The real reasons Turkey stopped the Mavi Marmara sailing to Gaza last June

Last June, as the Gaza Freedom Flotilla 2 was preparing its attempt to break the illegal Israeli siege of Gaza, many were dismayed when the Mavi Marmara was withdrawn from the flotilla. Why did this happen?

The Mavi Marmara is the Turkish-operated ship that Israel attacked on 31 May 2010 in international waters during the previous flotilla, killing 9 people and injuring dozens more.

Israel’s refusal to apologize for the attack, and to meet other Turkish demands led to yesterday’s unprecedented sanctions by the Turkish government.

In the wake of a deeply flawed, biased and non-credible UN report justifying the Israeli siege of Gaza and whitwashing the Israeli attack, Turkey has downgraded diplomatic relations with Israel to the lowest level, suspended all military agreements between the countries, and vowed to take other measures to seek justice for the victims of the Israeli attack and to challenge the Israeli siege.

Why did Turkey stop the Mavi Marmara?

Although the Mavi Marmara was operated by the independent charity IHH, it seems highly likely that the decision to withdraw from the flotilla in June was taken at the suggestion of the Turkish government. The reasons given publicly for withdrawing the ship were “technical.”

We cannot know what private communications may have taken place, but in early June Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu publicly suggested that the flotilla organizers should “rethink” their plan to break the siege by sea. Whether the decision was at the behest of the Turkish government or not, it suited its needs at the time. Why?

At the time many observers – myself included – feared that Turkey was softening its stance toward Israel and seeking to “mend fences” without Turkey’s demands being met.

The suspicions of many were encapsulated in a drawing by celebrated political cartoonist Carlos Latuff that showed Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan declaring “I love Palestine” to win votes in the Turkish general election, while his shadow shakes hands with Israel.

Many were convinced that the withdrawal of the Mavi Marmara meant Turkey’s policy was no different from the abject complicity of Greece, which worked hand in glove with Israel, to prevent the remaining flotilla ships from reaching Gaza.

It is now clear that this analysis was wrong. For one thing, Turkish-Israel relations featured little in the June Turkish election campaign, and if Turkey’s stance was about winning votes, the government would presumably have announced its measures against Israel before the election rather than months afterwards.

A tactical move in a long strategy?

In light of the relative severity and decisiveness of Turkey’s sanctions on Israel, it is certain that withdrawing the Mavi Marmara was a tactical step, as negotiations between Israel and Turkey were ongoing, to avoid giving Israel the excuse of another “provocation” which would let it off the hook for the previous attack.

Sending the ship could also have led to unknown consequences from Turkey’s perspective: either allowing Israel to seize the ship again, or escalating into a military confrontation.

“Wasted opportunities”

In his uncompromising 2 September statement laying out the sanctions on Israel, Foreign Minister Davutoğlu said:

Turkey’s stance against this unlawful act of Israel from the first moment has been very clear and principled. 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.

Now, the Government of Israel must face the consequences of its unlawful acts, which it considers above the law and are in full disregard of the conscience of humanity. The time has come for it to pay a price for its actions.

This price is, above all, deprivation of Turkey’s friendship.

Turkey’s gesture of stopping the Mavi Marmara from sailing in June is almost certainly one of the “wasted opportunities” to which Davutoğlu alluded. Another would have been Turkey’s assistance in extinguishing last’s year’s Carmel wildfire.

Laying the ground for a decisive step

By giving Israel all these opportunities and avoiding anything that Israel could present as a provocation, Turkey has established beyond any reasonable doubt Israel’s total intransigence and unwillingness to assume responsibility.

Thus, the measures taken yesterday by Turkey appear to have been well-studied and carefully prepared. This suggests that Davutoğlu was serious when he said there would be no retreat from Turkey’s position and no normalization of relations until Turkey’s demands are met.

The cost to Turkey?

One calculation Turkey certainly would have had time to consider is the price it might pay in terms of retaliation from the United States, Israel’s protector and patron. Turkey, unlike Israel, is a formal ally of the United States, a member of NATO, and thus has a mutual defense pact with the United States.

The Turkish government must have concluded that it can withstand whatever wrath the United States might mete out, especially since the US still feels it needs Turkey to help maintain its faltering hegemony in the region.

On the same day it announced sanctions on Israel, Turkey also revealed that it had reached agreement to host radar installations as part of the American-sponsored and conceived NATO “missile defense” program.

Press reports indicate that as part of the deal, the US acceeded to a Turkish demand that data from the Turkish-hosted radars not be shared with Israel.

Turkey, it turns out, is still of more practical benefit to US regional hegemony than Israel, which is increasingly a strategic and political burden to the United States.

In terms of regional implications, Turkey has demonstrated to supine Arab regimes, particularly Egypt’s ruling military junta, that imposing a cost for Israel’s aggression is an option despite US support.

