğlu stated that the positive outcomes of these communications would soon be reflected in the press and within 10-15 days, open talks would be held. However, during this process, the exact opposite situation came into being: Israel started to occupy the southern part of Lebanon. During the occupation more than 1,000 civilians were killed and Lebanon experienced equally large losses, particulary in Beirut. Many hospitals were subject to these attacks, a surveillance facility reporting to the UN was attacked, leavingfour UN personnel dead. Turkey reacted harshly to Israel’s attack and thus the crisis between Turkey and Israel started to influence the economic relations as well. For instance, research and development projects that had been signed between the two countries were suspended, the Manavgat water project was halted, and investment plans for the GAP project were terminated. What’s more, big tenders, especially the large modernization projects in the military field, slowly began to be moved from the two countries’ mutual agenda.


Turkey’s facilitative role in Turkey-Syria relations started to improve again as of March 2007. This time, Turkey led the Syria-Israel negotiations and the hopes of settling dispute between these countries have risen. In (former Israeli Prime Minister) Ehud Olmert’s visit to Ankara on December 22nd 2008, Turkey focused on the solution of the conflicts between Israel and Syria. They also dealt with issues such as calling for  a truce between Israelis and Palestinians, reconciliation among the Palestinian groups and the reconstruction of Gaza. While the Turkish press heavily focused on these positive steps, Israel’s operation cast lead against Gaza broke out this time on December 27th  2008. In Israel’s attack against Gaza that lasted 22 days, almost 1,500 people died, half of which were women and children, while thousands of people were wounded. In this movement that was organized against Hamas, who had held the power in Gaza as of 2006, the Israeli army made use of chemical explosives (e.g. phosphorus bombs, powder bombs) that are outlawed by the international agreements. The region underwent heavy losses; infrastructure was heavily damaged and its cost was in the billions of dollars given the destruction of schools and state buildings.


Both the Israeli invasion of Lebanon in 2006 and the Israeli operation that was conducted against Gaza in 2008-2009 showed that Turkey’s attempts to build permanent peace and stability in the region were abused by Israel. In this sense, while the Turkish government was struggling for the establishment of peace between Syria and Israel, these operations against Gaza were used as the tactical cover and deception plans by Israel. From then on, Turkey has changed its stance towards Israel and started to perceive Israel as a threat for regional peace and stability. Turkey’s Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan regarded this operation as a great indignity towards Turkey’s good will and its role as the mediator, seeing it as a big blow  dealt to  peace. Erdoğan called Israel as the aggressive country, and their operation as state terror that left Gaza as an “open air prison.” He called the UN to act. Turkey’s former Foreign Minister Ali Babacan stated that in such a process in which there was a war between Israel and Palestinian, one cannot carry out peace negotiations. Turkey’s rather harsh attitude towards Israel was highly appreciated by the Arab countries, and respect towards Erdoğan among  people in the Middle East has  increased accordingly.


In the panel “Gaza: Peace Model in the Middle East” held within the Davos World Economic Forum, Israeli President Shimon Peres had raised his voice during his voice and claimed that Israel was right in its attack against Gaza. Upon hearing this statement, Turkey’s Prime Minister Erdoğan had criticized the Israel’s president and emphasized that Israel had used disproportionate power in Gaza. Since President Peres tended to distort the events took place in Gaza, Prime Minister Erdoğan asked the session moderator David Ignatius for his chance to speak, yet Ignatius did not want to let him intervene. Upon this, turning to Peres, Erdoğan said, “Mr. Peres, you are older than me. Your voice is very loud. I know that you are speaking aloud because of the requirement of a sense of guilt. My voice will not be that loud. When it comes to killing, you know it very well. I am well aware how you murdered children on beaches.” With this event, which was named as “the one-minute crisis,” the loss of impetus between Israel-Turkey relations increased while Recep Tayip Erdoğan was labeled a hero throughout the Arab world.


