Turkey-Israel crisis: Why the formerly obscure IHH is playing a key role
Turkey-Israel ties have been shattered by Monday's raid on the IHH-owned Mavi Mamara, the largest boat in the Gaza 'Freedom Flotilla.' Turkey's push for democracy has given the IHH new prominence.
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“I think Israel has to be erased from the map of the Middle East,” says Murat Hazine, an economics student and IHH volunteer who was at the funeral, which – like the homecoming rally – was punctuated with cries of “Damn Israel” and “Allahu akbar” ("God is great") from the crowd, many of whom were swathed in Palestinian flags and the occasional Hezbollah flag. “All the people here are ready for martyrdom in the fight against Israel.”Skip to next paragraph
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But analysts warn that any sort of radicalization on the public level could ultimately prove costly for Turkey, as it tries to reposition itself as a responsible regional leader with global diplomatic aspirations.
“In terms of how the world sees Turkey, if you have cries of 'Allahu akbar' coming from officially sanctioned demonstrations, then the question arises whether the country’s efforts are humanitarian or ideological,” says Hugh Pope, Turkey analyst with the International Crisis Group.
IHH official misses his Hebrew classes in Israel
IHH has been dogged in the past by charges that it has terrorist links. A French intelligence report accused the group of aiding jihadis going off to fight in Bosnia, Chechnya, and Afghanistan during the mid-1990s, and of being involved in a thwarted Al Qaeda plot on LAX, the main Los Angeles-area airport. The group has denied all such charges.
But inside IHH’s Istanbul headquarters, Mr. Sahin says it works only as a relief and human rights advocacy group. The two-story stone building, festooned with Turkish and Palestinian flags, is abuzz as a steady stream of people come in to make donations. Psychological counseling for flotilla members is being offered in the basement.
“The officials of this organization are not terrorists, their work is not terrorism, and the organization doesn’t have any links to terrorist organizations. Our works go through local charities to needy people,” say Sahin, who had been the group's director in the West Bank and Gaza until Israel arrested him a few weeks before the aid flotilla was to set sail. After 21 days in jail, he was sent home. He says he wants to go back – not least of all for the Hebrew classes he was taking at Jerusalem's Hebrew University, which he says were giving him an appreciation for the other side's perspective.
- At Gaza flotilla funeral in Turkey, rising anger and eyewitness accounts
- Israeli raid on Freedom Flotilla shatters key Turkey-Israel ties
- All flotilla news coverage