Will the Mavi Marmara sail to Gaza again?

Now that Turkey has shown its hand toward Israel, the question arises: will the Mavi Marmara sail to Gaza again? That is a question I cannot answer, but Davutoğlu also made clear that Turkey does not recognize the siege or maritime blockade of Gaza and would continue to challenge it:

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 31 May 2010. To this end we are starting initiatives in order to mobilize the UN General Assembly.

What these measures will mean in practice – and whether they will involve the Mavi Marmara returning to Gaza, remains to be seen.

Comments

This analysis seems right on to me, though there's surely the possibility that Republican elements in the armed forces are keeping unofficial links to Israel open.

I wonder if we'll ever see a Gaza flotilla with a couple of Turkish frigates as an escort?

Eh, I'm still not convinced. AKP is and has been simply just playing realpolitiks - and doing it quite well. And this article also assumes that "announcing the measures against Israel" is the single act that could have most proven to the public AKP's/Erdoğan's intentions against Israel. The fact is that people here still to this day imitate Erdoğan's "one minute!" statement at Davos. So the idea of AKP being pro-Palestine is already emblazoned in the public's mind.

So, yes, Turkey's moves are well-calculated and well-prepared. But they're not well-calculated and well-prepared to advance Palestinian liberation; they're formulated for increasing Turkish geopolitical credibility and, most especially, regional influence.

If preventing the Mavi Marmara from sailing again before the relese of the Un report was a tactical move than how does it fit with the fact that Turkey does not recognize Israel's navy blockade of Gaza? There is a contradiction here because in the 'tactical move' there is implicit recognition of the blockade.

The argument is that Turkey tactically pulled back from short term confrontation with Israel in order to lay ground for long term action with more legitimacy. No contradiction at all. Simply picking battles carefully.

But again - picking battles for what reason? This article seems to assume that Turkey de facto has Palestinians' best interests at heart. There's no actual analysis here of the motives for Turkey's actions. Israel and Turkey are both playing the same game of trying to win approval/immunity from the international community. We, as activists, fall right into both of their traps if we cast them as being diametrically opposed and then take sides one against the other. We ought to be opposing both of their efforts on the international scene side-by-side as part of our own principled positions in support of Kurdish and Palestinian rights.

I tend to agree with this view. There's a hopefulness in terms of the actions of state actors concerning Israel that we don't express in any other context. Recall, Turkey has its own Palestinian problem with the Kurds, there's not a political culture there that condemns such activities outright, so all that must guide it is political considerations. The fact that the chess board remains almost the same, disregarding Egypt, after a decade of heinous Israeli atrocities is proof enough of that. I hope my skepticism about Turkey will be proven unwarranted. But experience tells me that the football won't be there when Charlie Brown is ready to kick it.

Comparison of kurdish issue in Turkey with palestine problem casts a long shadow over the wisdom of the people writing here. There are many ethnicities in Turkey and kurds are one of them. Turks never invaded Kurdistan. The region has been within turkish country for a thousand years. There just some lingual and cultural restrictions since the establishment of the young republic, but they are lifted now. There are no travel restrictions, no banstustans (?) no whatsoever in Turkey. There is just a political, militant, separatist group that is supported by less than half of the kurds. Turkey has all the right to protect its borders. Comparisons of palestine and kurdish issue is laughable, especially given the close relationship between the zionist regime and the kurds. Just know that Turkish nation is behind the turkish state, and yes we expect her to pursue turkish interests first and foremost. You can either select a feasible course of action according the political facts on the ground or choose to entertain yourselves by living in a land of utopia. We will return friendship with friendship.

"The Jews have have a claim on the land Israel from 2000 years ago. Israel has a right to defend its borders. Most Palestinians don't even support Hamas. Israel has a right to secure its borders. We can only expect Israel to act in its own national interest."

Your response is a typical Turkish nationalist rant. Kurds are the indigenous population of that area of Mesopotamia, but they have never had their own nation-state (another "non-parallel", I'm sure). The land has not belonged to the country of Turkey for 1000 years. Turkey is a republic that has existed only since 1923. As part of the project of creating a new secular republic for "Sunni Muslim Turks", Turkey expelled or subjugated anyone who didn't fit into that ethno-religous conception of its new nation-state: the Armenians were expelled, the Kurds were subjugated. Both were massacred. Kurds fit the religious character of the new Turkish citizen, but they didn't fit the ethnic-linguistic requirement.

You're right, there are lots of other ethnicities in Turkey today: Jews, Armenians, and Greeks among them. However, all three are legally recognized minorities, despite comprising a combined 1 or 2% of the Turkish population. Kurds, who are 20% of Turkey's population, are not legally recognized as an ethnic minority and still to this day have legal restrictions on the use of their language. Turkey, like Israel, has military conscription and most of the young soldiers drafted into the army are sent to patrol in Turkish Kurdistan. That's, of course, when Turkey isn't bombing Iraqi Kurdistan.

