Ties Between Israel and Turkey Deteriorate Further
The relations between Turkey and Israel deteriorated further on Tuesday as the Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan announced that all trade ties with the Jewish country would be severed. This harsh measure comes after the UN published a report on the incident on Mavi Marmara in May 2010, when nine Turkish nationals lost their lives.
On Friday, as word got out about what the Palmer report was going to say, the Turkish foreign minister Ahmet Davutoglu announced in a statement that the diplomatic relation with Israel would be downgraded to the level of second secretaries.
Davutoglu announced that the Israeli ambassador to Ankara has been expelled and that he had until Wednesday to leave the country. Neither side wanted to make more comments before the report was actually released to the media.
When it was, its conclusions ignited the Turkish fury completely. It was saying that even though they acted brutally and excessively, the 15 IDF navy Shayetet 13 troops were right to defend the Israeli territory, because the embargo was legal, and they were motivated even to use force, because the Turkish mounted a defense on board their ship that was attempting to breach the blockade.
Upon hearing the report’s assessments, the Turkish president Abdullah Gul said that Turkey, as the largest military force in the area, would make sure that the Eastern Mediterranean is a place where freedom of circulation is upheld, alluding to the fact that the state could even back those who would want to breach the blockade imposed by the Israelis.
The Turkish PM said in turn that the Palmer report had no right to pass judgments on the legality of the blockade, and announced that Turkey would help the families of the deceased to prosecute the Shayetet 13 troops at international level for what they had done.
Erdogan announced on Tuesday that following the suspension of military and diplomatic ties, economic ties would be suspended too, and measures would follow, though he did not mention the extent to which these measures will be employed.
The commerce minister said that the measures would not be employed immediately, and that he would do nothing “for now” to change the economic relations with Israel.
Erdogan reasserted that the Turkish ships would patrol the territory of Eastern Mediterranean, and that the Israeli ambassador and his staff had until Wednesday to leave.
Asked about the decisions made by the Turkish government, an Israeli official said under anonymity that he did not want to see relations with Turkey deteriorated further. Ehud Barak, Israeli defense minister, affirmed that Turkey and Israel are the two largest military powers in the region and that in spite of their differences they could “use their heads and not their gut” to make sure that the stability and peace are observed in the region.
Turkey and Israel had very good relations at most levels: military, military arm trade, economic and diplomatic.
In 2006, the Israeli defense minister was characterizing the relations between the two states as “perfect,” and talks have been engaged to sell the Turks the famous Ofeq military satellites and Arrow missile defense systems, which would have been a great progress for the Turkish army, the second largest in the NATO and the fourth largest in the world.
The Israeli military contributed to the upgrading of Turkish F-4 Phantom and F-5 aircraft, of M60A1 tanks, of Popeye surface-to-air missiles, to the exchange of pilots eight times a year, and participated in “long range flying over mountainous land” of Turkey, an operation the Israelis had to carry out last year in Romania, where they had a helicopter crash in the Carpathian mountains.
At economic level, Turkey and Israel signed the first trade agreement a Muslim country ever signed with Israel, called Turkish-Israeli Free Trade Agreement, which made Israel export $1.5 billion in goods, and import $1.8 billion, and Turkey become Israel’s third export market in 2001. Trade between the two increased from $600 million in 2010 to $695 million in 2011. Israel’s exports to Turkey rose from $420 million to $662 million.
In 2007, Shimon Peres addressed the Turkish national assembly, the first time an Israeli president ever spoke in front of the parliament of a Muslim country.
During the time of Ehud Olmert, the PM offered an apology to Turkey for violating its airspace on their way to bomb a Syrian nuclear plant.
Though they had differences in the past, and the relations began a cooling period since 2007, when the Hamas delegation was received in Istanbul, none of them was as serious as this one that started with the killing of nine Turkish people on board the vessel Mavi Marmara, which was attempting to breach a blockade imposed by Israel on Gaza in 2007, soon after the elections were won in that territory by the Hamas, which Israel considers a terrorist organization.
Immediately after the accident, that occurred on May 31, 2010,Turkey recalled the ambassador in Tel Aviv and said he would return only if an apology would be offered to the Turkish state and compensation would be paid to the families of the deceased.
Israel proposed to express regrets over the death of the people and to pay compensation, but refused to offer a formal apology, which would be construe as a recognition of guilt on their part and would encourage the families of those who died to prosecute the soldiers in justice.
An inquiry panel was set up by the United Nations to investigate the circumstances of the deaths on Mavi Marmara, and the result were presented in September last year.
The inquiry panel was led by former NZ PM Geoffrey Palmer and by former Colombian president Alvaro Uribe and did not enjoy the cooperation of the Israeli officials, who refused to testify in front of it, and had a panel of their own set up. Israeli cabinet members kept on affirming in front of the Israeli panel that their actions were legitimate, and that they defended the country.
In September 2010, in an action that can now be deemed as plainly deceitful in light of the recent events, some of the conclusions were leaked to the press from the Palmer report, namely the part about the brutality of the IDF military against the Turks. The report was lashing out at IDF for the way they treated the Turks.
Back then, these conclusions angered Israel, who was quick to call the report “biased” and even “anti-Semite,” and filled with joy and hope the Turks, who announced relieved that as soon as Israel offers the apology this thing could be put behind. There were voices though that were saying that there may be other provisions in that report that could not be so beneficial for the Turks.
The UN secretary general kept the report from being released in hopes that the two countries would settle this differences between them. When it became obvious that no political way out was to be expected, the report was publish.
It was the turn of the Jews to be filled with joy, while the Turks called it “biased,” and with no authority to assess the legality of the embargo. Before the publication of the document, Turkish PM Recep Tayyip Erdogan had invited the Israelis to offer the apology and offer compensation, adding a new request, which befits Turkey’s new role in the region after the Arab Spring: they asked that in addition to apology and compensation Israel end the blockade on Gaza.
Even though military leaders advised Israeli cabinet to offer a cautious apology that would place the soldiers in Shayetet 13 on the safe side, and would also save the military ties, so important for a country like Israel, the politicians were adamant, and the report was published.
Now, it would seem that we have a report that was drawn with the intent to see that both sides are being satisfied and ended up being called by both “biased.”
The Turks feel frustrated and probably will make good on some of their threats. But it is worth mentioning that every economic measure they may pursue will have consequences for their economy too.
Israel is facing two sets of economic embargo: one from the Turks, and the other from the international community after the proclamation of a Palestinian state at the UN on September 20.
Israeli cabinet does not seem so impressed with all this, knowing that imposing an embargo is no easy matter. A member of the cabinet said that the entire world depends on Israeli high-tech and an embargo would crumble their economy altogether. Maybe that is why Turkish minister of economy said that no measures would be taken “for now.”11