Turkey Must Restore Ties With Israel if It Wants Mideast Influence

Turkish political system engulfed in polemic dispute over fallout from Palmer Report.

More than the Israel Navy commando raid on the Gaza-bound Turkish flotilla ship the Mavi Marmara last year, in which nine passengers died in the ensuing confrontation, it is the fallout from the United Nation's Palmer committee that investigated the raid that is taking center stage in Turkey at the moment.

The handling of the committee's investigation has resulted in mutual recriminations between Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan and the head of the opposition Republican People's Party, Kemal Kilicdaroglu.

Recep Tayyip Erdogan

The Turkish government's approach toward the committee investigation handed Israel a valuable opportunity to obtain legitimacy before the international community, Kilicdaroglu said.

"You're speaking as if you were Israel's lawyer," the Turkish prime minister shot back.

The prime minister's party colleague, Bulent Arinc, went even further, accusing Kilicdaroglu of also acting against the national interests of Turkey.

The Palmer Report, the contents of which were disclosed last week by the New York Times, found Israel's blockade of Gaza legal.

The commission also noted that the Israeli commandos were met by violent resistance, but the panel concluded that the Israel Navy used undue force in the raid.

For his part, Kilicdaroglu, the opposition leader, said it was in fact Prime Minister Erdogan who was acting like Israel's advocate, noting that it was Erdogan who agreed to have NATO radar stationed in Turkey "to protect Israel from Iranian missiles," as Kilicdaroglu put it.

It was also Erdogan who in 2005 was honored by (American Jewish organization ) the Anti-Defamation League, the opposition leader added.

And even involvement with Syria has been brought into the fray, with Erdogan's Justice and Development Party colleague Huseyin Celik accusing Kilicdaroglu of supporting Syrian President Bashar Assad's regime.

Suddenly support for Assad has become an unforgiveable political sin for the leadership in Turkey.

Erdogan perceives himself as an invincible leader, and he sees Turkey as a power that cannot be harmed by its own foreign policy.

It is doubtful if the Turkish prime minister will allow the recent criticism to divert him from his current course, but if he wants to influence events in the Middle East, he will have to patch things up with Israel.