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Turkey-Israel relations two years on from the Mavi Marmara

February 17, 2014 at 11:17 pm

Hundreds of Palestinians gathered on Thursday morning in the Port of Gaza to commemorate the 2nd anniversary of the Israeli naval attack against the Freedom Flotilla led by the Mavi Marmara.

The attack took place in 31 May, 2010, against what was known formally as the Gaza Aid Flotilla, made up of six ships carrying 663 people from 37 nations. It was heading for the Gaza Strip trying to break the Israel-imposed siege, which has been in place since 2006 despite international efforts to have it lifted. Nine Turkish citizens were killed when Israeli commandos attacked the Flotilla and the ships were forced to sail to an Israeli port.

Palestinian officials described the Flotilla incident as a key event in the siege narrative. “The Flotilla martyrs drew a new map to guide the world on working to lift the siege,” commented Ghazi Hamad, Gaza’s Deputy Foreign Minister.

Jamal al-Khodari, the Head of the Popular Committee for Lifting the Siege, said that the incident aroused international ire and put pressure on the Israelis; it was a “landmark” victory he claimed, as the Israeli government was obliged “to partially relax the siege in the face of such pressure”. He added that the incident is regarded as an object lesson for anyone working to lift the siege.

It is clear to most observers that the attack on the Freedom Flotilla provoked rage from the Turkish government and put further strain on the already shaky Turkey-Israel relationship. The relationship had been rocked by Israel’s assault and invasion of the Gaza Strip in 2008/2009.

That strain reached a peak at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, in 2009. When people applauded the Israeli President, Shimon Peres, for attempting to justify the Israeli war against Gaza, Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan criticised Peres on the conference stage before storming off.

Later, in September 2010, a UN report found that the Israeli siege against Gaza was legal and Israel’s only error in its assault on the Gaza Aid Flotilla was an “excessive use of power” by the Israel military. In response, Turkey downgraded diplomatic relationship with the Israelis in condemnation of the report’s findings.

The deterioration of the relationship between Turkey and Israel has inspired the Arab world, which has been watching the “heroic Turkish reactions” towards the Zionist state. The Arab people have recognised that Turkey is taking their traditional role in standing up to the Israelis. As a result, it would be fair to say that the “ideal” leader they have been seeking through the Arab Spring revolutions is the one who follows Turkish policy towards Israel.