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This article was published 7/6/2010 (3415 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
TEL AVIV — Last week's Israeli botched naval operation Sea Breeze, aimed at foiling a Turkish attempt to break the blockade on the Gaza Strip, has regional consequences.
For several years there has been a quiet disagreement between Israel and the U.S. over the Islamic orientation of Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
Since his Justice and Development party (AKP) came to power in 2002, Erdogan has cautiously but consistently moved to reclaim Turkey's "grandeur" of the Ottoman Empire era.
This necessitated a slow but cautious distancing from Israel and the U.S. In 2003, it refused an American request to allow American troops to enter Iraq through Turkish territory. Then a Turkish diplomat was elected secretary general of the 53-member Organization of Islamic Countries and relations with Israel cooled.
Erdogan ramped up his Islamic-oriented policy after his re-election in 2007. He reconciled with Syria, welcomed Hamas leaders in Ankara, hosted Sudanese President Omar Hassan el-Bashir, who is accused of war crimes, and began to undermine Egyptian and Saudi roles in the Sunni moderate Arab world. Erdogan has tried to convince the inexperienced American President Barack Obama that Turkey is the only "buffer" against Iran's dominance in the Middle East.
Now, however, Obama must awaken. Turkey is the only NATO member to host Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and its alignment with Brazil to extricate Iran from stronger sanctions agreed upon by the five permanent members of the Security Council is a direct challenge to American influence in the region.
Turkey's attempt to break the blockade on the Hamas-run Gaza Strip was a direct affront not only to Israel, but also to Egypt and the Palestinian Authority. Obama will be meeting tomorrow with PA Chairman Mahmoud Abbas, at the White House, and Turkish support for Hamas will be among the subjects to be discussed.
It's true — Operation Sea Breeze was a painful Israeli intelligence and operational failure. It isolated Israel in the world's public opinion. But it also opened the way for a serious re-examination of the West's policies in the region.
At the insistence of the UN and the world powers, there will be an investigation of the events surrounding Operation Sea Breeze. Israel wants Erdogan's personal role to be also investigated.
Israel wants to verify Erdogan's personal relationship with Bulent Yildirin, the head of the so-called "humanitarian organization" Insani Yardin Vakfi (IHH) whose links to al-Qaida are proven. Israel wants to know who arranged for five al-Qaida terrorists — one of them was involved in the failed attempt to bomb Los Angeles airport — and 30 other mercenaries, to board the ship not in Istanbul but in Antalia, without police control and security checks. And above all, who paid 10,000 euros in cash to each of the mercenaries who were on board?
Thus, Israel believes that last week's events surrounding the Turkish ship Mavi Marmara have changed the qualifications of Turkey's role in the investigation from an accuser to accused. Turkey should not be allowed to defeat not only Israel and Egypt, but also the U.S. and the European Union who supported it. There is credible evidence that in their discussions last week with Erdogan and his foreign minister, Ahmet Davotuglu, both Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton stressed that the blockade of Gaza in its present form is unsustainable and there should be a way to increase the food and essential elements to the impoverished population.
But at the same time, this enhanced assistance should not be at the expense of Israel's security and there should be some kind of maritime control on the aid to Gaza. Obama and Clinton made it clear to Erdogan that good relations with Israel are essential to the region's stability.
U.S. Vice-President Joe Biden's sudden arrival to Cairo, early Monday morning, is part of this search for increased humanitarian aid but without breaking the maritime blockade.
Samuel Segev is the Free Press Middle East correspondent.