A rare diplomatic victory

Hamas leader Khaled Meshaal meets Turkey's Foreign Minister Ahmet DavutoÄŸlu in Ankara, 2006

Hamas leader Khaled Meshaal meets Turkey's Foreign Minister Ahmet DavutoÄŸlu in Ankara, 2006

The Palmer report expressing the conclusions of the UN commission chaired by former New Zealand PM Geoffrey Palmer about the Mavi Marmara incident last May 31 is now public.

For  a UN document, it is remarkably fair, including the following:

Israel faces a real threat to its security from militant groups in Gaza.  The naval blockade was imposed as a legitimate security measure in order to prevent weapons from entering Gaza by sea and its implementation complied with the requirements of international law…

Although people are entitled to express their political views, the flotilla acted recklessly in attempting to breach the naval blockade.  The majority of the flotilla participants had no violent intentions, but there exist serious questions about the conduct, true nature and objectives of the flotilla organizers, particularly IHH.  The actions of the flotilla needlessly carried the potential for escalation…

Israeli Defense Forces personnel faced significant, organized and violent resistance from a group of passengers when they boarded the Mavi Marmara requiring them to use force for their own protection.  Three soldiers were captured, mistreated, and placed at risk by those passengers.  Several others were wounded…


The loss of life and injuries resulting from the use of force by Israeli forces during the take-over of the Mavi Marmara was unacceptable.  Nine passengers were killed and many others seriously wounded by Israeli forces.  No satisfactory explanation has been provided to the Panel by Israel for any of the nine deaths.  Forensic evidence showing that most of the deceased were shot multiple times, including in the back, or at close range has not been adequately accounted for in the material presented by Israel.

Israel’s decision to board the vessels with such substantial force at a great distance from the blockade zone and with no final warning immediately prior to the boarding was excessive and unreasonable:

a. Non-violent options should have been used in the first instance.  In particular, clear prior warning that the vessels were to be boarded and a demonstration of dissuading force should have been given to avoid the type of confrontation that occurred;

b. The operation should have reassessed its options when the resistance to the initial boarding attempt became apparent.

As I understand the events, it looks like the committee bent over backward to find some culpability on the Israeli side. Non-violent options — paintball guns and flash-bang grenades — were used. The ships were warned several times that the Israelis would “adopt all measures at their disposal” to enforce the blockade, although it is true that they did not announce the precise time of boarding, for obvious and understandable tactical reasons.

Deadly force was not used by the commandos until live fire (at least from guns taken from captured Israelis and possibly from other weapons, although this is still not clear) was directed at them. In other words, knives and metal bars were not initially considered deadly weapons, although of course they are. There is no doubt that some of the Israelis would have been killed if they had not used their guns.

Options could not have been ‘reassessed’ when seriously wounded commandos were already in the hands of the IHH thugs. Considering the degree to which the Israelis were outnumbered, that firearms were in the possession of the passengers, and that several of the Israelis had been captured, the decision to shoot to kill was understandable.

The area in which Israel can and should be criticized is the poor intelligence and lack of preparation for the violent reception the naval commandos got when they boarded the ship.

Nevertheless, the conclusion that the blockade was legal and Israel was justified in stopping the ships, and that the Israeli commandos acted in self-defense constitutes a rare diplomatic victory for Israel. The committee went into detail, describing the number of rockets fired at Israel from Gaza, and the need and justification for Israel’s self-defense. It specifically stated that the blockade was not a disproportionate response to Hamas’ terrorism.

The report said that the Turkish government “should have done more” to prevent the violence, but did not discuss the very real probability that it was complicit with the IHH in planning it. Some of the connections between the Turkish regime and the IHH are exposed here:

4. The passengers, including the IHH operatives, stated that there were close relations between the organization and Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan and that the Turkish government was involved in preparations for the flotilla. The statements reinforce the original assassment that the objective of the flotilla was not merely to bring humanitarian aid to the Gaza Strip, but focused on provocation and a violent confrontation with Israel.

5. According to statements from the passengers, Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip ErdoÄŸan maintains close contacts with IHH. The flotilla set sail with the full knowledge and agreement of Erdogan, who expressed personal interest in its success and his intention to exploit it promote his status in Turkey and the Arab-Muslim world. Passengers said that before the flotilla set sail, Prime Minister ErdoÄŸan constructed a scenario based on a possible confrontation with Israel which he could use to further his own needs. The statements were supported by descriptions found in files on laptop computers belonging to the passengers.

6. That was supported by a statement from a journalist who had good connections with the heads of the Turkish government and with Bülent Yildirim, head of IHH. The following are statements from the journalist, who was a passenger on the Mavi Marmara:

A. Prime Minister Erdoğan’s power base is built on IHH activists. Without their help he could not have been elected prime minister.

B. The Turkish government was behind the flotilla to the Gaza Strip and its objective was to embarrass Israel: “The Turks set a trap for you and you fell into it.”

C. The flotilla was organized with the support of the Turkish government and Prime Minister ErdoÄŸan gave the instructions for it to set sail. That was despite the fact that everyone knew it would never reach its destination.