There are of course many important differences between Turkey and Israel and between the plight of the Palestinians and that of the Kurds. But the simple fact remains that both countries have oppressive policies towards their ethnic minorities. I would expect better of Palestine solidarity activists than to blindly support Turkey simply out of convenience.

The answer is that Turkey wants to burnish its image in the Arab world.
http://www.nytimes.com/2011/09...

Mavi Marmara is a piece of evidence for ICJ and cannot be simply allowed in another sailing until the court is finished.

Turkey massacre Kurds and caused the Armenian genocide while preaching Israel and Syria.. two faced? Maybe..

As far as I can recall the Armenian massacre was carried out by the Ottomans, not the Turkish republic. And it is more openly discussed now in Turkey than under any previous government, albeit not yet enough.

The position of the Kurds was really bad as well under the previous military-installed regimes in Turkey, with which Israel was so cosy. (Funny how you never heard Israeli's champion the Kurdish cause then.) It is under the present government that the rights of the Kurds have been vastly improved.

As to the PKK: It is a despicable organization. PKK sympathisers are the only people I know who still decorate their wall with posters of Stalin.

Saying that the Armenian genocide was committed by the Ottomans and not the Turkish republic is like saying that the expulsion of Palestinians was conducted by the Irgun and not the State of Israel. In both cases the ethnic cleansing conducted made possible the later establishment of an ethnically exclusive nation-state.

I really wish Palestine solidarity activists, who are committed to fighting ethno-nationalism, would stop supporting Turkey simply because Turkey happens to be critical of Israel. (And Turkey isn't even critical of Israel for any ideological reason! It's just convenience and regional power politics!)

My interest in Turkey goes back a long time (it does not primarily stem from an interest in the Palestinian cause). I studied the language in the late eighties and had a number of friends who had been imprisoned and had fled the country after the 1980 coup. Compared to that time, I cannot help seeing the AKP government as an enormous improvement. And it is really true that there is much more room for discussion on both the Armenian and Kurdish issues now than ever before. But maybe my glasses are too rose coloured...

Bravo for this brilliant analysis of the currents regionals moves. I appreciate particularly your statements about the Turkey's will to ensure the freedom of navigation in the Eastern Mediterranee. We have seen the same challenging to Israel by the new Egytian government when Iranians warship pass through Suez canal this spring.
Definitively Israel have lost his strategic advantage and regional domination’s role. The «Thirty glorious of Israel» (since the Camp David Accord with Egypt) are done... And, in a certain manner, it is the come back of the Ottoman's empire (even for the islamists - like those in Egypt and in Tunisia - the Turkish model is rising up).

Bernard Gadoua, Montréal

Technically speaking, I think Greece has a longer coastline than Turkey in the Eastern Mediterranean. If you stick to only the continental (and not island) coastline, I think that is still true, but it is slightly possible that if you add in Turkey's Black Sea coastline, it might be longer, although that is no longer the Mediterranean.

Greek islands are almost exclusively in Aegean sea. Turkey indeed has the longest coastline to Mediterranean.

Huwaida Arraf describes the divergence in Greece and Turkey policy re participation in the recent flotilla:

'But the country that was—that really cooperated with Israel—and it was a shock and quite sad—was Greece. And it did—we did learn that it came under a lot of political and economic pressure also because of the economic situation that they’re in. But they did impose restrictions and did not let our boats leave. So it really became complicit in Israel’s blockade. And we are challenging that on different levels.

Turkey itself didn’t really. It did communicate to us and to our Turkish partners that it might not be helpful at this time, but what happened—but the Turkish organization IHH remained fully a part of the flotilla. The Mavi Marmara was not able to go, because it was not physically, mechanically ready to go. In fact, up until the date that we were supposed to launch, they still had people working to meet all of the guidelines for being certified to go into international waters on the kind of mission that we wanted it to. So we knew—at a point, we realized it wasn’t going to be ready, and we took that boat out of the equation. But the Turks remained fully a part of the organizing. And in fact, we were going to launch one boat from Turkey. One of the boats—it was the Irish ship—was located in Turkey, but it was sabotaged by, we believe, Israeli agents and was not able to launch. So, they didn’t really place any barriers, certainly not like Greece did.'

http://www.democracynow.org/20...

I suspect that the conservative Turkish government might initiate actions in the ICJ before adding encouragement for the Mavi Marmara setting sail to break the illegal blockade on Gaza again.

