Pro-Palestinian Turks
Pro-Palestinian Turks protest out the home of Israel's ambassador to Turkey following the deadly raid on a Gaza-bound aid flotilla, on Tuesday June 1, 2010. Photo by AP
Text size

The expulsion of Israel's ambassador from Ankara and downgrading of diplomatic ties to the level of second secretary could turn out to be the lightest of the sanctions Turkey intends to impose on Israel. Supporting legal actions against Israel by families of the victims of the 2010 naval commando raid of the Mavi Marmara, in both Turkish and international courts, and appealing to the International Court of Justice against the blockade of the Gaza Strip could prove to be much more powerful. The former could affect the foreign travel plans of Israeli officers and decision makers, while the latter would move the Gaza issue from the local arena, where Israel maintains a relative advantage, to the international stage, which has not as yet interfered in Israeli policy vis-a-vis Gaza.

Turkey is judged likely to gain international support for its actions against Israel, in light of its climb in status in the global community in recent weeks. Contributing to Ankara's rising star are its harsh criticism of the Assad regime in Syria, despite heavy pressure from Iran; its cooperation with Libya's provisional government, and its support of the revolution in Egypt. Turkey's consent to the deployment of early warning radar, part of a NATO missile-defense system whose undeclared purpose is to protect Europe from Iranian missiles, is particularly important in this regard. The decision signals Turkish commitment to its alliance with NATO in general and to the United States in particular, deflecting the "accusation" that Ankara is turning away from the West and toward the East - that is, toward Tehran. It is Israel that may have to pay a price for Turkey's growing ties with the West and Ankara's decision to refuse Russia's entreaties to reject the radar deployment on its territory.

But Turkey's demand that Israel apologize, compensate the victims and lift the Gaza blockade is rooted primarily in Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan's obligation to his electorate. It has become a common, uniting, national denominator, an integral part of Turkey's national prestige and its domestic policy.

The concept of national prestige has also trapped Israel, which on at least two occasions rejected a skillfully crafted apology to Turkey due to the objections of Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman and Vice Prime Minister Moshe Ya'alon.

Turkey is not an enemy state. Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu emphasized that Ankara's actions are a result of the policies of the Netanyahu government and are not intended to hurt the Israeli or Jewish people. He called on the Israeli government to amend its mistakes, which he said were not constructive to the remarkable friendship between Turkey and the Jewish people.

Davutoglu's remarks in effect are a declaration that Turkey sees the sanctions as a means of changing Israeli policy rather than as a policy or strategy in themselves. They place all the options for action in Israeli hands and emphasize Turkey's desire to maintain relations with Israel despite the enormous disagreement between the states.

Egyptians yesterday celebrated the expulsion of the Israeli ambassador from Turkey. In a headline, Al-Masry Al-Youm termed the action a "lesson that Turkey taught Egypt" - an allusion to what Cairo should have done in the wake of last month's attack near Eilat. To keep relations with Egypt from deteriorating further, Jerusalem must put aside its "national prestige" and apologize for killing five Egyptian soldiers while responding to the terror attack near the Egyptian border.