Getting out of a tight jam

This is a moot point. We are already way past the point of no return in damage control for Israel over its violent raid on a civilian aid flotilla bound for Gaza. The much-criticized Gaza blockade, the lack of remorse among the Israeli leadership over the deaths of nine Turks, coupled with defiant rhetoric, has given many countries around the world, including Turkey, ample opportunity to review their ties with the increasingly militaristic regime in the Middle East.

No matter what kind of public relations campaign Israel pursues from now on, it lost the battle at the outset as condemnations strongly criticizing the military tactics ordered by the ultraconservative Israeli government poured in from all around the world. Among those who have condemned Israel’s actions are the United Nations, the European Union and NATO. We expect that more is in store for the Jewish state. Many analysts, including sensible ones in Israel, recognize that the situation has reached the point at which Israel’s vital national interests are at stake.

In the face of a three-and-a-half-year-long blockade of Gaza, during which 1.5 million people have been living in dire conditions, the “legitimate security interest” argument no longer holds water. The civilian initiative to defy the blockade and bring aid to the suffocating Gazans was stopped violently despite the fact that Israel had an abundance of other peaceful options at its disposal.

The current policy that the Israeli government is pursuing is simply unsustainable and unattainable at a price acceptable to Israeli citizens. Becoming an international pariah or a rogue state would make the lives of the Jewish people in Israel and in other countries harder than it already is. That is why we are seeing increasingly critical remarks coming from the Jewish Diaspora leveled against the current practices of the government. Cool heads in Israel are advising the government to cut its losses and engage in a policy to repair the damage done to Israeli ties with the international community.

Swedish Foreign Minister Carl Bildt was right when he said aboard a plane en route to İstanbul from Sarajevo last week that Israel needs the international community to get it out of this mess. Refusing international arbitration and a lack of enthusiasm for a probe by an independent commission will reinforce the impression of guilt in the eyes of world public opinion. Releasing edited Israeli army video footage of the raid, allegations that some of the activists on board the ships were militants, claiming that Israeli commandos were attacked to justify the killings of unarmed civilians are considered futile attempts at propaganda.

The PR blitz is also counterproductive and set to lose its steam once the hard facts start to emerge. Turkey’s Council of Forensic Medicine (ATK) has released a summary of findings over the weekend showing that Israeli soldiers shot civilians multiple times at close range. They are holding onto the grim photos of the dead and have not released them yet. The accounts given by released hostages will continue to find their way into the print and broadcast media and will surely be deemed more credible than statements issued by the Israeli government. As Turkish society becomes more sensitive to fundamental human rights, the pressure of public opinion on the government as well as on enterprises doing business with Israel will become a serious force to be reckoned with.

The Turkish government has already launched simulations on a series of scenarios in which it can limit its involvement with Israel or cut off ties completely. This time around, the national review went as far as discussing military-to-military relations as well as the exchange of intelligence. The new head of the National Intelligence Organization (MİT), Hakan Fidan, is restructuring the agency to completely overhaul it in a bid to be more responsive to regional threats. All projects currently in the works in ministries — such as the Ministry of Energy and Natural Resources and the Ministry of Agriculture — have been halted until further notice. I should also mention that there are many others who will step into Israel’s shoes. Italy, for example, is rushing to replace Israel as a partner in joint defense procurement contracts.

As for the business side, Turkish entrepreneurs who have dealings with Israeli counterparts are understandably feeling uneasy about a public backlash against Israel. Some have already frozen dealings while others are ambivalent and pondering what to do next. Travel agencies that faced cancelled Israeli reservations do not seem to be worried at all as they are making more profits due to the increased interest of other countries, notably Arab countries. “This has served to be the best ad campaign for us,” one travel consultant told Today’s Zaman last week, stressing that the hospitality industry in Turkey has already factored strained Turkish-Israeli relations into its contingency plans.

Israel should realize that it has more serious problems to deal with, as this, at least in recent republican history, was an unprecedented attack on Turkish citizens on the high seas. It coincided with an attack on a naval base in İskenderun — a port city in the south — that claimed the lives of seven soldiers. Suspicions are now growing among Turks that Israeli intelligence services had something to do with that attack as well. Whether or not that claim is true, the fact remains that Israel has become the usual suspect in Turkey and that the spotlight is now turning towards Tel Aviv.

To get out of this jam, Israel needs the help of the Turkish government as well as of others. It can start engaging with Turkey by first issuing an apology and then agreeing to an international probe into what happened on that fateful morning.

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