They say that politics make strange bed fellows and (might I add) rivals too. Yesterday’s best friends can be today’s sworn enemy. This is most applicable to Israel and Turkey’s estranged relationships. Ironically, Turkey was the first Muslim majority country to recognize Israel as a state. Turkey’s recent cancellation of the joint military exercises with Israel after the flotilla crisis show that both the countries are moving away from each other. The crisis further reinforces that if worst comes to worst, NATO allies may have to choose between Israel or Turkey. The Turkish EU membership and its participation in Europe's economic and political structure have always been debatable; its position into the Western defense structure has now become a looming question.
Turkey sees the attack on its flotilla as an attack on itself and has pledged that future humanitarian flotillas to the blockaded Gaza will be accompanied by the Turkish navy and even the Turkish prime minster in order to protect Turkish civilians, which is a tit for tat match for Israel’s pledge to use even more force in future. According to the Article 5 of the NATO defense treaty, fellow NATO allies are required to come to Turkey’s defense if anyone attacks them. Would Turkey be able to find supporters amidst NATO members; Who would take whose side; Would Israel, the blue eyed boy of the US and NATO, would become the 29th member of NATO; Would Turkey eventually leave NATO; Would this fallout spur a nuclear war; Are NATO’s articles mere hogwash? All this and more is to be seen in the coming days.
Although Turkey has always enjoyed favorable position in Washington, the recent Israeli-Turkish altercations have made Washington uneasy. The Obama administration has diplomatically avoided issuing blame for the episode which shows that the US is apprehensive of taking sides at this crucial juncture. American lawmakers have indirectly chosen sides by accusing flotilla activists of adding fuel to the fire and Turkey for making no attempt to make peace with Israel. Sen. Carl Levin (D-Mich.), chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, is clearly taking sides when saying: “This confrontation and the tragic loss of life could have been avoided had the organizers of the flotilla agreed to Israel’s repeated offers to accept the humanitarian aid at an Israeli port and transfer it overland to Gaza.”
The crystal ball reveals that ironically, it was the US who came to the aid of Turkey in 2003 when Turkey publicly invoked Article 4 of the NATO treaty in view of the threat to its defense in case of a war in Iraq. France, Germany and Belgium blocked the U.S. request to start a defense plan for Turkey's. The then American ambassador, Nicholas Burns, accused the three countries of plunging NATO into crisis of credibility. The former Secretary of State Colin Powell opined that the treaty bound all allies to defend Turkey: "I hope that NATO will now realize that they have an obligation to assist a NATO member." The then U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld even went to the extent of saying that the United States and willing allies would go ahead with planning to help Turkey “outside of NATO if necessary.” This reversal in Turkey’s fortune and its relations with the US show that the US was willing to be Turkey’s brother in arms when Iraq was involved. But when it comes to Israel, the US has reservations in taking sides openly as it has its own vested interests to consider. The Obama administration has been caught at a delicate diplomatic moment, as it needs Turkey’s vote on placing economic sanctions on Iran at the UN Security Council. This incident further jeopardized a meeting which was to be held between Israeli Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, and Turkish Foreign, Minister Ahmet Davutoglu, on the issues of Iran. "Turkey is now for the first time experiencing the U.S. double standards and pro – Israel biased policy, which the Arabs have been victims for decades,” Nicola Nasser writes in an article titled Israel Is Fueling Anti-Americanism among US Allies.
It is just not the US, when it comes to Turkey’s standing with other NATO members, it is clear that it has more foes than allies:
In 2009, France's initiative to return to NATO's military wing drew a vague response from Turkey. Turkey's Foreign Minister, Ali Babacan, said: “It is more of a political matter than a legal one. Most of the NATO allies see this as a positive thing but we are still evaluating.” One can guess that Turkey hadn’t forgotten France’s earlier lack of support in NATO on the Iraq issue.
