Wednesday, 9 June 2010

Punishing Turkey?

Pepe Escobar’s explanation as to why Israel undertook such a risky gamble in attacking a Turkish ship in international waters is strategically coherent, but unlikely. Equally misguided is the idea that Turkey sponsored the Mavi Marmara to bait the Israelis into a diplomatic trap, with a view to asserting its regional ascendancy over Israel.

A decision to ‘smack’ Turkey so publicly – as Escobar suggests - would have been discussed at Cabinet level as it would be a major foreign policy decision. The attack was not a collective decision as evidenced by the fact that everyone has thought fit to attack Defence Minister Ehud Barak. As I have written elsewhere, my view is that this was a more limited operation, although the consequences are greater. Nor would Turkey seek a direct confrontation with Israel. Turkish foreign policy, which is much more sophisticated than that of any other Middle Eastern state, has carefully avoid the kind of bombastic showdowns that were favoured by Arab nationalist leaders in the past and which led to one disaster after another.

A strong possibility is that Barak, on the basis of hyped up intelligence, convinced himself that since the Mavi Marmara trip was organized by Islamists who had been involved during the 1990s in the CIA-funded jihad in Bosnia and Chechnya, it must be carrying weapons and explosives for Hamas. After all, the security services of the US, UK, Israel, Turkey and many others were involved in covertly supplying weapons to Islamists in these areas. To catch the ship in such circumstances – a single firearm or grenade would have sufficed - would have been a spectacular propaganda coup that would have justified the Gaza blockade, the crushing of Gaza, and the violation of a foreign vessel - whatever the legal position. It would have totally discredited the Freedom Flotilla movement. With Netanyahu far away in Washington, Defence Minister Ehud Barak would have become an instant national hero. It was an opportunity too good to miss, which blinded the Israelis to the consequences of failure.

But to succeed the ‘Islamists terrorists’ had to be prevented from disposing of weaponry and other incriminating evidence by throwing it overboard. The ship could not be merely disabled and towed like the other boats in the flotilla. It had to be seized intact in a swift commando operation, its occupants immobilized, and the ship towed to port for all the world to see its contents. Since nothing was found, Israel has been left dangling in the wind.

In evaluating international incidents of this sort it is always wise to guard against the easy logic of assuming that because an incident has great consequences it must be the product of high-level decision-making where the action was considered with as much seriousness as its consequence.

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