Turkey's Fallout With Syria Overshadows the Gaza Flotilla

The 'dear friend' Syria once was to Turkey has replaced Gaza as a threat to Turkish foreign policy and - more importantly - to Turkey itself.

The final decision on launching the Gaza flotilla may not have been made. The difficulties are clear - they reflect the complex fallout for Turkey from the situation in Syria.

Turkey has almost completely changed its position on Syria in light of the regime's killings, torture and brutal repression of demonstrations. It used to be that President Bashar Assad was a "dear friend" in the words of Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan. However, the Turkish prime minister has now changed his rhetoric in what may be a calculated and determined move. Erdogan now describes Syrian policies as barbaric - and has even declared that Turkey cannot come to Syria's aid in the U.N. Security Council if it continues with its repression, which is sending thousands of refugees into Turkey.

Mavi Marmara

Now, Syria has replaced Gaza - not just as a threat to Turkish foreign policy, but, more importantly, as a threat to Turkey itself.

Demonstrations against Syrian repression are held every day. Only days ago the Turkish public gave Erdogan and his party a sweeping reelection victory. And the Turks are wondering what their government will do in the face of what the Syrians are suffering.

Thousands of Syrians have fled to Turkey, and there are fears that many thousands more will turn to Turkey as a refuge. It's the last thing the country needs.

The government wants to go forward with its own internal policies, and not have to deal with Syria's problems. Turkey also needs to take into account another possibility: The Syrian regime might attack rebel Kurdish areas and send a stream of Kurdish refugees fleeing into Turkey.

Erdogan, who suffered an electoral blow at the hands of Turkish Kurds, cannot prevent Kurds in Syria from entering Turkey if they decide to flee after he granted asylum to other Syrian citizens.

In this situation Turkey is being forced to take a consistent stand on Syria, to continue applying pressure on Assad and to join the U.S. and European stance - and not that of Russia and China - to force Assad to end the repression and enact reforms. Turkey, like the U.S. and the Europeans, no longer believes there is a possibility of reaching a compromise solution with the Syrian regime.

Ankara justifiably fears the new Gaza flotilla is likely to distract public opinion in Turkey and the rest of the world from the Syrian question. But the flotilla has become a marginal issue in light of the main problem of enlisting support against the Syrian government. The Americans are applying pressure on the Turks to stop the flotilla, but such pressure existed before the revolt in Syria began. Meanwhile, Turkey stands fast in its demands for an Israeli apology and compensation for what happened to the Mavi Mamara.