The peripheral effects of the Mavi Marmara affair 100 kilometers off the Israeli coast on the last day of May have begun to remove some of the initial political glory that fell on Turkey.
Israeli commandos killed nine people when they stormed the former Bosphorus ferry to stop it from continuing to Gaza to deliver a cargo of humanitarian supplies. The nine victims were shot a total of 30 times and five were killed by gunshot wounds to the head, according to the Turkish council of forensic medicine. Ibrahim Bilgen, 60, was shot four times in the temple, chest, hip and back. Fulkan Dogan, a 19-year-old American of Turkish extraction, was shot five times from less that 45 centimeters in the face, in the back of the head, twice in the leg and once in the back. Five of the victims were shot either in the back of the head or in the back.
Ankara, justifiably angered by this disproportionate display of force, poured a tirade of vitriol upon Israel and appeared as a new and active champion of the Palestinian cause, which prompted outpourings of support for the government of Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan. While domestic political gains still abound, the fallout in various international arenas is spreading.
The jury is still out on the trite question of whether Turkey has killed off its chance of joining the European Union through currying favor with its eastern — and Muslim — neighbors. Politicians involved in the EU application deny any such policy shift. Indeed, friendly commentators in the United States and Europe point out that Turkey’s close relations with states like Syria and Iran make it a more attractive proposition for the EU. It can boldly go for talks where few European politicians dare to venture.
Be that as it may, there are a number of areas where Turkey stands to lose out because of its public spat with Israel. Not least is in its campaign against the Kurdish Workers Party (PKK), in which some 50 members of the Turkish armed forces have been killed since March. One of the most useful tools in spotting PKK bases in Northern Iraq is the Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV), or, more popularly, the drone. Six Israeli-made Heron UAVs stationed near the Iraq border have been providing surveillance data on PKK bases. The Israeli technicians present in Turkey to troubleshoot and give training are said to have pulled out two weeks after the battle of Mavi Marmara.
The Turks put a brave face on the withdrawal. Defense Minister Vecdi Gonul said Turkish personnel had been trained in Israel and would take over the task of operating the Herons. Other Turks say this is easier said than done.
But all may not be lost. In a triumph of pragmatism over principle, there is an unofficial agreement in Ankara that any decision to freeze military deals with Israel should be delegated to the defense ministry. Thus on June 22, as at a suspected PKK bombing of a military bus killed least five people in Istanbul, a Turkish delegation arrived in Tel Aviv to view the latest Heron tests and to take delivery of another four.
Meanwhile, Erdogan has claimed that “foreign elements” have been involved as a “subcontractor” in the escalation of PKK attacks on the Turkish army. It was left to acolytes lower down the line, speaking on convenient condition of anonymity, to point the finger at Israel. For good measure, there have been equally unlikely accusations that Israel was also behind the attack on a Turkish naval base at Iskenderun. This leaves a choice between believing that Israel is conspiring with the PKK to engineer attacks on the Turkish army, or it is cooperating with that same army to launch attacks on PKK bases. Turkey, like much of the Middle East, is replete with conspiracy theories.
Deteriorating relations with Israel could have another ill effect on Ankara. Israeli lobbies in the US have for decades taken up the cudgel on Turkey’s behalf to beat down attempts by the Armenian community to have the US Congress officially recognize the wholesale slaughter of 1915. Mike Spence, a Republican representative for Indiana, said if Turkey continued to become more antagonistic to Israel, he would reconsider his opposition to a resolution designating the events as genocide.
This has far-reaching financial implications. Congressional recognition of the genocide would make it possible for Armenian groups to sue for damages and seize Turkish assets in the US. The headline-grabbing flotilla unleashed a tide of events which could lead anywhere. Victory doesn’t appear to be one of the ports of call.
PETER GRIMSDITCH is Executive’s