Turkey's Chance

Turkey could not have foreseen the tragic consequences of the flotilla to which it lent its aegis, and may even have helped fund. But the incident has given it diplomatic leverage that it is now debating how to use.

Turkey's Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan

Its initial diplomatic response - the recall of its ambassador - was inevitable. And its demand to convene the UN Security Council, on which it currently sits, Israel can also live with.

But when Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan returns to Ankara, he will have to make a strategic decision: Does he unofficially sever ties with Israel by permanently lowering the level of representation, canceling agreements in the pipeline and demanding an international investigation, thereby effectively joining those Muslim states that maintain no ties with Israel? Or does he use the incident to leverage Turkey into a position of being able to steer regional diplomatic efforts?

For instance, he could set conditions for resuming normal relations, including a timetable for ending the blockade of Gaza, permanent Turkish participation in the peace process and the resumption of indirect talks with Syria via Turkish mediators. These conditions might be difficult for Israel to swallow, but they would not meet serious opposition from Washington, which needs Ankara's support for its policies in Iraq and Afghanistan. He could also use the incident to achieve reconciliation between Hamas and Fatah.

Effectively, Erdogan could put Israel in the position of being unable to refuse his diplomatic initiatives, which are likely to win European and American backing. Should Turkey pursue such a strategy, it could reap additional diplomatic capital, on top of the success it had in brokering a uranium swap deal with Iran - a deal that, after yesterday's disaster, Israel will have trouble opposing.

A Turkish achievement would not come only at Israel's expense: Following yesterday's incident, Egypt, too, is likely to come under renewed Arab pressure to end the blockade of Gaza.

So far, Egypt has made do with denouncing the incident; it has not yet decided what else to do. For all its revulsion at Hamas, it must act against Israel, though it may do no more than recall its ambassador for consultations and open the Rafah border crossing with Gaza for a few days.

But whatever it does, it has lost sole control of the Gaza issue. From now on, Turkey will play a lead role.

Israel can ignore neither the pressure on Egypt, its partner in the blockade, nor Turkey's new role. Its best move would therefore be to initiate a joint action plan with Turkey, Egypt and the Palestinians to end the Gaza blockade. Otherwise, Israel can expect more and more flotillas that will force it to battle civilians.