With Turkish naval vessels steaming toward the Eastern Med at breakneck speed, there’s bound to be a collision at some point with the Iranians, based at Latakia, or the Russians at Tartus, or the Yanks cruising all over the place but especially the Israelis, who are literally sitting on top of an immense gas field everybody wants a piece of but won’t say so publicly. The Syrian gunboats will do their best to stay out of the way till this Mexican Standoff on the high seas ignites but a bloodbath’s guaranteed in the end.
Running cover for this phase of the rolling Arab Spring takedowns, the humanitarian effort to supply the Palestinians of Gaza is at the forefront of foreign policy at Ankara and elsewhere. The UN vote for their statehood has become a political priority for the Turks and if they can knock off that pesky Assad in the process, so much the better. All that remains to set the game in motion is for Obama to face his teleprompter and tell everyone he intends to ‘protect’ some more civilians in a country far far away, etc.
Gul Tuysuz, Istanbul
It’s tense times ahead in the Eastern Mediterranean, thanks to the continuing fallout from Israel’s deadly raid last year on a Turkish aid ship.
The raid, which occurred in May 2010, claimed the lives of nine passengers aboard a ship heading toward Gaza in defiance of Israel’s naval blockade.
Israel-Turkey relations deteriorated significantly in the wake of the incident, with Turkey’s prime minister, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, recently intensifying the dispute with the announcement that Turkey will begin patrolling the maritime space between the two countries to ensure safe passage for aid ships.
“From now on, we will not let these ships be attacked by Israel, as happened with the Freedom Flotilla,” Erdogan said on Thursday.
His words echoed those of Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu, who earlier last week announced a series of measures — including freedom of navigation in the Eastern Mediterranean — to be taken against Israel on the heels of the release of the much-anticipated Palmer Report.
The report, issued by a United Nations panel created to investigate the raid, concluded that the Gaza blockade is a legitimate security measure for Israel and, while condemning the attack as “excessive,” said that the Turkish organizers were partially responsible for the bloodshed that took place on board the Mavi Marmara.
Turkey was confident that the U.N. panel, which it had pushed hard to have convened, would take its side — partially since the U.N. Human Rights Council had condemned the attacks shortly after they occurred in 2010.
But the report, which came out last week and took a more divided view, has sent Ankara scrambling for new diplomatic tools.
“Plan B,” as Ankara’s measures against Israel have now been dubbed, includes a melange of tactics aside from assuring freedom of navigational movement in the Eastern Mediterranean.
Turkey has further downgraded relations with Israel, suspended all military agreements, pledged to take the Gaza blockade to the International Court of Justice and support cases filed on behalf of Mavi Marmara victims in courts around the world.
Turkish officials have also said that Ankara will throw its weight behind recognition of Palestinian statehood at the U.N. General Assembly scheduled to meet on Sept. 20.
But the implications of Turkey patrolling the Eastern Mediterranean, where Israel has been searching for natural resources, are dangerous. Onlookers fear what has until now been a cold confrontation, could turn into outright conflict.