Over-stepping on Turkey

Friday, June 11, 2010

By Mowahid Hussain Shah | Published in The Nation: June 10, 2010

For years, Turkey had done what was expected from it to get accepted in the European community. It had cracked down on communism; it became the sheet-anchor of NATO; it contributed a brigade and lost nearly 900 troops during the US-led and UN-sanctioned war effort against Kim II-Sung’s Korea and China during the Korean conflict of 1950-53. It lent its Incirlik Air Base to the US-led coalition during the first Gulf War of 1990-91. It recognised Israel in 1949, the first Muslim majority state to do so, and had an extensive air force accord with the Jewish state. In 1999, it barred Merve Safa Kavakci, a hijab wearing woman elected to the Turkish Parliament, from taking the oath of office.

Now, the Israeli assault on the Turkish-led humanitarian aid flotilla to breach the Gaza blockade has been a game-changer. By doing so, Israel has helped create for itself a foe that may prove more deadly than Hamas and Hezbollah.

There is an old rural Punjab saying that a Tehsildar is not necessarily bad, but his bro-ther may be, because of the reflected arrogance of power, and also because of the vicarious perks he is prone to abuse.

This applies to the US-Israel nexus. While the US military has been relatively humbled by its setbacks in Iran and Afghanistan, its protégé, Israel, continues to act as a spoiled brat because of the unlimited and in effect, unquestioning support it enjoys in the US Congress, officialdom, academia, media, and think tank intelligentsia, all of whom have been relatively quiet despite the fact that, among those killed by Israeli troops on the Gaza-bound aid flotilla, was an American teenager, Furkan. An American girl, Emily Henochowicz, from Potomac, Maryland, protesting in Jerusalem against Israel’s attack on the aid flotilla, lost an eye when she was hit by a teargas canister fired by an Israeli soldier. An Irish-owned ship called the Rachel Corrie (named in honour of the 23-year old American girl crushed to death in 2003 by an Israeli bulldozer as she tried to prevent the razing of a Palestinian home), carrying cement, medical equipment, and relief supplies to Gaza, was boarded by Israeli troops on June 5.
The policy of carving out an exemption for Israel and creating for it an exception from application of the rule of law and international norms is now generating its own blowback effects. In the words of President Abdullah Gul of Turkey: “Israel has made one of its greatest mistakes in history - a mistake it will regret.” Anthony Cordesman, an influential US foreign policy analyst, has written that Israel’s action have made Israel a “strategic liability” to the US.

Unable to make a space for itself in the Mideast neighbourhood, Israel is constantly banking on America to bail it out. A series of accumulated snubs may be distancing Turkey from the Western orbit. Already, a wave of alarm is spreading among pro-Israeli supporters who had, for too long, taken Turkish support for granted.

The fury in Turkey torpedoes the US-Israeli efforts to form a united front against Iran, and makes a mockery of the attempt to present Turkey as a “moderate secular alternative role model.”

Until it tangled with Turkey, Israel thought that military force was sufficient and international opinion inconsequential, as long as US protection was there. There are signs now that may not be enough. Israel not only built a wall in the West Bank, but it has now walled itself from the region.

It is a reminder of what the poet, Robert Frost, has once said:
“Before I built a wall I’d ask to know

What I was walling in or walling out,

And to whom I was like to give offence.”

By taunting Turkey and violating Turkish honour, Israel may have pushed Turkey back into the Muslim fold, after nearly 100 years in the twilight zone between the West and the East, all because of arrogant over-stepping. By doing so, it may have awakened the long-hibernating Ottoman lion.

The writer is a barrister and a senior political analyst.