Friday, June 4, 2010

How to win friends (Israeli style)

David Ben Gurion turns in his grave: he invested such great efforts in forming an alliance with Turkey, the non Arab among the Muslim countries, and therefore - so he thought - a natural ally to the Jewish state. It worked out well for more than fifty years. Not only was Turkey a strategic ally, for many Israelis it also was the first foreign country where they spent their holidays.

How did it all go wrong? It is hard to remember that less than two years ago Turkey's Erdogan was working hard to broker peace between Israel and Syria, and that his mediation was gratefully accepted by both of them. But just when a breakthrough seemed imminent, in December 2008, PM Olmert paid a cordial visit to Erdogan in Ankara, neglecting to tell his host about his intention to launch a devastating offensive against Gaza on the very same week.

Erdogan took it as a personal insult. The Turkish people were shocked by the daily footage of the Israeli bombings and the bleeding and burned Gazans. The cycle of Turkish accusations, angrily rebuffed in Israel, was launched, and under Netanyahu escalated out of anyone's control. A far from sophisticated  thriller series on Turkish TV, depicting Israeli occupation soldiers as even uglier than they really behaved, enjoyed high ratings.

A wiser Israeli government would not have paid official attention and would have accepted such things as unavoidable in the aftermath of its having so forcibly "reinforced our deterrence". But, top diplomat Ayalon thought it was better to put en scene a calculated "humiliate the ambassador" play.

Later on, a wiser Israeli government would have felt very careful and cautious when dealing with a Gaza aid flotilla in which a Turkish organization, under the patronage of its country's government, was a major actor. A bit more diplomatic government might have understood what was at stake, and might have decided to allow the flotilla through to Gaza, for example with the condition that the Turkish authorities check the boats' cargo and guarantee there were no weapons aboard.

But the Netanyahu government is endowed with even less wisdom, or diplomacy than its predecessors. And an alliance which started to unravel over Turks outraged by the killing of Palestinians got its coup de grace with them even more outraged by the killing of fellow Turks…

And now, Ireland. Never a strategic ally, but a country which always had reasonably good relations with Israel. (Not many countries in the world had a president of Irish origin, as Israel's Chaim Herzog was.) Today another Gaza-bound boat, the "Rachel Corrie" has reached the Mediterranean, having sailed all the way from Ireland, carrying Irish citizens on board and with her mission of breaking the siege of Gaza enjoying an overwhelming support in the Irish parliament and general public.

The government of Israel seems determined – as of this moment – to deploy its renowned naval commandos once again.

Who is next?