Following the events in Davos, the ‘low chair crisis’ appeared between Turkey and Israel. This was yet another incident that escalated the tension between the two countries. Israeli Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon summoned Turkey’s ambassador to Israel to the Israeli parliament to talk about a television show being aired in Turkey. The members of the press were also invited. Compared to Ayalon’s chair, the Turkish ambassador was seated on a lower chair than that of his. The Israeli Foreign Minister told the press in Hebrew that “I would like to emphasize the fact that the Turkish ambassador is seated lower, that he is not smiling  and that there is no Turkish flag on display.” In this way, he revealed the reaction of the Israeli radical right-wing politicians towards Turkey. Upon this event which aimed at humiliating Turkey, Turkey’s President Abdullah Gül demanded an apology from Israel,  setting a time limit for this apology to be delivered as well. On the same day that the event occurred, Israel delivered the formal apology letter to Turkey’s embassy at Tel Aviv.


As for the attack on the flotilla, the Mavi Marmara (aimed at sending humanitarian aid to Gaza) incident  it clarified that Turkey’s relations with Israel have indeed hit rock bottom. The event marked a first in the history of the Republic of Turkey, in which Turkish civilians were assassinated by a regular army. The raid on the Mavi Marmara was realized upon the instruction of Israeli political will, in accordance with the Israeli chain of command. During the raid, the Israeli army made use of real bullets and aimed at killing those who resisted the raid by taking head shots (aimed at shooting their heads). After the raid, the Forensic Medicine Institution conducted a post-mortem examination on the corpses, and confirmed that the Israeli commandos ‘shot to kill’ people on the ship.  It should be noted that the Mavi Marmara raid has resulted in almost irreparable damage to Turkey-Israel relations. After the raid, Turkey explained its demands for the improvement of the bilateral relations. The current Israeli government declined Turkey’s demands which were suggested for the improvement of the bilateral relations. This rejection by Israel shows that the political relations between the two countries will highlight a low-level process.


The Palmer Report (2)
The report consists sections such as the summary, introduction, summaries of the Reports of Israel’s and Turkey’s National Investigation, designation of facts and circumstances and suggestions on how to avoid similar incidents in the future. The remarkable provisions in the report are summarized as well:


“The fundamental principle of the freedom of navigation on the high seas is subject to only certain limited exceptions under international law.  Israel faces a real threat to its security from militant groups in Gaza. The naval blockade was imposed as a legitimate security measure in order to prevent weapons from entering Gaza by sea and its implementation complied with the requirements of international law.


The flotilla acted recklessly in attempting to breach the naval blockade. The majority of the flotilla participants had no violent intentions, but serious questions exist about the conduct, true nature and objectives of the flotilla organizers, particularly IHH. The incident and its outcomes were not intended by either Turkey or Israel. Both states took steps in an attempt to ensure that events did not occur in a manner that endangered individuals’ lives and international peace and security.  Turkish officials also approached the organizers of the flotilla with the intention of persuading them to change course if necessary and avoid an encounter with Israeli forces. But more could have been done to warn the flotilla participants of the potential risks involved and to dissuade them from their actions.


Israel’s decision to board the vessels with such substantial force at a great distance from the blockade zone and with no final warning immediately prior to the boarding was excessive and unreasonable. In particular, a clear prior warning that the vessels were to be boarded and a demonstration of dissuading force should have been given to avoid the type of confrontation that occurred. The operation should have reassessed its options when the resistance to the initial boarding attempt became apparent.


Israeli Defense Forces personnel faced significant, organized and violent resistance from a group of passengers when they boarded the Mavi Marmara requiring them to use force for their own protection.  Three soldiers were captured, mistreated, and placed at risk by those passengers.  Several others were wounded. The loss of life and injuries resulting from the use of force by Israeli forces during the take-over of the Mavi Marmara was unacceptable.  Nine passengers were killed and many others seriously wounded by Israeli forces.  No satisfactory explanation has been provided to the Panel by Israel for any of the nine deaths.  Forensic evidence showing that most of the deceased were shot multiple times, including in the back, or at close range has not been adequately accounted for in the material presented by Israel.”


The report recommends:

“All relevant States should consult directly and make every effort to avoid a repetition of the incident.

Bearing in mind its consequences and the fundamental importance of the freedom of navigation on the high seas, Israel should keep the naval blockade under regular review, in order to assess whether it continues to be necessary.

Israel should continue with its efforts to ease its restrictions on movement of goods and persons to and from Gaza with a view to lifting its closure and to alleviate the unsustainable humanitarian and economic situation of the civilian population.  These steps should be taken in accordance with Security Council resolution 1860, all aspects of which should be implemented.

All humanitarian missions wishing to assist the Gaza population should do so through established procedures and the designated land crossings in consultation with the Government of Israel and the Palestinian Authority.”