Turkey has rubbed Denmark, another NATO member, the wrong way, when it objected to the Danish prime minister’s, Anders Fogh Rasmussen, appointment as head of the NATO alliance. Turkey was critical of the way Rasmussen handled the row over cartoons of the Prophet Mohammed (PBUH). Rasmussen has also angered Turkey by opposing its membership in the European Union. Turkey was more in favor of the Canadian Defence Minister, Peter MacKay, for the role. In return, Canada too has been supportive of Turkey mostly. Though Britain has been a staunch Israeli ally, the latter’s attack on the flotilla has forced Britain to call for an end to the Gaze Blockade. So far, neither the blockade has ended, nor Israel has been reprimanded. How far would these countries go to support Turkey is to be seen.
So far, it has only been Greece, another NATO member, which has taken a firm action against Israel by canceling a planned joint air force exercise. It might also severe diplomatic ties with the Jewish state in future.
It is apparent that NATO allies are quite apprehensive of Turkey’s pro-Islamic leanings in contrast to its old secular image. Turkey’s recent attempts to make friends with Iran, Syria, and Hamas haven’t gone very well with the Western block. However, one may argue that if Turkey has evolved into a pro-Islamic state, NATO has evolved as well. Rick Rozoff has analyzed at length NATO’s schmoozing of Israel in Israel: Global NATO's 29th Member. He brings to attention the words of NATO Secretary General, Jaap de Hoop Scheffer, on the occasion of the Atlantic Forum, who remarked: “This is a new NATO.” In the start of 2010, the Chairman of NATO's Military Committee, Admiral Giampaolo Di Paola, met leaders of the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) in Tel Aviv on the pretext of studying IDF's structure in order to get a better understanding of dealing with the war in Afghanistan. Di Paola also noted that “NATO and the IDF were facing similar threats - NATO in Afghanistan and Israel in its war against Hamas and Hizbullah.” It is clear that NATO is eyeing Israel as its 29th member and validating its cause. NATO is also crafting its updated Strategic Concept to replace the last one formulated in1999. “The U.S., Israel and NATO are preparing for momentous events in the Middle East. They will not be peaceful ones,” Rozoff concludes.
Turkey’s navy is one of the largest in the world; meanwhile, Israel has an array of missile systems, such as; Iron Dome, Arrow 2, David's Sling, etc. interceptor missiles. The U.S. nuclear warheads are stored at NATO bases in Europe, including Turkey, which happens to be Iran's neighbor. Hence, a bigger and bloodier confrontation is in the making. Thus, an invocation of the NATO's war clause may plunge the world into a nuclear inferno.
The event has evoked a furious debate and reaction about validity of such actions, Israel’s right to defend itself, new allies, foes, armament race, nuclear conflict, the emergence of new power blocks. Yet what it has failed to do is to alleviate the extensive suffering of the Gaza people. The humanitarian element has gone missing again. The freedom flotilla was a response to the long standing Israel’s siege of Gaza. The White House’s suggestion that another ship attempting to bring humanitarian aid to Gaza should sail to the Israeli port of Ashdod, where its cargo could be inspected and confrontation with the Israeli navy can be nipped in the bud, adds insult to the injury. It is not just about Israel or Turkey; it is about people who have been suffering since three years.
Every conflict has two sides. There is a thin dividing line between the aggressors and the defenders. Israel has always generated sympathy and extra mileage on the basis of invoking the memory of holocaust. Even while acting in self-defense and despite the rumors of radical and suicidal terrorists and arms on the flotilla, Israel did end up acting irresponsibly and aggressively. The loss of 15 Turkish peace activists’ lives is what is unexplainable and irreparable, so is the issue of Gaza blockade. The current atrocities in Palestine and Gaza make Israel an equally deplorable aggressor. Similarly, Hamas and Hezbollah are equally the assailants, as they justify the use of violence in form of suicide bombings and rocket and mortar fire, which kill and maim indiscriminately as well as paint an extremist and radical picture of Islam. Turkey too cannot conveniently push its excesses with Kurds, the largest non-Turkish ethnic group, under the carpet and bleed for the cause of Gaza. Thus, the use of aggression and the human casualty make any cause null and void, aggravate a conflict, and make it difficult for bystanders to take sides.