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Global Viewpoint

US response to Israel’s flotilla raid will shape the Middle East

Turkey's Suat Kiniklioglu says this Israeli government has gone too far.

By Suat Kiniklioglu / June 2, 2010

Ankara, Turkey

I am the only Turkish politician who has visited Israel since Israel unleashed the Gaza war in 2008, and the Davos incident in 2009 between Israeli President Shimon Peres and Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan highlighted the differences between our countries.

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I have many friends in Israel, and I did not hesitate to visit Israel when an invitation was extended to me by an Israeli think tank. Despite the many challenges, I maintained my optimism that Turkey and Israel would be able to mend their differences despite their disagreements over the humanitarian situation in Gaza.

However, Monday was a turning point for me and my nation’s 72 million citizens.

Monday, Turkey was shocked to watch Israeli commandos raiding a Turkish flotilla loaded with medical supplies, toys, and food bound for Gaza, killing at least nine peace activists in the process.

The raid in itself was illegal as it occurred in international waters and, according to former British Ambassador Craig Murray, amounts to “illegal warfare.”

The ships’ 600 activists included Nobel Peace Prize winner Mairead Corrigan-Maguire, German lawmakers, journalists, businessmen, and an 86-year-old Holocaust survivor – hardly targets that could pose a threat to Israel’s well-trained commandos.

Accounts from released activists clearly indicate that Israeli commandos who stormed the largest ship in the flotilla shot to kill and used electric stun guns. These accounts differ sharply from those coming from Israeli politicians and the military. It is therefore imperative that a prompt, impartial, credible, and transparent investigation conforming to international standards into the deaths of at least nine civilians at the hands of Israeli commandos is launched.

The United Nations, Turks, and international public opinion demand to know what happened, why, and who is responsible.

The flotilla raid has two dimensions. First, it has irrevocably damaged Turkish-Israeli relations at the bilateral level. Turkey demands – as does the UN – an independent investigation into the murder of the nine activists and wants an apology and compensation for those killed by Israeli commandos.

Ankara also wants those responsible for this crime to be punished. Anything short of these measures will not cut it. What the current Israel government does not seem to get is that this premeditated murder has brought about the passing of a critical threshold in Turkish perceptions vis-à-vis Israel regardless of political persuasion.

As of Monday, Turks regard the current Israeli government as unfriendly. There is no doubt that the rift has the potential to escalate if Israel will not respond quickly and responsibly.

Second, there is a significant international dimension to the flotilla fiasco. The murder of peace activists by Israel once again demonstrated the blatant disregard for international norms and law by this Israeli government.

Most important, the US response to Israel’s disproportionate use of violence against innocent civilians constitutes a test case for US credibility in the Middle East.