UN: Israel's Gaza blockade is legal; Turkey fumes

Sunday, September 04, 2011 |  Ryan Jones

The United Nations on Friday officially approved Israel's maritime blockade of the Gaza Strip as a legal and legitimate measure. The result was the start of a Middle East "cold war" between Israel and former ally Turkey.

For more than a year Turkey has been demanding that Israel publicly apologize for intercepting a so-called "humanitarian aid" flotilla that tried to break the Gaza blockade in May 2010. That operation ended in the deaths of nine Turkish nationals who attacked the Israeli boarding party aboard the flotilla's largest ship, the Mavi Marmara.

Turkey insisted that the entire affair had been an act of piracy by Israel, and openly sided with Gaza's Hamas rulers.

But the Palmer Commission report into the incident that was submitted to UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon acknowledged that Israel is facing "a real threat to its security from militant groups in Gaza."

Israel set up a limited blockade of Gaza, including a naval blockade, to ensure that local terrorists do not smuggle advanced weapons into the territory, which they have repeatedly tried to do.

The Palmer Report confirmed that Israel's naval blockade "was imposed as a legitimate security measure...and its implementation complied with the requirements of international law."

The report justified Israel's ongoing refusal to apologize to Turkey over the Mavi Marmara raid further enflaming the Turkish government, which responded by expelling the Israeli ambassador in Ankara.

"Turkey-Israel diplomatic relations have been reduced to a second secretary level. All personnel above the second secretary level will return to their countries," said Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu.

Turkey also suspended all military agreements with Israel, and threatened to file charges against individual Israeli soldiers who took part in the raid at the International Criminal Court in The Hague.

Perhaps most worryingly, Turkey also reportedly decided to bolster its own naval forces in the eastern Mediterranean.

A Turkish diplomatic source told Hurriyet Daily News that a "more aggressive strategy will be pursued. Israel will no longer be able to exercise its bullying practices freely."

Meanwhile, a vindicated Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu released a statement that Israel had adopted the Palmer Report and was pleased with its findings, even though it was also critical of Israel.

The Palmer Report found fault with Israel for sending so many commandoes to board the Mavi Marmara, and for doing so at such a distance from Gazan waters.

But Israeli officials, who are disputing those particular findings, noted that there were five other ships in the flotilla, and none of them were subjected to violence. The fighting aboard the Mavi Marmara was instigated by terrorist-linked activists, and not the Israeli soldiers, who only resorted to deadly force when several of their number were taken hostage below deck.

"Israel believes that the committee did not sufficiently consider the operational limitations," said Joseph Ciechanover, the Israeli representative to the Palmer Commission.

The Obama Administration voiced increasing concern over the situation, which threatens American interests in the region. Last month, the White House tried to strong-arm Israel into apologizing on Turkish terms, or risk losing American support at the UN when the Palestinians motion for independence.

But at least a few members of Congress said that it was Turkey who was in the wrong, and lashed out over Ankara's hypocrisy in expelling the Israeli ambassador, but allowing the Syrian ambassador, whose government is massacring its own people, to remain.

"Turkey should be ashamed of itself," said US Congressman Eliot Engel (D-NY). "In an almost unbelievable act of hypocrisy, the Syrian ambassador sits comfortably in Ankara, while the Assad regime kills more than 2000 of its own people, but Turkey has expelled the Israeli Ambassador for Israel’s proper enforcement of a legally-established blockade. Rather than bashing the only real democracy in the Middle East, Turkey should focus on its own problems, such as ending its occupation of Cyprus once and for all."

Not a few people have also pointed out that while Turkey is busy demonizing Israel for defending itself, the Turkish air force has been killing hundreds in northern Iraq in raids on suspected Kurdish militants. Both Ankara and the mainstream media have been silent on that comparison.

At the end of the day, Israelis fear Turkey is looking to increase its power in the Muslim world, and there is no better or quicker way to do that than become an outspoken enemy of Israel. Whether or not the belligerent rhetoric and behavior results in open violence remains to be seen, but clearly Israel and Turkey are on a collision course.

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