|Firmly opposing the portrayal of the recent escalation of the crisis between Turkey and Israel solely as a bilateral affair which must be resolved between the two countries, Turkey's Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu has warned that when dealing with Israel's lethal 2010 raid on a Gaza-bound aid flotilla, in which nine pro-Palestinian activists were killed, the international community should not ignore the fact that Israel's repeated breaches of international law and ethics lie at the core of the issue.|
Davutoğlu made these remarks when he was called upon to answer various questions concerning a new set of Turkish measures against Israel from his European counterparts at an informal meeting of the European Union. The meeting on Saturday gathered together 27 ministers from EU member countries, as well as their counterparts from Iceland, Turkey, Croatia, Montenegro and Macedonia, all nations aspiring to join the bloc, in the Baltic Sea resort of Sopot, Poland.Davutoğlu was the last minister to take the stage, where he answered questions apparently prompted by his announcement Friday in Ankara that Turkey has downgraded its diplomatic ties with Israel to the level of second secretary, and giving the Israeli ambassador and other high-level diplomats until Wednesday to leave the country.
In other measures against Israel, Turkey suspended military agreements, promised to back legal suits brought against Israel by the families of the raid victims, and vowed to take steps to ensure that freedom to navigate is maintained in the eastern Mediterranean.
Speaking with Today’s Zaman late on Saturday en route from Sopot to Turkey, Davutoğlu said he first explained to the assembled ministers how the situation in the eastern Mediterranean has been prone to escalating tensions due, to the unresolved Cyprus conflict and the ongoing crisis in Syria. “I brought up the issue of the overall dynamics in the eastern Mediterranean. I noted that everyone should be careful, and told them about the Israel issue. Everyone came up to me and asked if there is anything they can do about it. They agree that Turkey is right, and they advise us to ease up the tension. I told them that it is an issue in its own right for us, with or without the Arab Spring or the Middle East conflict. When the incident happened a year ago, there was no Arab Spring. It is about principles for us. Our people were murdered by an army outside of combat conditions,” Davutoğlu told Today’s Zaman.
“I told them that this is what upset us: Among those detained on that ship there were people from most of the countries sitting around this table. We brought them from Tel Aviv to İstanbul and sent them back to their countries. When our people returned, the issue was suddenly dubbed an Israeli conflict. If they had stayed there, it would have been your issue too. This is not a particular issue between us and Israel; it is an issue between Israel and international law and ethics and the international community. So if you want to help, go tell Israel to apologize and pay compensation. If you just do that, that would be best help,” the minister added. The foreign minister was referring to the fact that the Mavi Marmara, aboard which eight Turks and one Turkish-American were killed during the May 31, 2010 raid, was part of a flotilla which included about 600 activists from 32 different countries, including Australia, Belgium, Canada, Greece, France, Sweden and the US.
In the autumn of 2010, Davutoğlu slammed some EU nations who voted against endorsing a report by the UN fact-finding mission investigating the incident. When the incident occurred, Turkey asked Israel to release all activists in the aid flotilla, irrespective of nationality. Davutoğlu lamented that European countries, while voting on the fact-finding mission report, voted against protection of their own citizens’ rights. “The fact that some allies are not sensitive about protecting the rights of their own citizens does not mean that we will also forgive or forget,” Davutoğlu said at the time.
In separate remarks delivered on Saturday, Davutoğlu said Turkey is preparing to challenge Israel’s blockade on Gaza at the International Court of Justice (ICJ). In an interview with Turkey’s state-run TRT television, Davutoğlu dismissed the UN report into the raid, that said Israel’s naval blockade of Gaza was a legal security measure. He said the report was not endorsed by the United Nations and was therefore not binding. “What is binding is the International Court of Justice. This is what we are saying: let the International Court of Justice decide,” Davutoğlu said.
In Sopot, earlier on Saturday, French Foreign Minister Alain Juppe and German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle urged Israel and Turkey to resume dialogue. “Our wishes are like those of the UN secretary-general, who said that this dispute between Israel and Turkey must be resolved through dialogue and mutual understanding, not via other means,” Juppe told reporters. “The German government is very worried by the recent dispute between Turkey and Israel,” Westerwelle said at a separate press conference, calling on “all parties” to seek a solution.
In Jerusalem, Turkey’s warnings appeared to have fallen on deaf ears, as Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu defiantly refused on Sunday to apologize to Turkey for the deadly raid. In his first public remarks since Turkey announced Friday that it would expel the Israeli ambassador over the affair, Netanyahu expressed Israel’s regret for the loss of lives in the May 2010 raid and said he hoped to mend ties with Turkey, formerly Israel’s closest ally in a Muslim world largely hostile to its existence.
Ankara had wanted Israel to apologize for the deaths and lift the embargo on Gaza, a Palestinian territory run by Hamas militants with a long history of deadly violence against Israel. Netanyahu said Israel, in trying to keep arms from reaching Gaza, had nothing to apologize for. “We need not apologize for acting to defend our civilians, our children and our communities,” Netanyahu told his cabinet and journalists. He said Israel “expressed regret” over the deaths and voiced hope that the two countries will mend their frayed ties.
Davutoğlu says flotilla issue not just between Israel and Turkey