Huwaida Arraf describes the divergence in Greece and Turkey policy re participation in the recent flotilla:

'But the country that was—that really cooperated with Israel—and it was a shock and quite sad—was Greece. And it did—we did learn that it came under a lot of political and economic pressure also because of the economic situation that they’re in. But they did impose restrictions and did not let our boats leave. So it really became complicit in Israel’s blockade. And we are challenging that on different levels.

Turkey itself didn’t really. It did communicate to us and to our Turkish partners that it might not be helpful at this time, but what happened—but the Turkish organization IHH remained fully a part of the flotilla. The Mavi Marmara was not able to go, because it was not physically, mechanically ready to go. In fact, up until the date that we were supposed to launch, they still had people working to meet all of the guidelines for being certified to go into international waters on the kind of mission that we wanted it to. So we knew—at a point, we realized it wasn’t going to be ready, and we took that boat out of the equation. But the Turks remained fully a part of the organizing. And in fact, we were going to launch one boat from Turkey. One of the boats—it was the Irish ship—was located in Turkey, but it was sabotaged by, we believe, Israeli agents and was not able to launch. So, they didn’t really place any barriers, certainly not like Greece did.'

http://www.democracynow.org/20...

I suspect that the conservative Turkish government might initiate actions in the ICJ before adding encouragement for the Mavi Marmara setting sail to break the illegal blockade on Gaza again.

Turkey could and should have taken Israel to the ICJ and patrolled the Med around Gaza immediately after Israel's illegal and piratical attack on the Mavi Marmara in international waters. Turkey's outrage has been lukewarm over the massacre of its unarmed citizens and the subsequent Israeli lies about the attack.

Erdogan blows hot and cold probably according to the diplomatic gusts, squalls and pressure behind the scenes. Waiting for an apology! He and the world knows Israel never apologises for its atrocities.

I think another factor in Turkey's apparent decision to hold back the Mavi Marmara was the situation in Syria. That time, If I remember correctly, was when Syrians were flooding over the frontier from Jisr al-Shughur. That was a critical moment for Turkey: were Hatay and the Cilician plain going to be flooded with thousands of Syrian Arabs?

Large numbers of Syrian rebels staying for a long time are going to talk to their relatives in Antakya. You remember the way the refugee camps were closed up and cut off, and situated nearer to Turkish speaking Adana than Arabic speaking Antakya. Certainly the Turks were and are afraid of Syrian revolutionaries infecting the Arabs of Antakya, potentially leading them to demand the righting of the wrong of 1939, and the return of Antakya to Syria. Turks think about these things, even Erdogan; the rest of us don't.

Since then things have quietened down, and it's not so much a problem.

I thought at the time that maybe Israel had offered not to stir Syria too much, so that Turkey would not have too much trouble there at that moment of crisis.

There were talks between Israel and Turkey at the time. So some deal was done (or tried). It was not merely a case of Turkey making a unilateral tactical move.

Let's assume that Israel is planning to enforce the blockade of Gaza.

If a Turkish civilian ship join the flotilla and Israel once again boards the ship then Erdogan looks like he can't enforce his position on the Gaza blockade. It would make Turkish threats look toothless.

If Turkish military ships escort the flotilla to try to run the blockade then Turkey comes out looking very aggressive, and there is a good chance for a violent confrontation. Violent confrontations are bad for the country's image, economy and have unknown results. There really is no good endgame here.

If Turkey really cares about this issue then its best approach is to try to force Israel to lift the blockade through political pressure via the UN / ICJ / etc. It is a safe strategy that wins points but has no chance for major conflagrations.

I agree that in order to avoid millitary confrontations of which the outcome is never guaranteed, Turkey should go the way of the interational institutions, so UN and ICJ. However, what will be the consequences, even if the actions of Turkey in these institutions are very succesfull? I am afraid that condemnations of Israel will lead to nothing. Remember the decisions of the ICJ about the apartheids wall near the armistice line of 1949. Israel was condemned and the wall is still there.
Israel has never taken any notice of international condemnations and UN resolutions. With impunity ! So why expect any difference in israeli behaviour when it is clearly decided by the ICJ that the Gaza siege is illegal and doesn't align with international law ( Geneva treaty, San Remo etc. )
The mainproblem of the israeli intransigance was and still is the continuing support of the US for israeli policy

Turkey, as a member of NATO does not have to bow the the American wishes. If it is to work with NATO Turkey must first decide if the action is right or wrong. Since NATO's aid to rebels in Libya is an illegal act according to International Law, Turkey has every right, every legal reason, to just say no.

You're kidding, right? It's enough for Israel to frown and the US will dutifully pounce on Turkey.
http://occupiedpalestine.wordp...
And if that's not enough to scare Turkey, why, some kurdish trouble can always be created by the MOSAD so that Turkey has to react so that "the international community" choir will be directed by USrael in long howl of indignation. I wonder if the refrain will include the leitmotive "his own people"