The Israeli attack on the Freedom Flotilla has caused an unprecedented crisis in Turkish-Israeli bilateral relations. What does the future hold?
It is hard to imagine that relations between these two countries will ever be as strong as in the past, at least not in the immediate future. It is no secret that, generally speaking, relations between Turkey and Israel have been deteriorating since the Gaza War. After what has happened now, there does not seem to be room for reaching any kind of agreement. Only a change in policy and concrete agreements with the Palestinians could improve bilateral relations between the two countries. In my opinion this possibility is currently non-existent.
Turkey has commercial and not just military relations with Israel. Is this a total rift?
Commercial relations between the two countries will certainly no doubt continue at a certain level. They must in fact be addressed beyond a purely political context. Trade between the two countries is intense and they need one another. Israel has no basic and accessible specialised labour. Obviously the country has a very highly specialised workforce as far as high technology is concerned. Turkey, on the other hand, does not have Israel’s experience in industrial technology, the new media and new technologies. Israel is also an extremely important source of tourism for Turkey. Furthermore, there is a large Turkish community that has emigrated to Israel and that continues to maintain strong bonds with Turkey.
About 10,000 people protested in the centre of Istanbul against the Israeli attack. Some set fire to Israeli flags. Is this a point of no return in relations between the two countries?
Public indignation for what happened has been huge and can only get worse in the days to come. In my opinion this is the worst possible scenario one could have envisaged. Turkish society is also very emotional. As an Italian you must remember what happened when Italy refused to hand over Ocalan directly to the Turkish authorities; demonstrations, protests and invitations to boycott Italian products. Today Turkish emotions are running high for the victims of the Israeli attack, but one must not forget that Turkish society changes quickly. Relations with Greece, for example, were extremely tense in the past. Today these two countries have very strong relations and Greece is becoming Turkey’s main ally in the European Union. However, one must observe that in this case something different has happened, especially at a social level, first of all because the Turks feel directly involved and secondly because over time people have come to empathise with the Palestinian cause.
Has the agreement between Turkey and Brazil to allow Iran to enrich uranium contributed to the deterioration of diplomatic relations between the two countries?
One must not forget that in spite of criticism from the USA, this is an agreement that the American Administration implicitly encouraged Turkey to reach, although at a later stage it was quickly described as ‘insufficient.’ At a social level Turkish citizens wonder why there are two standards and so much is said about Iran, while it is known that Israel has atomic weapons and sophisticated ones too, and has not yet signed the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT). If one adds to this the war of symbols, for example the Israeli cyclist who was attacked, the fact that Erdogan repeats every day that Israel must stop its colonial expansionism in the territories, it becomes clear that it does not currently seem possible to contain the deterioration of Turkish-Israeli relations. The main result of the situation is the outburst of anti-Semitism.
Erdogan has been very blunt and accused Israel of ‘state terrorism.’
The Prime Minister certainly did not use diplomatic language. When speaking in public his words are carefully chosen and he never steps over the line. When instead he reacts to an event, his statements are often unhelpful. One must however bear in mind, as far as public opinion is concerned, that there are Turkish families involved in this tragedy and people watch television, so he cannot remain silent. Furthermore, there is also an element of political interest. Erdogan must take into account the political reconstruction of the Left’s Republican Party Cumhuriyet Halk Partisi (CHP), with financial problems as well as criticism that flooded in after the miners’ tragedy (in Karadòn, on the shores of the Black Sea, editor’s note), when he said “these things happen.” I am not insinuating that his words are exclusively dictated by political interest, there is certainly an emotional element, but such language results in consensus and assuming the position of defending that part of Turkish civil society that feels directly affected by what has happened.
What do you think about what happened at sea? Are there others responsible apart from the Israeli commando?
I may be going against the general trend, but all reasonable people are aware that the Freedom Flotilla certainly did not avoid the clash. Knives and pistols were also found onboard (according to the Turkish daily newspaper Milliyet relatives of three of the four Turks who died in the attack have revealed that the victims wanted to be martyrs, editor’s note). None of this however will ever justify Israel’s behaviour. No one knows the world of symbols better than the Israelis. Carrying out an operation of that kind in international waters is unjustifiable.
What will be the effect of all this on Israel image in Turkey and in the world?
These events may perhaps help the Likud to recover consensus, and may temporarily help Lieberman and Netanyahu on the internal front, but I think it has damaged Israel’s image enormously. The greatest problem in this story is that during the first twenty years of the Jewish state’s existence, it was perceived by the USA, Europe and also Turkey, as a state born from the ashes of the Holocaust, a place of refuge for a people that had suffered an enormous injustice. Today, world public opinion sees Israel as transformed from victim to executioner. Israel is an excessively arrogant state that steps on everything and everyone and appears not to wish to stop, whatever the obstacle may be.
Translated by Francesca Simmons