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Friday, 9 September 2011

Israel, Turkey on brink of war?

It is hard to believe it, but less than three years ago Israel regarded Turkey as one of its most important allies in the region. Now Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan has announced that Turkey's naval forces would escort Turkey's humanitarian aid ships bound for the Gaza Strip. Should he carry through with this threat, the risk of armed conflict between Israel and Turkey is high.

What is notable in this affair is the casual, almost deliberate way in which Netanyahu's government allowed Israel's relationship with its ally to deteriorate.

Soon after the Netanyahu government took office, Daniel Ayalon, the Deputy Foreign minister, took it upon himself to insult the Turkish Ambassador over a TV program shown in Turkey. Although the incident was widely criticized in the Israeli pressAyalon only apologized after the affair had become a major diplomatic incident.

Two months later, the Gaza flotilla raid resulted in the death of nine Turkish citizens. Turkey has since downgraded diplomatic relations to the lowest level short of breaking off relations completely and has severed military and trade ties.

The attack on the flotilla may well come to be regarded as the most catastrophic blunder in managing a protest since the British response to the march on the Dharasana Salt Works. Whatever legal justification the Israeli government might have imagined, the attack at minimum cost them a principal ally. At worst it may lead to war against a member of NATO.

Juan Cole has been thinking on similar lines. He points out that the impending crisis is causing fractures in the Israeli political system that usually maintains a united front externally.

I can't see how any of the parties can back down. The parties can bleat about the legality of their acts all their like, but that does not avoid war. That a military action is legal does not mean it is not an act of war. Erdogan can hardly ignore the fact that nine people were killed in an Israeli attack on a Turkish flagged ship. Netanyahu's government will collapse if he allows the Turkish escorted convoy to land.

The only ways I can see a war being avoided here would be that either Egypt opens the Raffa crossing unconditionally (which may lead to a war with Egypt) or the Israeli government falls first.

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