"Israel cannot clean the blood off its hands through any excuse," said Recep Tayyip Erdogan. "It is no longer possible to cover up or ignore Israel's lawlessness. This bloody massacre by Israel on ships that were taking humanitarian aid to Gaza deserves every kind of curse."
The trenchant warnings, in remarks to the Turkish parliament and cabinet in Ankara after Erdogan rushed home from a truncated Latin America tour, suggested the "special" relationship between Israel and the rising Muslim power straddling the Middle East and Europe is dead.
Turkish analysts viewed the flotilla attack as a tipping point in the balance of power in the Middle East, with Israel finally forfeiting its "strategic" links with an emerging regional power.
Relations between Turkey and Israel, close for decades, have been under strain since early last year when the Israeli onslaught on Gaza left 1,400 people dead. Erdogan felt personally betrayed by the Israeli invasion.
The flotilla attack looks like the final straw, ending a period of almost 20 years when Turkey played a crucial role as Israel's Muslim ally, discreetly seeking to mediate between Israel and its Arab foes, and acting as an American proxy in places where Washington hesitated to go.
"Today is a turning point," said the prime minister to repeated applause in Ankara. "They once again showed their ability to perpetrate slaughters … We warn Israel not to test Turkey's patience." Israel had to "absolutely be punished by all means," he said.
Erdogan tapped the strong emotions erupting in Turkey where support for the Palestinians is total, but where the elite has also traditionally maintained good relations with Israel.
The Israeli attack was on a Turkish boat. Most of the dead were Turks. The flotilla was organised by a large Islamist charity based in a region of Istanbul which is militantly Muslim. The charity is said to be close to Erdogan's governing AK party.You know, if Free Gaza really were all about provoking a conflict to end the blockade and further isolate Israel, I think it's safe to say that they would have succeeded beyond all rational expectations. Israel really does only have America as its sole remaining ally. (it might have two, if you count Canada, but that has more to do with the current government than any deep-set public allegiance.)
This is what happens when a government is cobbled together between nutcase nationalists and power-hungry conservatives. Not all Israelis support this nonsense. In fact, I'd say that most don't, judging by what I've seen and read. Certainly there are protests aplenty going on in Israel over this, and the fact that Kadima has the most seats in the Knesset, not either Likud or its nutbar allies, speaks volumes about the fact that Israelis are not a bloc. It is not a comment on either Judaism or Zionism, either; there are Jews and Zionists aplenty who are sickened by what has happened, and what continues to happen.
What I think this shows, instead, is the dangers of reflexive conservatism and hardcore ethnic nationalism, unchecked by either democratic institutions or simple common sense. Even a state created for the best of reasons, addressing the greatest of wrongs, can go hideously off-track. These forces can corrupt even the best of us, and once they are a part of the civil discourse, they are hideously difficult to remove. It's hardly an solely Israeli problem. But we must always remember that Israel is not immune to it.