Moreover, the report suggests these in general:

“The imposition of a naval blockade as an action in self-defense should be reported to the Security Council under the procedures set out under Article 51 of the Charter. This will enable the Council to monitor any implications for international peace and security.

Humanitarian missions must act in accordance with the principles of neutrality, impartiality and humanity and respect any security measures in place. Humanitarian vessels should allow inspection and stop or change course when requested.

Attempts to breach a lawfully imposed naval blockade place the vessel and those on board at risk.  Where a State becomes aware that its citizens or flag vessels intend to breach a naval blockade, it has a responsibility to take proactive steps compatible with democratic rights and freedoms to warn them of the risks involved and to endeavor to dissuade them from doing so.

States enforcing a naval blockade against non-military vessels, especially where large numbers of civilian passengers are involved, should be cautious in the use of force.  Efforts should first be made to stop the vessels by nonviolent means.  In particular, they should not use force except when absolutely necessary and then should only use the minimum level of force necessary to achieve the lawful objective of maintaining the blockade. They must provide clear and express warnings so that the vessels are aware if force is to be used against them.”

The Palmer Report, as Özdem Sanberk (a Turkish member of the international inquiry panel) states, has been prepared in line with Israel and excludes Turkey’s legal assertions. Besides, while the report explicitly supports Israel’s assertions, it implicitly and obscurely touches upon the issues concerning Israel. Data acquired from the Data Collection Team, which was collected upon the United Nations Human Rights Council’s decision, explicitly proposes that the Gaza blockade is not in compliance with international law, whereas the Palmer Report regards the Gaza occupation as a legitimate security measure.


Turkey’s Reaction and Sanctions Enforced Against Israel
With the leaking of the Palmer Report to the press, Turkey’s Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu organized a press conference on September 2nd  2011. (3) In his statement, Davutoğlu stated that “Turkey will impose upon sanctions upon Israel, which include five provisions by the time Israel issues a formal apology to Turkey, pays compensation and lifts the blockade enforced against Gaza.” These sanctions include the following:


“Diplomatic relations between Turkey and Israel will be downgraded to the Second Secretary level. All personnel starting with the Ambassador above the Second Secretary level, will return to their countries on Wednesday at the latest. Military agreements between Turkey and Israel have been suspended. As a littoral state which has the longest coastline in the Eastern Mediterranean, Turkey will take whatever measures it deems necessary in order to ensure the freedom of navigation in the Eastern Mediterranean. Turkey does not recognize the blockade imposed on Gaza by Israel. Turkey will ensure the examination by the International Court of Justice of Israel's blockade imposed on Gaza as of May 31st 2010. To this end, we are starting initiatives in order to mobilize the UN General Assembly. We will extend all possible support to Turkish and foreign victims of Israel’s attack in their initiatives to seek their rights before courts.”


Turkish Foreign Minister Davutoğlu emphasized that Turkey was the representative of an understanding that advocates peace instead of eternal conflict and wants to establish justice instead of tyranny and added this: “That is why, in the same manner that we have raised our voice against the massacres in Bosnia, in Kosovo, we have also shown our reaction following the brutal Israeli attacks on Gaza.”


Turkish Foreign Minister Davutoğlu also touched on the need for Israel to make a choice and the time has come to make that choice. Moreover, he added that those who rule Israel need to see that it will only be possible to ensure real security by building a real peace.
Davutoğlu went on in this way:


“They should also understand that the path to build real peace passes through the strengthening of friendships, not by murdering citizens of friendly countries. However, it is also clear that the current Government of Israel is incapable of seeing this simple reality and comprehending the consequences of the huge changes taking place in the Middle East. On this occasion, I would like to emphasize that the measures we have adopted and we will adopt are linked only to the current Government of Israel's attitude.”


Saying that the aim was not to harm or jeopardize the historic Turkish-Jewish friendship, Davutoğlu stated that Turkey, on the contrary, intended to encourage the Government of Israel to correct this mistake that does not benefit this exceptional friendship. Furthermore, Davutoğlu pointed out that  Turkey had always demonstrated a sincere and constructive attitude regarding the prevention of developments that adversely affect regional and global peace and stability, having always sought to correct their negative impact. He also emphasized the fact that Turkey had made her demands and expectations known in a rather clear manner from the beginning, having done her part. Underlining the fact that the Government of Israel was the responsible party for allowing bilateral relations to reach the point they have  today, Davutoğlu stated that if the Government of Israel continued to avoid  taking the necessary steps, the  bilateral relations would not be able to revert from this point.


