A Potential Turkish-Israeli Crisis and Its International Implications

4 MINS READMay 26, 2010 | 11:42 GMT
It can be difficult to separate the important from unimportant on any given day. Reflections mean to do exactly that — by thinking about what happened today, we can consider what might happen tomorrow.
A MINOR DEVELOPMENT WITH FAR-REACHING implications occurred Tuesday. Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu called on Israel to lift its blockade of the Gaza Strip and allow a flotilla belonging to Insani Yardim Vakfi (Humanitarian Aid Association), a Turkish, religious non-governmental organization (NGO), to fulfill its mission of providing supplies to Palestinians. Earlier, the organization, which possibly has ties to Turkey's ruling Justice & Development Party (AKP), had rejected Israel's offer to have the supplies delivered via Israeli territory. Turkey is in the process of trying to stage a comeback as a great power — a pursuit that has tremendous implications for the alliance it has had with Israel for more than six decades. In fact, Turkey on the path of resurgence means it has to take a critical stance toward Israel, because Ankara needs to re-establish itself as the hegemon in the Middle East and the leader of the wider Islamic world. This would explain Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan's scathing and loud criticism of Israel at Davos after the last Israeli military offensive in the Gaza Strip, which led to a significant deterioration in Turkish-Israeli relations. The Turks are apparently sensing an opportunity to try and push Israel into a difficult situation. At the same time, they are trying to take advantage of the Israeli offensive in Gaza. While the NGO may have ties to the ruling AKP, there is no evidence to suggest that the move to run the blockade is being organized by the government. The emerging scenario, however, makes for a potentially serious international scene with an outcome — whatever way — that could benefit Turkey. If Israeli forces interdict the ship, Turkey can go on the diplomatic offensive against Israel and rally widespread condemnation against the nation. The rising tensions could get the United States involved. Given the United States' dependence on Turkey, the Turks could force Washington to take sides, placing the United States in the difficult position of opposing Ankara. Alternatively, forcing the Israelis to allow the flotilla to complete its mission would be a major victory for the Turks. It would enhance Turkey's international standing as a leader and a rising power. The Turks are apparently sensing an opportunity to try and push Israel into a difficult situation. While the emerging situation presents itself as a win-win situation for Turkey, it places Israel in an extremely difficult situation, regardless of how it deals with the flotilla. Should the Israelis decide to prevent the ship from making its delivery, they risk global criticism and further deterioration of relations with Turkey. They also risk further complicating matters with the United States at a time when U.S.-Israeli relations are going through a rough period, and when Washington needs Ankara to resolve multiple regional issues. On the other hand, if the Israelis decide to avoid the diplomatic fallout and allow the ship to sail to its destination, that is tantamount to going on the defensive vis-a-vis the nation's security — something that Israel has never done. At a time when Israel's relations with the United States are already uneasy because of diverging regional interests between Iran and the Palestinians, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's government does not want to have to engage in any further action that exacerbates its tensions with U.S. President Barack Obama's administration. This desire notwithstanding, the Turkish ship, which has already set sail for the Gaza coast, is creating a situation where the Israelis don't have the option of not doing anything. This scenario has taken on a life of its own — far beyond the original intent of the players involved.

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