One of the most bizarre pieces of misinformation being spread in the wake of the flotilla incident is this idea that by taking the action it did, Israel has alienated a key ally and friend in the region. It’s disappointing to see that even Megan McArdle, whose work on domestic issues I usually agree with, has bought into this spin, writing that, “Israel royally pissed off their one ally in the region by illegally boarding Turkish-flagged ship, forcing Turkey to abandon its basically friendly stance.”
This myth of a strong Israeli-Turkey friendship has often been presented without context, even though what alliance did exist has been eroding for years. The mere fact that Turkey would help sponsor a flotilla of ships whose stated goal was to break an Israeli naval blockade — no matter your view of the blockade — should in itself be enough to undermine the claim of a close Israel-Turkey relationship. To start, it’s important to see this as part of the broader trend of Turkey under the leadership of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who has moved his nation in a more Islamic and less secular direction, and forged alliances with other Muslim leaders.
Just a few weeks ago, the Wall Street Journal‘s Brett Stevens, reporting from Turkey, wrote:
Today, Mr. Erdogan has excellent relations with Syrian strongman Bashar Assad, whom the prime minister affectionately calls his “brother.” He has accused Israel of “savagery” in Gaza and opened a diplomatic line to Hamas while maintaining good ties with the genocidal government of Sudan. He was among the first foreign leaders to congratulate Mahmoud Ahmadinejad on his fraudulent victory in last year’s election. He has resisted intense pressure from the Obama administration to vote for a new round of Security Council sanctions on Iran, with which Turkey has a $10 billion trade relationship. And he has sabotaged efforts by his own foreign ministry to improve ties with neighboring Armenia.
Erdogan has such close ties to Sudan, that last fall he actually denied reports of rape, torture, and genocide in Darfur. “It is not possible for those who belong to the Muslim faith to carry out genocide,” he said. He also stated: “If there were such a thing in Darfur, we would be chasing this to the end.” Even if the reports of genocide in Darfur were true, he said, Israeli crimes against Palestinians in Gaza are worse anyway.
As prime minister, Erdogan has publicly scolded Israel whenever it takes actions taken to protect itself. In 2004, when Israel carried out a targeted assassination of the founder and spiritual leader of Hamas, Sheik Ahmed Yassin, Erdogan condemned the move as “an act of terrorism.” Erdogan blasted Israel’s campaign against Hamas in Gaza aimed at preventing terrorists from firing rockets at Israel civilians as a “crime against humanity.” Erdogan not only sided with Hamas, but warned that Allah would punish Israel for its actions.
Erdogan has also called on Western countries to stop pressuring Iran over its nuclear program, even as the Islamic regime pursues those weapons within the context of denying the Holocaust and vowing to wipe Israel off of the map. And last October, Turkey canceled an air force drill because Israel was participating in it, which the Associated Press described at the time as, “a move that sent strained relations between the two nations to a new low.” Meanwhile, Turkish television has consistently featured vehement anti-Israel propaganda, such as a popular soap opera series depicting Israeli Mossad agents kidnapping Turkish babies.
While it is true that Turkey has historically maintained closer ties with Israel than other Muslim nations, only within the context of global hatred for the Jewish state could Turkey’s more recent posture be seen as consistent with a close alliance. In a sane world, Turkey’s involvement in sending ships of terrorist-linked extremists posing as peace activists to break up a blockade, would, at the minimum, be seen as a provocation of Israel, and arguably, an act of war. But instead, the international media has seized on Erdogan’s declaration of the Israel’s response as an act of “state terrorism,” reporting as if it’s coming from an objective source. (The UK’s Guardian even used the phrase in a headline without attributing the statement: “Israel accused of state terrorism after assault on flotilla carrying Gaza aid.”) Anybody familiar with Erdogan’s history, however, would know that these sort of statements are nothing new — as I noted, 6 years ago, he even called Israel’s targeted killing of Hamas’s leader an “act of terrorism.”
Whatever one’s views on the flotilla incident, it’s simply absurd to suggest that the event alienated a steadfast Israeli ally in the region.