Yesterday, an Istanbul court ordered that the Israeli government be notified of Turkey’s indictments of four of Israel’s former senior most members of the country’s security establishment—Major General Gabi Ashkenazi, General Amos Yadlin, Brigadier General Avishai Levy, and Vice Admiral Eliezer Merom. The charges against the Israelis stem from the infamous May 2010 Mavi Marmara incident when a flotilla of six vessels sought to run Israel’s naval quarantine of the Gaza Strip and dealt yet another blow to Turkey-Israel relations.
Not to be conspiratorial, but the timing of the indictments, which came down on May 28, seems curious. They come against the backdrop of persistent rumors that Turks and Israelis were making progress toward overcoming the not-so-thinly-veiled hostility that has marked the bilateral relationship since late 2008 and Israel’s “Operation Cast Lead.” They also come at a time when it’s become clear that despite universal expectations to the contrary, economic ties between Turkey and Israel are growing (see here and here, for example). It is clear that some Turkish business leaders attach tremendous importance to their ties with Israel as well as the importance with which some in the Turkish business community regard their counterparts in Israel. Perhaps powerful political actors have a vested interest in the current state of Turkey-Israel relations and the indictments are a way of scuttling any diplomatic progress between Ankara and Jerusalem.
I admit, this alleged scheme sounds a little too pat, but it’s better than other explanations that I have heard. One Turkish interlocutor relayed to me that the indictments were actually a signal that Ankara was willing to kiss and makeup. The calculation here is that the indictments would supposedly pressure the Israelis into “We’re sorry” and the Turks would quickly accept and all would be forgiven. Now, that sounds wacky at worst and at best, a serious miscalculation of Israeli politics. The indictments are likely to have the opposite effect on Jerusalem. Indeed, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has vowed to protect Israel’s officers.
In the end, however, it is hard to see how there was any progress between Ankara and Jerusalem that the indictments could undermine given the public positions of both governments. The Turks, after all, have demanded an apology and compensation for the victims of what they see as the reckless behavior of the IDF high-command and cold-blooded murder of peaceful activists aboard the Mavi Marmara. The Israelis counter that the people aboard the ferry were terrorist sympathizers affiliated with an organization, the Humanitarian Relief Foundation, which has ties to terrorists, that their commandos were attacked first, and that the UN says that enforcing the naval blockade of Gaza is within Israel’s legal rights thus--according to the Israelis-- Jerusalem has nothing to apologize for.
Stalemate. Çikmaz. תיקו