BEIRUT, Lebanon—I have been following with horror the news on the Israeli attack on the flotilla of ships carrying aid to Gaza. The outrage here in Lebanon and the Arab world is palpable. What is even more evident is the pride with which people here speak about Turkey’s “heroic stand” in the face of Israel.
On May 31, the Turkish Ministry of Foreign Affairs issued a statement in which it protested “in the strongest terms the use of force by the Israeli Defense Forces against the civilians from many countries who want to transport humanitarian assistance to the people in Gaza.”
The Turkish Foreign Ministry wrote that “Israel has once again clearly demonstrated that it does not value human lives and peaceful initiatives through targeting innocent civilians…such actions against civilians who are involved only in peaceful activities cannot be accepted. Israel will have to bear the consequences of these actions which constitute a violation of international law.”
In turn, Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan said, “It should be known that we will not stay silent and unresponsive in the face of this inhuman state terror,” according to Hurriyet Daily News. “International law has been trampled underfoot,” Erdogan added.
Of course, few Arab commentators said anything about the irony in the statements above, and the many similar statements coming out of Turkey today. That is not surprising. After all, Turkey—a strategic ally of Israel—has, in recent years, reached out to the Islamic world and presented itself as a defender of the Palestinian cause. Why rock the boat?
Some intellectuals, however, highlighted the hypocrisy of the Turkish state and of most Turkish commentators. On one online discussion board, Stergios Kaprinis, a psychiatrist from Greece, wrote: “There is no doubt that the events are tragic. The Freedom Flotilla attack by Israeli commandos can only be described as an act of piracy. However, I have been following the reactions of the Turkish government and I must say that I am appalled at their hypocrisy. In the past 15 years, the Turkish government has ethnically cleansed large parts of Turkey’s ethnically Kurdish southeast, has invaded Iraq more than a few times, and keeps occupying and colonizing the northern half of the Republic of Cyprus, a sovereign country, member of the UN and the EU. Yet today, the Turkish government has somehow managed to proclaim itself the defender of international law and protector of the oppressed. I am appalled at such hypocrisy, at the expense of the Palestinians…”
In an article published in the Huffington Post, Israeli writer Dana Agmon, noted: “And finally, a word to the sponsors—Turkey—did anyone float into Turkey when it murdered over a million Armenians? Or did anyone do it when you arrested hundreds of Kurds, including children, merely four years ago and violated their rights? Or maybe when you invaded Cyprus?”
An intellectual from Turkey told me that had the Kurds in Turkey had access to sea, “God knows what kind of horrors would befall on those who tried to support them.” Another noted how the discourse on the Palestinians in Turkey on one hand, and the Armenians and Kurds on the other, are so disparate, even among progressive Turkish intellectuals, that “the double standards sicken me to my stomach. States are, by definition, hypocritical. But when intellectuals who present themselves as the beacons of enlightened thought engage in such hypocrisy, is there any hope left?”
On June 3, Turkish President Abdullah Gul said, “From now on, Turkish-Israeli ties will never be the same. This incident has left an irreparable and deep scar.”
The myth of “irreparable relations” seems to be floating around the entire Islamic world since the attack on the flotilla. Arab news sources and analysts in the Middle East continue to insist that Turkish-Israeli relations have been damaged beyond repair. Regardless of what Turkish officials declare in their public statements, this is naiveté and wishful thinking at best.
What the Arab world fails to see is that the Turkish state cannot and will not bury its strategic relations with Israel because of the flotilla attack or in solidarity with the Palestinian people. Ankara is playing an ambitious political game in the Middle East. Yes, its tactical maneuvers are already reaching beyond the bounds of its strategic capabilities (and it might soon be forced to fold back), but to view the Turkish state—or even the current government—as the extension of the Turkish street is self-deception.
Turkey and Israel will soon repair the damage done to their relations. There’s no two ways about it.