In the wake of the United Nations report largely exonerating Israel in the flotilla incident and Israel’s refusal to apologize, Turkey has kicked out the Israeli envoy and threatened further retaliation. On Sunday the Jerusalem Post reported:
A senior Israeli official on Sunday warned that it would be a diplomatic mistake for Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan to visit the Gaza Strip as reports in the Turkish and Arab media suggested he was considering doing.
The Qatar News Agency (QNA) reported on Sunday that Erdogan will pay a two-day visit to Egypt beginning September 12 and may subsequently cross the border into the Gaza Strip.
Channel Two quoted the Israeli official as saying Erdogan would damage Turkey’s relations with the United States by visiting Gaza. He added that the move would also weaken Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, presumably because a trip to Hamas-controlled Gaza would challenge him as the legitimate representative of the Palestinians.
In response to the backlash from Ankara, Israeli officials are speaking in measured tones. Israel’s ambassador to the United States, Michael B. Oren, was eager to put Turkey’s reaction in context. He told me on Sunday: “Israel and Turkey agreed to the arbitration of the U.N. review of the flotilla incident of 2010. This is a serious and balanced examination, conducted by two esteemed statesmen along with renowned jurists from Israel and Turkey. Now that the panel has upheld the legality of the blockade of Gaza, acknowledged that our soldiers had the right to defend themselves from violent extremists aboard the flotilla, and that there is no humanitarian crisis in Gaza, Turkey is rejecting these findings and threatening retribution.” As for Israel, Oren said, “Israel values its relations with Turkey and hopes that we can now put this episode behind us, work out our differences peacefully and restore the historic friendship between our two peoples.”
With Erdogan in charge, a return to the good old days is highly unlikely. But Turkey, for now at least, needs to perform a balancing act — remaining on good terms with the United States, feeding its domestic audience a steady diet of anti-Zionist rhetoric and not entirely jettisoning the relationship with the Jewish state. With Syria’s Bashar al-Assad under siege and the rest of the Middle East convulsed in turmoil, Turkey may find it unwise to sulk for too long. Who knows which of Ankara’s allies will survive? Perhaps cooler heads and a desire to keep at least one foot firmly planted in the West will temper the Turks’ response.