An anti-Israel rally in Istanbul of Thursday was attended by thousands to commemorate the second anniversary of the Israeli flotilla raid that left nine Turkish activists dead.
Supporters of the pro-Islamic Humanitarian Relief Foundation (IHH) who themselves organised the ill-fated Gaza-bound aid mission in May 2010 gathered in the renowned Taksim Square, to protest against the Jewish State.
The demonstration proved poignant, not only on account of its being held on the anniversary of the raid, but also coming so soon after Turkey’s highest court moved to indict four Israeli soldiers earlier this week for their roles in the incident.
Relations between the two countries, once considered close, have drastically deteriorated in the last two years, coinciding with Israel’s increasing ties to Turkey’s fierce rivals Cyprus, came to a head when the UN-commissioned Palmer Report of the incident in September 2011 failed to hold Israel culpable for the events, although criticised the “unacceptable” loss of life, while Israel’s own report by its Turkel Commission of February 2011 found the raid whilst “regrettable”, was “legally pursuant to the rules of international law”.
Turkey responded to the conclusions by expelling Israel’s ambassador and freezing all military cooperation with the Jewish State, as well as threatening to refer the case to the International Court of Human Justice in The Hague.
Continuing to take a hard line against Israel, Turkish foreign minister Ahmet Davtoglu marked the anniversary on Thursday in a statement to Turkish television:
“Our citizens were killed even though they did not violate the Israeli borders. This is a crime, as a matter of fact, and it needs to be punished. To normalise our relations (with Israel), our demands are already defined. If they do not comply with our conditions, there will be no point in trying to normalise our ties,” he stated.
Turkey has continued to demand Israel unequivocally apologises for the raid, as well as paying compensation to the victims of the attack on the Mavi Marmara ship.
Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan claimed earlier this month that Turkey’s slowness to acts of retribution was a sign of its “greatness”, in an interview with Al Jazeera:
“The attack that took place in international waters did not comply with any international law. In fact, it was grounds for war. However, befitting Turkey’s greatness, we decided to act with patience”, he said.
Deputy Israeli Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon meanwhile responded with restraint to news of the Turkish court’s indictments on Tuesday, confirming his legal department was seeking clarification of what impact the indictments might have if the soldiers concerned were to visit countries with extradition agreements with Turkey:
“They probably cannot visit Turkey, but I believe they can visit other countries. This seems more of a political step than a legal step”, he added. He continued to extrapolate on the political pressure that might ensue on Turkey to abandon the indictments in what would otherwise “set a dangerous precedent even for US Armed Forces and NATO forces”.
As Israel does not regard the soldiers as criminals, it is unlikely they will themselves stand trial in Turkey. Any attempt by Turkey to convict them in their absence would likely be extremely lengthy and, if it resulted in a conviction, any subsequent arrest warrants would not be legally binding. Nevertheless, Ayalon described it as a “grave development”.
Turkey has been quick to quote figures showing some diplomatic ties are in still in place with Israel, pointing especially to data released by the Israeli Statistics Bureau showing Israeli exports to Turkey in August 2010 increased by 44% on the previous year, with Turkish exports to Israel rising by 42% in the same period.
Turkey has, however, taken a dim view of Israel’s increasing bilateral relations with their Cypriot rivals, which have significantly improved with the discovery of offshore gas reserves, with Prime Minister Erdogan last year warning that Turkish warships could be sent to the eastern Mediterranean “at any time” to stop Israel from exploring such gas reserves.
by: Shari Ryness