Relations between Turkey and Israel are at an historic low following Monday's deadly raid by Israeli troops on an aid convoy for Gaza. Turkish commentators in Turkey have described the boarding of a ship flying the Turkish flag and the killing of at least nine pro-Palestinian activists as the "worst case scenario" in ties between the two nations.
"Shots Fired at Humanity," liberal daily Radikal wrote in a headline on Tuesday. Right-wing Türkiye called the raid "state terrorism" and mass circulation Hürriyet devoted a special edition to the incident, writing "Israel has attacked." Another newspaper, Taraf, demanded "Make Them Regret it" and pointed out that injured activists were handcuffed as they were taken from the Mavi Marmara by helicopter.
Turkey's political leadership condemned the raid in unusually drastic terms. Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan described it as "state terrorism" and Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu referred to it as "banditry" and "piracy" and said Israel had lost all international legitimacy. Erdogan's deputy, Bülent Arinc, said "we curse them with all our power" but added that there was no question of Turkey declaring war on Israel, as radical Islamists and Turkish nationalists have demanded.
'No Way of Fixing It'
"Our relations will never be the same again," said Soli Özel, a political analyst at Bilgi University. Ali Birand, a well-known television commentator who usually espouses moderate views, sees the much-praised Turkish-Israeli alliance at an end. "There is no way of fixing it. From now on we won't be able to speak of a Turkish-Israeli alliance" he said.
The breakdown of an alliance that the West long hailed as a partnership between the only stable democracies in the Middle East would please Iran and Syria which always viewed the strange partnership with suspicion, as did the majority of Muslim populations throughout the Middle East.
The two countries established links during the Cold War in a marriage of convenience in which each side pursued its own security interests. In the mid-1990s, the partnership was underscored with defense cooperation agreements. The Israelis supplied Phantom jets and cruise missiles while the Turks opened their airspace to Israeli military exercises. Indeed, arms contracts accounted for some two-thirds of the $3 billion worth of bilateral trade between the two countries in 2009. Losing such a market would be painful for Israel.
Israel Has More to Lose Than Turkey
Özgür Ünlühisarcikli, an analyst at the German Marshall Fund in Ankara, also argues that a breakdown in diplomatic ties would hurt Israel more than Turkey. The only thing Turkey, a growing economic power in the region, would forfeit, he says, would be its mediation role in the Middle East conflict.
The relationship between Ankara and Jerusalem has been souring for some time. Since Israel's invasion of Gaza in early 2009, Erdogan's conservative Muslim government has found it increasingly difficult to explain his country's special relationship with Tel Aviv to the Turkish public. The thin-skinned Turkish prime minister never got over being left in the dark by Israel about the planned Gaza offensive, and was angered by what Turkey saw as Israel's rejection of all Ankara's attempts at mediation in the peace process. Erdogan's fit of rage at the World Economic Forum in Davos in January 2009, when he stormed out of a discussion about the Gaza invasion, won him friends among the Arab states.
Relations cooled further in autumn 2009 when Turkey cancelled international military exercises in which Israeli forces had been due to take part. Erdogan said at the time he was acting "in tune with the people's conscience." Then, at the start of 2010, came the next snub, this time by Israel, when Israeli Deputy Foreign Minister Dani Ajalon publicly humiliated Turkish Ambassador Oguz Celikkol by making him sit on a much lower armchair than his, in front of media cameras.
But the bloody raid on the Mavi Marmara now overshadows all previous diplomatic trifles. Regardless of whether several of the activists did indeed fight the heavily armed troops with knives and iron bars, Israel has suffered far more than a blow to its reputation in Turkey. It has lost an ally for an unforeseeable length of time, and with unforeseeable consequences. "No one can say what will happen now," wrote Istanbul columnist Oral Calislar. "But it's certain that nothing in this region will be the same again."