- Special Sections
- Public Notices
Tensions in the relations between Turkey and Israel, which have been increasingly sour over the past six years, took a turn for the worse last month after the United Nations affirmed Israel’s right to defend itself by maintaining a blockade on Hamas-controlled Gaza.
Turkey’s prime minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, in an apparent state of pique after not getting his way at the U. N., downgraded Turkey’s diplomatic relations with Israel, expelling the Israeli ambassador. He also announced limited economic sanctions on Israel. This affected only purchases of Israeli military hardware, something that’s more symbolic than substantial. Military hardware purchases from Israel fell off after Erdogan’s Islamist political party won control of Turkey. The last purchase made was an order for unmanned aerial vehicles and the last of these was delivered last year.
Erdogan is demanding that Israel apologize for the death of nine Turkish citizens last year when Israeli commandos intercepted a Gaza bound flotilla, organized by a Turkish Islamist group, that tried to break the blockade. Israel, correctly, refused to comply.
Erdogan has also threatened to send Turkish warships to escort any future flotillas attempting to run the Gaza blockade.
The best way to deal with cranks is to ignore them. Don’t engage them, don’t return their phone calls, don’t threaten. Just let them rant and they’ll probably give up after a while.
Unfortunately, Israel’s foreign minister, Avigdor Lieberman, chose not to do that. Instead he issued a counter threat, suggesting that Israel should help the Kurdish rebel group PKK, a militant group that has been fighting the Turkish Army, and occasionally carrying out terrorist attacks in Turkey, in an effort to carve out an independent Kurdish homeland.
Liberman’s counter threat was a really bad idea, and it’s bad beyond the fact that he’s verbally engaged Erdogan, which may be what Erdogan actually wants. Who do you think the Turks are going to blame should the PKK carries out some armed action, like trying to bump off a Turkish government or military official?
Israel’s best bet would be for its government officials to just keep quiet while its security people quietly do an assessment on Erdogan to try to predict what he’s likely to do. The Israeli government can then make rational decisions based on this.
Even if Erdogan doesn’t intend to start a war — it all may just be posturing for domestic political reasons or to enhance Turkey’s status in the Muslim world — his rhetoric does pose a threat. Turkish support, even if only rhetorical, could encourage the fun-loving folks from Hamas to launch more terrorist attacks into Israel. And, a diplomatic exchange that amounts to “Oh yeah? Yeah! Oh yeah? Yeah!” poses the risk of getting out of hand and escalating into something worse.
Meanwhile, what is President Barack Hussein Obama going to do? Hopefully, the Obama administration will continue to be cautious about making public statements. We can also hope that President Obama has our security people quietly doing our own assessment of Erdogan’s intentions to predict what he’s likely to do. The Obama administration should then decide, based on this assessment, what the United States should do. Getting blindsided by a major Middle East crisis and having to make up foreign policy on the fly is not a good idea, especially if the crisis involves two long-time American allies.