Israel’s decision not to abide by the Turkish ultimatum about the need to apologize for the May 2010 Mavi Marmara flotilla incident brought the promised “Plan B” punishment: Turkey has decided to expel Israel’s ambassador to Ankara, downgrade its diplomatic ties to the lowest possible level, to hold on all military agreements and to halt trade between Turkey and Israel.It is fair to say that during this year Turkey called it wrong several times about the Arab countries and developments in them but so have many Western countries and leaders. As for Cyprus, that remains a long-standing problem and to talk of the Turkish invasion without mentioning what prompted it is futile. Turks and Turkish Cypriots have long memories: they remember Greek ambitions of the early seventies and of the more recent past. Nor do they feel that the EU played entirely fairly by Northern Cyprus.
Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu said his government would now provide full support to the families of those killed to pursue prosecution of any Israeli military or government members responsible for the deaths.
Moreover, President Abdullah Gul strongly condemned the United Nations Palmer Report, because it considered Israel’s naval blockade of Gaza “a legitimate security measure” and stated that Turkey could have done more to dissuade the Turkish flotilla participants from their actions. He deemed it “null and void” and sent a veiled threat to Israel: “Turkey, as the most powerful country in the region, will not only protect its own rights but also those of all the people in need.”
Davutoglu declared that “Turkey would take measures to ensure free maritime movement in the eastern Mediterranean.”
Until several months ago Turkey’s policy of “zero problems” with all its neighbors, a “bridge between East and West,” and Middle Eastern activism, devised by Davutoglu, seemed successful.
The publicized incident of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan viciously attacking President Shimon Peres at the World Economic Forum in Davos in January 2009 and the May 2010 international flotilla incident led by the Turkish Islamist organization IHH brought Erdogan’s and Turkey’s standing in the Arab world to its peak.
The Mavi Marmara incident and the ensuing crisis with Israel mark also the beginning of the failure of this policy.
The attempt to mediate a peace agreement between Israel and Syria faded away; the excessive support to Hamas led to frosty relations with the then Mubarak regime in Egypt and even with the Palestinian Authority; Turkey appeared more and more as a potential Islamist threat rather than an asset to the West and NATO.
The question is really why is Turkey finding it so hard to finesse the issue of Gaza and the flotilla, to the point of violently opposing the UN report on the subject. Why, for example, is Prime Minister Erdogan discussing the possibility of visiting Gaza during his trip to Egypt? After all, given the situation in that country and the tense relationship between Turkey and various Arab states, there is enough to discuss without antagonizing Israel even further. Or so one would think.