Turkey’s Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu said that, upon being informed by the Government of Israel of its readiness to meet with Turkey from the standpoint of apologizing to the Turkish publicand pay compensation to the families and guardians of  the deceased Mavi Marmara victims, Turkey held a total of four rounds of meetings at different times. He also pointed out that during these meetings, an agreement was reached a couple of times between the Turkish and Israeli delegations negotiating the texts of an agreement, which accommodated Turkey’s claims for an apology and compensation. Furthermore, Davutoğlu mentioned that an ad referendum agreement was reached for the first time over two separate texts as a result of the meetings held in Geneva upon the request by the Israeli Prime Minister (following Turkey’s contribution to the relief efforts to put out the forest fires in Israel in December 2010).

He added that “this agreement was also endorsed by the Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu. However, due to the disagreements within the Israeli Council of Ministers, this agreement could not be implemented. Throughout this process, all the delays in the publication of the Palmer Commission’s report - I am emphasizing this since we are faced with a serious press manipulation- were caused as a result of the Government of Israel’s request for additional time to form its internal consensus over apology and compensation, in other words, every postponement was at the request of the Government of Israel. The last request made by Israel for a six month-additional period was not accepted by Turkey. Because it was understood that all these requests for delay were aimed at prolonging the process.”


Additionally, Davutoğlu stated that the leaking to the press of the report, to which neither Turkey nor Israel is a side, (bearing only the signatures of its Chair Palmer and Vice-Chair Uribe) and the unofficial release being before it was officially submitted to the UN Secretary General on September 1st, was quite thought-provoking in this sense. He added that “Yesterday, I spoke in a frank manner to the UN Secretary General Mr. Ban Ki-moon on this subject. He expressed great astonishment and dismay that this report, which had not yet been submitted to him and whose details he was not yet fully acquainted with, would be leaked to the press as it had. Unfortunately, the Israeli side has not acted in a manner compatible with State solemnity and confidentiality in this process.”


Saying that this report reflected only the views of the people abovementioned, Davutoğlu pointed out these: “The report clearly establishes and expresses the crimes committed by Israeli soldiers and other officials. In this respect, it explicitly concludes that attacking vessels with substantial force at a great distance from the blockade zone was excessive and unreasonable. It also states that the loss of life and injuries caused by Israeli soldiers was unacceptable, none of the nine deaths was accounted for by Israel and that the evidence showed that most of the deceased were shot multiple times, including in the back, or at close range. The report clearly documents serious mistreatment of passengers, including physical mistreatment, harassment and intimidation, unjustified confiscation of belongings and denial of consular assistance. The report however alleges that the inhumane blockade enforced by Israel against Gaza is lawful. It is not possible and even out of the question to accept this approach. The Fact Finding Mission, comprising highly competent and specialized lawyers mandated by the UN Human Rights Council have reported that the Gaza blockade is unlawful. They clearly documented this in their work following the incident last year. This conviction was both endorsed by the UN Human Rights Council and supported by the UN General Assembly. When this is the case, clearly then the controversial views put forward by the Chair and Vice-Chair of the Panel exceeding their mandates are based on political motives, rather than on legal grounds. Turkey in no way accepts this approach, which jeopardizes the functioning and integrity of the panel. Turkey totally rejects this approach, which it finds incompatible with the letter and spirit of the Presidential Statement adopted by the UN Security Council by consensus. In this vein, we are determined to refer this issue to the competent international legal authorities.”


Touching on the fact that Turkey’s stance against this unlawful act of Israel from the first moment had been very clear and principled, Davutoğlu went on his statement in this way: “Our demands are known. Our relations with Israel will not be normalized until these conditions are met. At this juncture, Israel has wasted all the opportunities it was presented with. This price is, above all, deprivation of Turkey’s friendship. The only side responsible in reaching this stage is the Government of Israel and the irresponsible act of the Government of Israel. Turkey has always demonstrated a sincere and constructive attitude regarding the prevention of developments that adversely affect regional and global peace and stability and has always sought to correct their negative impact. Turkey has made known her demands and expectations in a very clear manner from the beginning and has done her part.”


