On his first overseas visit, 69-year-old Secretary of State John Kerry expressed dissatisfaction with Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan who recently compared Zionism to Fascism and Islamophobia. Meeting with Kerry to discuss Syria’s growing civil war spilling across the Turkish border, Kerry expressed disapproval over Erdogan’s remarks with Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu. “Just as with Zionism, anti-Semitism and fascism, it has become necessary to view Islamophobia as a crime against humanity,” Erodogan told delebates Wednesday, Feb. 27 at the U.N. Alliance of Civilization in Vienna. “We not only disagree with it, we found it objectionable,” Kerry told a joint press conference with Davutoglu. Erdogan still harbors resentment against Israel for a shooting incident May 31, 2010 when Israeli commandos returned fire on a Turkish-flagged boat, killing eight civilians.
Turkey got involved with a Palestinian flotilla attempting to break Israel’s Gaza blockade and bring humanitarian goods into the seaside Mediterranean port. While Israeli officials apologized for the loss of life on the high seas, Tel Aviv insisted the naval blockade and surveillance was designed to keep weapons and war materiel out of Gaza. When the Israeli Navy attempted to board the Turkish-flagged vessel they took hostile fire, returning fire killing nine Turkish civilians. Turkish officials knew the risks when they participated in a Palestinian-backed flotilla to Gaza. Comparing Zionism and anti-Semitism to fascism, Erdogan didn’t win friends in Washington or Tel Aviv. “Given the many challenges that the neighborhood faces, it is essential that both Turkey and Israel find a way to take steps . . . to rekindle their historic cooperation,” said Kerry, hoping to open some doors.
Since the May 31, 2010 incident, Erdogan has been looking for an unequivocal apology and reparations from Israel. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamine Netanyahu has tried extend an olive branch to Ankara but still hasn’t worked out the terms of a reparation deal for families of the nine victims. Faced with growing instability on the Syrian borders, Erdogan knows that cooperation with Israel would go a long way in preserving border security. “If we must talk about hostile acts, then Israel’s attitude and its brutal killing of nine of our civilian citizens in international waters may be called hostile,” said Davutoglu, justifying Erdogan’s remarks. Whatever mistakes were made by Israeli commandos, Turkish officials know that Israel didn’t attack military or civilian targets but responded in kind to hostile fire. Erdogan has unfinished business with Israel and wants Netanyahu to apologize.
Turkey needs to dial back the rhetoric and dialogue with Israel over what can be done to normalize relations. “No single statement carries a higher price that the blood of a person . . if Israel want to hears positive statements from Turkey, it needs to reconsider its attitude both towards us and the West Bank,” Davutoglu told the press with Kerry present. Netanyahu has been reluctant to admit fault in the 2010 incident because the pro-Palestinian flotilla knew the risks when they violated the Israeli blockade bringing goods into Gaza. With all-to-familiar rocket attacks from Gaza, Israel knows what types of goods make its way by land tunnels or sea into the former Egyptian Mediterranean port. With demands made from Syrian rebels for arms, Erdogan and Davutoglu know the dangers in the region, including supplying arms to potential al-Qaeda or radical Palestinian Damascus takeover.
Turkey has bigger fish to fry that feuding with Israel over an unfortunate accident on the high seas. After giving $385 million in humanitarian aid to Syrian rebels, the Obama administration remains skeptical of supplying direct arms or war materiel to Syrian rebels. “Many sides . . . focus (more) on the length of the rebel fighter’s beard that they do on the blood of children being killed,” said Syrian National Coalition President Moaz Alkhatib, appearing with Kerry and Italian Foreign Minister. Given that Israel already bombed a Syrian convoy Jan. 30, 2013 ferrying anti-aircraft weapons to Lebanon, Turkey knows—whether it admits it or no publicly—Israel can be counted on to help coordinate security concerns along it long Syrian border. Kerry knows that it serves U.S. interests in the region to reconcile bilateral relations between Israel and Turkey.
Kerry’s found out in his maiden voyage as Secretary of State that a strong U.S. presence is needed to settle petty disputes in the region. Whatever problems Turkey has with Israel, they have more compelling issues securing the Syrian border and assuring that whoever replaces al-Assad it doesn’t radicalize the region. With over 70,000 Syrians killed since the Arab Spring spread to Syria March 15, 2011, it’s been difficult for the West to jump on the revolution bandwagon. When Mubarak was toppled Feb. 11, 2011 by forces loyal to the Muslim Brotherhood, Egypt has been in economic and political chaos. Its $11 billion tourism industry has been devastated by political and social instability. Rankling the Syrian opposition groups, Kerry doesn’t want to commit anything other than humanitarian aid. U.S. and EU officials have had a hard time vetting opposition groups, ranging from al-Qaeda to radical Palestinian groups, leaving the Syrian civil war in chaos.
About the Author
John M. Curtis write politically neutral commentary analyzing spin in national and global news. He’s editor of OnlineColumnsist.com and author of Dodging The Bullet and Operation Charisma.