D. The affair of the flotilla strengthened Erdogan’s status in Turkey and turned him into the leader of Islamic world.

E. Three additional flotillas are expected to sail for Israel and the modus operandi will repeat itself.

F. The journalist stated he had visited the Gaza Strip as part of a humanitarian delegation and his impression was that there was no distress or lack [of commodities] in the Gaza Strip. He added that “everything is propaganda.”

7. In files found in laptops confiscated from Mavi Marmara passengers were other indications supporting the vast amount of information concerning the linkage between IHH and the Turkish government…

The report quoted narratives provided by the Turks and by the Israeli commission that investigated the incident. In almost every case the report accepted the Israeli account. In particular, it rejected claims by the Turks that fire was directed at passengers from helicopters and speedboats before the commandos rappelled to the deck.

The Turks have gone ballistic. Yesterday they threatened that in the absence of an Israeli apology, they would pursue

a … diplomatic offensive against Israel which would include pursuing legal action against Israeli military officers at The Hague, halting commercial ties between the countries, expelling Israel’s ambassador to Turkey, supporting the Palestinian bid for U.N. recognition of statehood and other diplomatic sanctions. Turkey recalled its ambassador to Israel over a year ago.

Israel did not agree to ‘apologize’, although in keeping with the recommendations of the report it will likely issue an expression of ‘regret’ and possibly compensate the families of the Turks that were killed.

Some Israelis actually think an apology would have been a good idea. Dan Margalit wrote,

An Israeli apology is not necessary for justice to be served. It’s not legally required, yet doing so would slow the deterioration of Turkish-Israeli relations. Ultimately, such an apology alone would not remove the topic from the international agenda, but it could reshape cold albeit stable relations with Turkey, and also show Israeli support for Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip ErdoÄŸan’s criticism of Syrian President Bashar Assad, who is currently slaughtering his own people.

I couldn’t disagree more. Turkish PM ErdoÄŸan has made the destruction of the former good relationship with Israel a fundamental part of his policy. As long ago as 2006,  he invited Hamas leaders to Ankara, claiming that “Hamas is not a terrorist group.” During Operation Cast Lead, he publicly insulted Israeli President Shimon Peres at a conference in Davos, Switzerland, saying “when it comes to killing, you know well how to kill” before stomping off the stage. He blamed Israel for the progress (although it was defeated) of a resolution calling for recognition of the Armenian Genocide in the US Congress. Circles in Turkey — primarily military officers — who supported the relationship with Israel have been purged. The Mavi Marmara affair was, in my opinion, a carefully planned maneuver to justify the final move to open hostility.

There is no possibility of improving relations, because for ErdoÄŸan, the worse they are the better for his Islamist credentials. And while it is correct that ErdoÄŸan is opposing Bashar Assad, his goal is to install in his place a Sunni Islamist regime that will be controlled by Turkey. I’m not sure that this would be better than Assad.

An apology would only constitute a humiliation for Israel — always important to poseurs like ErdoÄŸan — set the stage for further demands to remove the blockade and provide grounds for  legal action, and magnify ErdoÄŸan ‘s image in the Muslim world.

The best summary of the whole ugly business was provided by the journalist quoted above:

“The Turks set a trap for you and you fell into it.”

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2 Responses to “A rare diplomatic victory”

  1. Robman says:

    I don’t know if Bibi has the resolve to do this, but I hope he does.

    What is “this”?

    First, no way, no how, is there going to be an apology from Israel to Turkey. Instead, Israel should be the one demanding an apology, and if it is not received, ALL commmercial/diplomatic ties are severed. Turkey has far more to lose, I’m sure.

    Israel then goes on to favor Greece in every conceivable way. Deliberately “leak” that Israel has provided Greece with ALL military secrets about Turkey that Israel has in her possession, which is likey very considerable.

    Behind closed doors, Israel makes it crystal clear to NATO leadership – and especially the U.S. – that Turkish military provocation will not be tolerated and will be met with maximum force. Israel should recommend that Turkey be expelled from NATO, but whether or not this happens, Israel should leave no doubt that she is prepared to defend herself against any combination of adversaries, at any level of escalation, with any and all weapons at her disposal. AND MEAN IT.

  2. Shalom Freedman says:

    The diplomatic ‘victory’ is a pleasant change. But the heart of the matter is the Turkish turn against us. And the truth is that this has nothing to do with the panel’s conclusions. The truth is stated here clearly i.e. Turkey for its own reasons has decided to define Israel as its enemy. Israel now has choices on how to react. With Egypt also on the verge of making a major turn against us , with our having to cope with an Iran pushing toward nuclear weapons, with Hamas, Hizbollah, the Palestinian ‘state’ or PA forces, Syria,- there is no strong desire I am sure to make the confrontation with Turkey a ‘military’one. This means we probably cannot help the Kurdish forces as we perhaps morally should. It means we should not use threatening language. Quietly including by diplomatic means with the American Congress we should do what we can to weaken the Erdogan government. My guess is at this point we cannot do very much, but I hopefully am wrong about this.