Abdullah Gül, President of the Republic of Turkey, made the following comments: “Turkey had considered to sanction Israel for its refusal to apologize sooner, but instead waited since it wanted to "give some of our good-willed allies the opportunity to end the crisis." Israel apparently did not understand how determined Turkey was to show it has not forgotten the events of the past. Turkey would always defend our citizens rights and the "steps announced today were just the first phase. In accordance with Israel's stance, it is possible that more steps may come in the future. The Government of Israel is a burden for its own people as well. It has no credibility at all. While it is the responsibility of the Government of Israel to analyzed the recent events in the Middle East, it has no influence at all. As the strongest government of this region, Turkey will endeavor to protect not only the rights of its people but also those of the oppressed. Turkey looks for peace and stability. To ensure this, Israel has some responsibilities as well. If Israel is not aware of these responsibilities, its allies have to make it realize these. In short, the report means nothing for Turkey.”


As Turkey’s president put it, the sanctions explained by the Turkish foreign minister are of a preliminary phase. During the process, Turkey may impose additional sanctions upon Israel in accordance with Israel’s attitudes. In the former two reports (the report prepared by the Israeli Army and the Turkel Commission Report) which were prepared upon Israel’s demand, Israel put efforts for the international community to accept that the raid on the  Turkish flotilla ship the Mavi Marmara was wholly legal. It was also subtly stated in the Palmer Report that the Israeli commandos who boarded the Mavi Marmara acted with the motive of self defense. Israel, through its connections with the Western media, will conduct a campaign which aspires to declare to the whole world that the Palmer Report supports Israel’s arguments and the blockade enforced against Gaza was legal. Unless Israel makes a change in its stance, it is anticipated that Turkey will not take a step back from its sanctions and if needed, will impose new ones.


Comments from the World Press 
The world press has given much room to the recent developments between Turkey and Israel. For instance, France’s Liberation newspaper has assessed the recent developments between Turkey and Israel under the name “Tension between Israel and Turkey is at peak.” The newspaper stated that “Turkey’s sanctions on Israel are radical.” The newspaper also emphasized that tension in Turkey-Israel has escalated relations. Furthermore, Le Figaro evaluated the events under the headline “Turkey has deportedits ambassador to Israel.” The newspaper elaborated on Turkey’s sanctions enforced against Israel and the certain statements of the Turkish officials regarding the recent developments. It also commented that “failure of the reconciliation efforts between the two former allied members has resulted in Turkey’s sanctions.”

In England, James Hider, one of the writers of the Times, stated that Israel has lost both Turkey and Egypt (given its deteriorating relations with the country this year). The newspaper also emphasized that “instability of the Arab Spring has led to serious shifts in the power balances of the region.” Moreover, the Guardian reported that Alo Liel, former Israeli diplomat, had said Israel made a strategic mistake by not apologizing to Turkey. The former diplomat Liel also suggested that the fact that Turkey had expelled its ambassador to Israel might trigger the other countries such as Egypt and Jordan. In this way, he put, there could appear public pressure against these administrations with the same purpose. Shlomo Avineri, the former Director-General of Israel’s Foreign Ministry and political scientist, in his statement to the Financial Times, said that Israel made a mistake by not apologizing and not paying compensation to Turkey. He also added that “establishment and the maintenance of relations with Turkey is important for Israel and this report was expected to solve the crisis between Turkey and Israel.”


When it comes to Spain, one their newspapers El Pais gave such a headline “Turkey threatens to cut the relations with Israel” and underlined that Israel had lost its allies in the Middle East. It went on in this way: “There is something certain: The crisis between Turkey and Israel damages both of the countries. It damages Turkey since it may impair Turkey’s high-level diplomacy, which is the result of Turkey’s relations with all of its neighbors including Iran and Israel. It damages Israel since Israel cannot dare to be alone at such a time when the UN is so close to recognize the state of Israel.” Besides, El Mundo, under the headline “Turkey breaks up with Israel,” reported that “the ultimatum is complete now. All personnel starting with the Ambassador above the Second Secretary level at the Israeli embassy in Ankara, will return to their countries on Wednesday, at the latest.”


