Turkey Shelves Israeli Cooperation, Considers breaking off Ties; Israel Lobbies in Congress denounce Ankara

Posted on June 16, 2010 by Juan Cole

Members of the US Congress attacked Turkey on Wednesday for voting against the UN Security Council resolution imposing further sanctions on Iran, and for its heavy criticism of the Israeli blockade of Gaza. Rep. Mike Pence (R-Indiana) said, “There will be a cost if Turkey stays on its present heading of growing closer to Iran and more antagonistic to the state of Israel.” Pence said he was reconsidering whether to vote for a resolution condemning Turkey for the WW I era Armenian genocide.

The Israel lobbies, after defending Turkey from Armenian complaints for decades, have all of a sudden discovered the Armenian holocaust now that Turkey is criticizing Israel. This change is important because passage of a congressional recognition of the genocide would open Turkey to lawsuits, whereby Armenian political groups could capture Turkish assets in the United States.

On Turkish steps against Israel, NowLebanon reports:

” Ankara has not taken any practical steps on the matter yet, however, potential punitive measures include freezing military agreements that exceed $7 billion in worth, said the source.

He also said that bilateral pilot training programs and intelligence exchanges would also be suspended, adding that Turkey will not send a new ambassador to Tel Aviv after it recalled the current one following last month”s raid.”

Turkey is angry that Israel refuses to apologize for its raid on the Turkish ships in Gaza aid convoy, which left 8 Turks and one American of Turkish origin dead. Turkey also wants an international inquiry, not an internal Israeli one. And, of course, Turkey insists on a lifting of the blockade of Gaza.

In pressuring Israel on these matters, the Turkish government is playing chicken and risking a thoroughgoing rift with its ally.

Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan has shelved 16 bilateral agreements and, as noted above, billions of dollars worth of joint weapons programs. If the government of PM Binyamin Netanyahu continues to refuse to cooperate with an interntional commission of inquiry, Turkey will not send a new ambassador to Tel Aviv.

Turkey also intends to embarrass Israel with the European Union and in other international forums until it gets an apology.

At the same time, Turkey insisted that a distinction should be made between inter-government relations and private commercial relations. It is leading no consumer boycott of Israeli goods in Turkey, and Turkish Foreign Trade Minister Zafer í‡a?layan warned Israel against boycotting Turkish companies.

Some Israeli supermarket chains are boycotting Turkish produce. And, the Israeli public has already largely boycotted tourism in Turkey this year and the Netanyahu government is actively urging them to vacation within Israel, in keeping with its bunker mentality.

Most of Turkey”s foreign trade is with the European Union, the United States, and Russia, and Turkey does more business with Iran than with Israel, which is not among its top ten trading partners. Some have called Turkey”s newfound interest in the Muslim Middle East “neo-ottomanism.”

Congress should be careful not to over-reach in this intervention against Turkey on behalf of the Israel lobbies. Some 70 percent of resupply of US troops in Iraq is carried out through Incirlik Base in Turkey, and Turkey is part of the NATO force in Afghanistan. In the absence of good relations with Turkey, the United States would face significant logistical problems in the region.

Erdogan”s shelving of the bilateral agreements, and the potential cancellation of billiions in joint military equipment ventures, raise the question of whether Turkey is still a military ally of Israel. Until the blockade of Gaza is lifted and Israel apologizes to Turkey for the flotilla raid and the loss of Turkish life, Israel will become more isolated than ever before. While that isolation may suit the cult-like Likud Party, since it thrives on xenophobism and insularity, as well as on naked aggression, it cannot be good for Israel as a whole.

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