Tuesday, 1 June 2010

Turkey launches long-term diplomatic war against Israel


A long-term diplomatic war between Turkey and Israel, once solid allies in an unstable region, seems unavoidable in the wake of Monday’s deadly raid on a Turkish civilian ship carrying aid to Palestinians.

Turkey’s recalling of its ambassador and canceling of three military drills are the most concrete signs thus far of the longer and much larger-scale diplomatic row indicated by Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s speech Tuesday, coupled with Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu’s address to the U.N. Security Council and other diplomatic activities.

But as Turkey stays hard on Israel’s heels, Erdoğan’s statements show that Turkey will only target the current Israeli coalition government, led by Benjamin Netanyahu and Avigdor Liebermann, in retaliation for the attack, which ended with as many as 19 dead.

This government has become the main source of trouble in the region, Erdoğan indicated in his speech, reflecting the prime and foreign ministers’ previous decisions to not hold any high-level meetings with the current Israeli leadership. With reciprocal accusations from both sides since the famous Davos spat making it impossible to reduce tension, the only possibility for reconciliation between Ankara and Tel Aviv seems to be a change of administration in Israel.

Erdoğan made it clear that Turkey has no problem with either the Israeli people or the Israeli state, calling on the country’s citizens to stand up against the Netanyahu-Lieberman government, which he said hurts the interests of the Israeli people.

Full isolation of this government by the international community, backed by strong internal pressure, would surely start a process of removing the current Israeli leadership from power. This, of course, cannot be achieved solely by Turkey. Strong international determination in the international community is required, and Turkey will therefore try to gain the backing of the United Nations, NATO and other respectable international organizations. But the support of the United States is key.

Bilateral level

Though Erdoğan did not list the further measures Turkey could apply against Israel in response to the deadly attack, it is known that Turkish officials have already started to work on determining ways in which Ankara can curtail its relations with Israel.

According to Energy Minister Taner Yildiz, Turkey is examining its energy ties with Israel in the wake of the crisis, though he added that the prime minister would make any final decision. Turkey and Israel had studied construction of the Medstream pipeline project that would connect the two countries for gas, oil and water trade, but the worsening of relations has slowed progress on this project.

Legal compensation

Following Monday’s attack, Turkey is also calling on Israel to take steps to compensate the victims. In addition to an official apology, Ankara is asking Israel to punish the perpetrators of the brutality and compensate the families of the people who lost their lives.

Deputy Prime Minister Bülent Arınç said prosecutors have already started to look into whether the Israeli aggression against a Turkish ship would constitute a crime according to the Turkish Penal Code.

Turkey had earlier accused Israel of violating the international laws that prohibits countries from interfering in the navigation of ships on international waters. Some experts, however, argue, citing examples from the past, that not every instance of interference on international waters would necessarily mean a breach of the law.

“Countries could stop vessels at a reasonable distance in international waters if they believe that they could pose a security threat,” Hakan Hanlı, a senior attorney-at-law and an expert on international law, told the Hürriyet Daily News & Economic Review on Tuesday. The lawyer, however, also criticized the way Israeli security forces handled the situation.

“The first thing Israel had to do, according to law, was to show themselves to the boats and inform them that they’re ready to interfere. Next, according to the same laws, they should have fired at the front of the boats to slow them down or change their course,” he said. “If the boat doesn’t stop, they are not to fire, but to come abreast of the boat with their own boat in order to change its course.”

In addition, Hanlı said, “the Israeli government should have contacted other countries, especially Turkey, to ensure that the country whose flag is flown on the boat contacts the captain and orders a change of course.” Israel, he added, did none of these things.

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