Likewise, B.Z. rom Berlin gave a headline “Expulsion of the Israeli ambassador to Turkey will threaten and exclude Israel.” It elaborated on these facts that Israel had drifted further towards alienation with Turkey’s new decisions, and that Israel is in need of ally countries such as the U.S. and Germany (of which it can count few among this category). Furthermore, Frankfurter Rundschau, in a comment entitled “Turkey’s Prime Minister Erdoğan’s strong signals” reported that the Turkish administration made use of the power preferences in the region thanks to its harsh reactions to Israel and added that a “well-balanced UN report could form a good base for compromise”. The Berliner Morgenpost published such a comment saying that “Turkey is in look for tension with Israel.” It touched on the need that Turkey should exert more efforts for the attenuation of the tension, adding that “increase of tension by Ankara cannot be accepted and the German government should explicitly reflect this.” Additionally, the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung stated that any increase of tension in the region would serve neither for the benefits of Turkey nor those of Israel.  It also touched on that both the Turks and the Jews had lived side-by-side and in peace for many years, emphasizing that  diplomats on both sides should remember these close ties and find a solution for the problem in the shortest time possible.


The New York Times in the US (newspaper that leaked the Palmer report without any official explanation) said that the UN report had been expected to bring about good results for the bilateral relations. On the contrary, the newspaper said, both sides instead fouled their own nests. The Wall Street Journal pointed out that Turkey expelled Israeli ambassador and the move brought relations between Washington's two strongest allies in the Middle East to a new low. Likewise, an Israeli official highlighted that “The fact Turkey struck a blow does not mean it requires a counter-action.”


In Israeli news source Haaretz, Middle Eastern affairs analyst Zvi Bar’el  claimed that Turkey’s reaction left Israel with some room for choice and Israel might apologize to them for the things happened. Bar’el held Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Kieberman responsible for the crisis.


Underlying Reasons For Turkey’s Sanctions
Turkey expects an apology from Israel. It expects because Israel conducted a military operation against a civilian ship, an act that does not comply with international law. As a result, nine Turkish citizens were killed and many others were wounded and subject to pressure. Under this Israeli  attitude lies its indifferent stance and impertinence, which is the result of the limitless support coming from the US and the Western societies. Israel has to make an apology to Turkey. It should do so because apologizing means questioning oneself, implying regret. After such a questioning of itself, Israel should have a paradigm change. Israel should adopt a paradigm that contributes to peace and stability in the country, rather than the one that impairs security. Otherwise, Turkey will not be successful in its efforts for the maintenance of peace and stability in the region.


It seems certain that Israel’s current approach and attitude are supported by the US and the western societies. Turkey’s demand for apology should urge the West to question this support and to put pressure on Israel. A paradigm shift in Israel that could be realized with the US and the Western pressure, may enable Israel to develop its relations with the countries in the region. Hence, security of the region could be better enhanced. Such a process may also serve for the long-lasting anti-US and anti-Western approach to fade away.


Making an apology is significant for another reason. Under both the ‘lower chair’ and  Mavi Marmara crises between Israel and Turkey lie the fact that Israel does not want to see a Turkey developed as a rising power in the region. In both of these crises, Israel intended to disrupt Turkey’s rise in the region and to impair Turkey’s respect in the eyes of the states and people in the region. Such an apology from Israel will invalidate Israel’s expectations in this regard and further strengthen Turkey’s image (that is now tried to be altered. Likewise, apology coming from Israel will strengthen the idea among the global powers that Turkey is a rising regional power. It will also help in enhancing the idea among them that Turkey, by downgrading diplomatic relations with Israel to the level of second-secretary and suspending the military agreements with Israel, formed pressure on Israel to apologize to Turkey. In addition to this, an apology from Israel will give the global powers, which want to see the improvement of Turkish-Israeli relations, the message that  pressure should be applied on Israel in this regard.


Turkey demands the payment of compensation to its injured citizens. Since a compromise has not been reached in this sense, support should be given so that these compensations are paid pursuant to the international law. Turkey’s sanctions enforced against Israel elaborates on the fact that this support shall be provided.


Turkey’s other demand from Israel is to stop the embargo and blockade in Gaza and to end the humanitarian tragedy there. It is because of the fact that an embargo and blockade in Gaza prevent those inhabitants from the right to live and similarly obstruct them from meeting their most essential needs (such as food, sheltering and basic health care). The blockade also serves for Israel as a means for the establishment of superiority and authority in the Mediterranean. Israel, through that blockade, acquires the chance of controlling navigation in the Eastern Mediterranean. Thus, Turkey had declared that it would carry the Israel’s embargo and blockade imposed on Gaza to the International Court of Justice (ICJ), and it would discharge its own responsibility as a regional power for the maintenance of freedom of navigation in the Mediterranean.


