September 2, 2011, 3:22 PM (GMT+02:00)
Turkey has run into two obstacles in its two-year campaign to destroy Israel's good name and squeeze it into a corner: First, the UN report out Friday, Sept. 2 justified Israel's Gaza blockade and its navy's interception last year of a Turkish vessel leading a flotilla aiming to breach that blockade, although it was assailed for its "excessive response" to the violence of Turkish extremists.
Ankara tried in vain to squash this report and postpone its publication.
Thursday, Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu laid down an ultimatum which gave Israel 24 hours to abandon its refusal to apologize for the nine deaths aboard that vessel, Turkish-flagged ship Mavi Marmora , caused by a clash between armed Turkish "peace activists" and Israeli soldiers who boarded it. Davutoglu said Israel must also compensate the bereaved families and end the blockade.
Israel again stood by its refusal to apologize - Turkey's second contretemps.
The UN report composed by former New Zealand Prime minister Sir Geoffrey Palmer then recommended that Ankara accept "an appropriate statement of regret" and payment of compensation. This is exactly what Israel has repeatedly offered, only to be slapped down by Ankara.
The Erdogan government's hate campaign for bringing Israel to its knees has entailed support for the terrorist organizations dedicated to its destruction, including the Palestinian Hamas, Hizballah - up to a point, and Turkey's very own IHH whose activists set about the Israeli soldiers as they boarded the Mavi Marmora.
The UN report is hard on the flotilla's "true nature and objectives," accusing it of acting "recklessly in attempting to breach the naval blockade" and holding the Turkish government responsible for not doing more to prevent this encounter.
Israel's naval blockade was ruled legal and justified – "Israel faces a real threat to its security" from Gaza - and the actions of its commandos were deemed "honorable and appropriate," although the Palmer report assails Israel for its "excessive and unreasonable" response to the violence it encountered on the Marmora.
Having failed to bring Israel low with its two-year long Plan A, Ankara is putting Plan B into action.
The Israeli ambassador (who is on home leave before retiring) was expelled and Turkey's longstanding military accords with Israel suspended.
The Turkish foreign minister has already threatened to enforce anti-Israel sanctions and ask international tribunals to prosecute Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, Defense Minister Ehud Barak, ex-Chief of Staff Gabby Ashkenazi, Navy Commander Zvi Merom and a string of naval officers for causing the nine Marmora deaths and requiring them to compensate the victims' families.
None of these measures were recommended in the Palmer report.
Turkey's combative intransigence over the flotilla episode and rank hostility toward Israel reflect the Erdogan government's frustration over the failure of its strategy to carve a role for Turkey as the leading regional power broker, especially in the Arab Revolt.
Syrian President Bashar Assad simply laughed off Erdogan's "last warning" to him to stop slaughtering civilian demonstrators and return his troops to barracks.
Davutoglu went to Damascus especially on Aug. 9 to deliver the warning by hand. But since then, the Syrian army has killed an estimated 437 people, including nearly 100 Palestinians in the town of Latakia – apart from the scores who are dying from maltreatment in custody. Thousands more are injured daily by military gunfire. Yet Assad not only keeps on sending his troops into Syrian cities but has improved on their tactics: In the last two weeks tanks are smashing their way into one city district after another.
Assad is not alone in showing contempt for Ankara's attempt to make its mark on the Arab Revolt
In Libya, for instance, Turkey undertook to build security and administrative institutions for the dominant Transitional National Council in the rebel stronghold of Benghazi– only to be cold-shouldered after refusing to take part as a NATO member in the military offensive against Muammar Qaddafi and his army - unlike Qatar and Jordan, which put their backs and special forces into toppling the Libyan regime.
The turmoil in Arab lands has made the alliance Erdogan strove to shape between Ankara, Tehran and Damascus, irrelevant, as well as dashing his vision of Turkey as the great bridge between the West and the Muslim world.
Erdogan is now working on a new alliance with Saudi Arabia at the head of the Gulf emirates, but their differences of approach are formidable. Riyadh is focused on establishing a Sunni Muslim lineup to challenge the Iranian-led Shiite world. Erdogan and Davutoglu are not sure this concept will advance their own vision of Turkey's role.
All the Turkish leaders' efforts to make friends and allies have had an important common objective: To isolate Israel and make its military inconsequential as a Middle East force. There is no point therefore in the Netanyahu government acceding to Ankara's demands. Even if the Gaza blockade were to be lifted, Erdogan would find another pretext for slapping Israel down. And if Plan B goes the way of Plan A, his foreign minister certainly has Plans C and D in his briefcase ready to go.
Some Israeli officials refer to Turkey as an important regional power which should be placated. The facts do not support this description. The rift will be healed only when Turkey's rulers stop using Israel as whipping boy for their failed agendas, whether in the Sunni or the Shiite arenas, and understand that the Israeli army is not about to play kids' games with Turkish terrorists.
Israel must understand too that the glory days of close military ties, when Turkish military air crews training in Israel swooped low over the Tel Aviv beachfront are gone for good. Erdogan has forced the generals of those days into retirement or put them in jail.
Only eight months ago, Hakan Fidan, head of the Turkish National Intelligence Organization, MIT and an Erdogan trusty was ready to hand Iran all the classified data on Israel's weapons systems in Turkey's possession to help Tehran stand up to a potential Israeli strike against its nuclear facilities.
This was only prevented by the outbreak of the popular uprising in Syria and the attendant deterioration of Ankara's ties with Tehran and Damascus.
US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has been proactive in the Obama administration's effort to heal the breach between Ankara and Jerusalem. This is a hopeless task because Erdogan and his foreign minister are after big game: They will be satisfied with nothing less that pushing Israel and its army out of the anti-missile setup the US and NATO have deployed for intercepting Iran's ballistic missiles.
debkafile's military and Washington sources report that Ankara accompanied its hostile acts against Israel with swift permission for the deployment of NATO electronic warning stations on Turkish soil.
Turkey's eyes are fixed on the shared ballistic missile defense facilities the US established with Israel in recent years. Erdogan plans next to warn Washington that it will not allow the data incoming to the Turkey-based stations to be relayed to Israel thereby driving a hole in the missile shield America is building.
Turkey's aim is to drive a wedge between Washington and Jerusalem, derail their close military and intelligence collaboration and cast Israel out of the collective missile shield.
US withdrawal from this partnership under Turkish pressure would leave Israel wide open to Iran's ballistic missiles. Whether or not Ankara succeeds in this maneuver depends on how the Obama administration treats what looks in Jerusalem very much like Turkish blackmail.