Pondering a response to the Israeli attack

Rome — Israeli troops storming the Gaza aid flotilla at dawn on Monday and the ensuing causalities was a colossal public relations disaster for Israel, which is becoming increasingly isolated over the plight of the Palestinian people living under occupation. For one, it has done irreparable damage in the eyes of the Turkish public and further strained already tense relations with regional powerhouse Turkey.

The disregard by Israel of the Turkish government’s offers to find alternative peaceful options in dealing with the nongovernmental, civilian human rights initiative will drive a wedge even further into the relatively good relations with Israel’s only Muslim ally in the region. Due to the pictures and footage of the Israeli military using brute force to subdue passengers in the flotilla, the Turkish government will undoubtedly be under mounting pressure to act and react strongly against Israel.

There were simply too many options available to Israel to end this campaign peacefully, such as inspecting the ships and letting them go. Yet the right-wing Israeli government opted for confrontation and inflamed public rage in the region, including in Turkey. It is simply mind-boggling to many as to why Israel chose to shoot itself in the foot with this belligerent action. It has left Ankara no choice but to deliver a strong message, not only in words but possibly also in deed. The message by the Turkish Foreign Ministry was issued soon after the causalities were reported from the ship. Now we have to wait to see what actions will follow.

The strained relations between Israel and Turkey have so far been limited to an escalation of rhetoric and have not really impacted the substance of the relations, with the exception of the Israeli Defense Forces being banished from an international military drill held in Turkey last year. The government did not bring key military agreements signed with Israel in the 1990s up for review, nor did it veto Israel becoming a member of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) last month, for example.

The chipping away of the good relations between Turkey and Israel following a series of blunders by Israeli officials, first in Davos and later with the humiliation of the Turkish ambassador in Tel Aviv, was contained to a degree. The simmering crisis over the long-delayed Heron Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs) was finally averted after their delivery. But this latest incident of the storming of civilian ships, some sailing under Turkish flags, took a big chunk of good faith in relations away and rendered damage control efforts completely useless.

Turkey has many tools at its disposal to hurt Israel if it wants to do so; yet Ankara has remained reserved and demonstrated restraint in using them. There are now signs that this might change. If there is anything to read from the strongly worded message the Turkish government issued shortly after the incident, we will likely see a major blow coming Israel’s way. “This deplorable incident, which took place in open seas and constitutes a flagrant breach of international law, may lead to irreparable consequences in our bilateral relations,” the written statement said. “Israel will have to bear the consequences of this behavior, which constitutes a violation of international law,” it noted.

Though we have a very polarized Parliament at the moment and the ruling and opposition parties hardly agree on anything, the Palestinian issue is a bipartisan one, and everybody shares the same perspective. If government fails to react strongly, with concrete actions, against Israel’s belligerent attitude, it will quickly find itself in the line of fire from the opposition parties. The public referendum on the constitutional amendments is due on Sept. 12, a precursor to next year’s national elections, and the government has no choice but to act in a way to calm the public outrage in Turkey.

The damage to Israel is not limited to its relations with Turkey, either. The passengers and ships in this aid convoy are from many countries, including members of European parliaments and one Holocaust survivor. The EU and many countries have harshly criticized Israel for its attack on the ships on Monday. The incident drew more attention to the plight of Gaza’s 1.5 million residents, who are suffering because of the Israeli blockade. The Gaza offensive already tarnished Israeli image after a series of war crimes accusations leveled against its defense forces as substantiated in the UN’s Goldstone report.

Against the backdrop of this attack, which claimed lives of innocents on the ship, Israel is now facing an uphill battle to explain its actions to the world, which is swiftly turning against it. One thing is certain: Israel is on the losing side of the public campaign across the globe, and the government should have realized by now that the harsh military tactics employed by the army are no longer sustainable.

The landscape has changed dramatically in international affairs in the last decade, and the rule of law cherishing fundamental human rights is now the driving force in many countries’ foreign policy.

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