It could be said that Turkey-Israel relations have undergone ups and downs at certain times in the historical process. Improvement in the relations as of 1990s has ended with tension in the bilateral relations as a result of reasons such as: Turkey’s increasing efficiency as a regional power in recent years, Israel’s not contributing to the efforts of maintaining regional peace and stability in the region (on the contrary, it’s being a country that impairs security rather than enhancing it). Especially the operations conducted by Israel against Lebanon in 2006 and against Gaza in 2008 have dealt a big blow to Turkey’s attempts to seek peace and stability in the region. With the aforementioned ‘lower chair’ crisis, they tried to restrain Turkey’s rising prestige in the region and they somehow targeted Turkey given the Mavi Marmara attack, in which nine Turkish citizens were killed by Israeli commandos and many others were wounded. With Turkey’s sanctions enforced against Israel due to Israel’s attitude, which is indifferent and ignores human rights and international law, the relations between the two countries have essentially hit rock bottom.


Turkey’s sanctions enforced against Israel, given the developments in the region, will lead to the further alienation of the state of Israel. People’s influence over the administrations in the Middle East as a result of the Arab Spring and their hatred towards Israel will result in mistrust toward this country. Likewise, it seems that, with the bilateral relations hitting rock bottom, the clout of the Western countries, which support Turkey-Israel cooperation, upon this region will be damaged. In parallel to this, given that the US and the other Western countries have supported Israel (which is the guilty party in the Mavi Marmara crisis to the utmost) it is highly possible to see an increase in anti-US and anti-western thought in the region. Thus, it is quite natural for the US and the west, which is  looking for how to improve their images in the area, to seek the ways to ensure the compromise between Israel and Turkey.


With the implementation of the sanctions, it seems that Turkey’s influence in the region will be enhanced. Turkey, in this process, is highly likely to be a country which takes risks, and makes self-sacrifices, rather exemplary and leading the pack in giving a voice to the problems of the people in the Middle East. In this way, Turkey’s status as a regional power will be accepted both by the countries in the region and the global powers. Likewise, Turkey’s efforts in the international arena for the settlement of the problems in the region and similarly its attempts to take the support of the great powers and the other powers will most likely carry Turkey to the level of being a global player.


In a case where Israel is hostile, it may lead to negative consequences in some Turkish sensitivities, such as the country’s domestic terrorism problem and the draft law concerning the alleged Armenian genocide. Likewise, it is probable that any slowdown in Turkey’s technological, economic and commercial relations with Israel will negatively affect Turkey’s development. However, Turkey’s current position and capacity will enable Turkey to overcome such a probable situation. Additionally, with deterioration in Turkey-Israel relations, Turkey’s image in the eyes of the west will be increasingly questioned. Unless the required measures are taken, Turkey’s relations with the west may be negatively influenced as well.


Turkey’s objective to become a regional power and a global player may require the use of the hard power, along with soft power, as a means of its foreign policy. However, while applying hard power, one should be realistic, rational and responsible. Besides, hard power should be applied in compliance ith the soft power, which eventually creates synergy. Otherwise, aspirations and passionsmay lead Turkey to make mistakes.



Translated by Hacer Şartepe



(1) ‘Peshmergas’ refer to armed (often Kurdish) fighters.

(2) Report of the Secretary-General’s Panel of Inquiry on the 31 May 2010 Flotilla Incident, July 2001, Sir Geoffrey Palmer, Chair, President Alvaro Uribe, Vice-Chair, Mr. Joseph Ciechanover Itzhar, Mr. Süleyman Özdem Sanberk: http://graphics8.nytimes.com/packages/pdf/world/Palmer-Committee-Final-report.pdf

(3) Press Statement by H.E. Mr. Davutoğlu, Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Turkey, regarding Turkish-Israeli relations, 2 September 2011: http://www.mfa.gov.tr/press-statement-by-h_e_-mr_-ahmet-davutoglu_-minister-of-foreign-affairs-of-the-republic-of-turkey_-regarding-turkish-israeli-re.en.mfa

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