February 11, 2011

Israeli-Turkish Conflict

Turkey Says 5 Flotilla Victims Shot at Close Range

The Associated Press
February 11, 2011

A Turkish government inquiry into Israel's raid on a Gaza-bound flotilla that killed eight Turks and a Turkish-American says Israeli soldiers shot five victims at close range.

The report released Friday says two of the victims were killed even before soldiers boarded the Turkish ship in May. The report says Israel blatantly violated international laws.

Israeli commandos raided the flotilla as it sought to break Israel's Gaza blockade. Israel says the commandos were defending themselves.

An Israeli inquiry last month cleared its military and government of any wrongdoing, which sparked Turkish protests.

The incident further aggravated relations between the former allies, already tense over Turkish criticism of Israel's treatment of Palestinians.

Turkish Inquiry Says Israel Used Excessive Force

Turkish Inquiry Says Israel Used Excessive Force, Violated Laws In Gaza-bound Flotilla Raid

Associated Press
February 11, 2011

A Turkish committee investigating Israel's deadly raid on a Gaza-bound flotilla has refuted Israeli claims its soldiers acted in self-defense, insisting that at least two activists were killed before commandos boarded the ship, while another died "execution-style" as he lay injured.

Turkey released details of its formal inquiry into the May 31 incident Friday, hours after submitting the report to a United Nations panel investigating the incident. Eight Turkish citizens and a Turkish-American were killed when Israeli commandos boarded the Turkish ship, Mavi Marmara.

Israel has insisted its soldiers acted in self-defense after being attacked by activists on board. An Israeli inquiry into the raid last month cleared the military and government of any wrongdoing and said that the armed defense of Israel's maritime blockade of the Hamas-ruled coastal strip was justified under international law.

The Turkish inquiry report - a summary of which was released to journalists Friday - concluded that Israeli soldiers used "excessive, indiscriminate and disproportionate" force on unarmed civilians. It said the raid was a blatant violation of international laws.
"The force used was not justified, it was excessive," committee member Mithat Rende, a Foreign Ministry official, told reporters.
The report said Israeli soldiers fired live bullets from helicopters, killing two of the activists, even before they had rappelled on board. Five of the victims were killed from close range, it added.

Furkan Dogan, the 19-year-old Turkish-American, was lying wounded after being shot in the leg when he was kicked by two soldiers, who then shot him from close range "execution-style," according to the summary.

Another activist, Cevdet Kiliclar, was killed with laser-guided weapons while taking photographs, the report said.

The commando raid sparked a wave of condemnation worldwide and lead to an easing of Israel's blockade on the coastal territory. It further damaged already strained relations with Turkey, formerly one of Israel's closest allies in the region. Turkey recalled its ambassador to Israel and is demanding an apology and compensation for the victims before it says ties can return to normal.

In Jerusalem, Israeli foreign ministry spokesman Yigal Palmor said he could not comment on the Turkish findings because he had not seen the report.

Palmor said Israel had submitted its own report to the U.N. and was waiting to hear "what lessons could be learned so this doesn't happen again."

Rende said Turkish investigators questioned more than 100 "Turkish and foreign" activists on board the flotilla in compiling the report, and also sought the opinions of international legal experts.
"Israel violated laws regarding the safety of navigation in open waters and the freedom to navigate," Rende said, adding that the blockade of Gaza amounted to illegal "collective punishment" of 1.5 million people.

"Israel is responsible for the compensation of all damages and has to apologize," he said.
The report said none of the people on board had firearms and Israeli soldiers continued to fire even after activists waved white flags.
"The Israeli forces carried out a well-planned and fully equipped attack, with the use of a special combat unit, kitted with frigates, helicopters, zodiacs, submarines, automatic weapons, laser-guided weapons, and modified paintball guns," the Turkish inquiry read.
Rende said the excessive force caused panic among the activists "forcing them to use their right to self-defense, even without firearms."

In its Jan. 23 report, Israel said it was not expecting trouble and their primary weapons were paintball guns and riot control gear, but some soldiers had handguns as backup.

It said soldiers were caught offguard by the dozens of activists when they rappelled one-by-one onto the deck as the activists were waiting, wielding iron bars, clubs and knives. Some soldiers were thrown onto a lower deck and two of them were shot, apparently with weapons wrested from the Israelis and by another gun of a different caliber to that used by the army.

The report said the Israelis only opened fire when their lives were in clear and immediate danger from the activists and after they had tried other non lethal means.

Turkey, Israel Clash Again Over Flotilla Raid

A fresh row is brewing between Israel and Turkey, after the two countries released sharply conflicting findings from their separate probes into Israel’s deadly naval raid on the Gaza aid flotilla last May. - Turkey and Israel Clash Over Inquiries, Financial Times, January 23, 2011

Defense News
January 25, 2011

Rival Israeli and Turkish reports on a fatal Israeli raid on the Turkish-led aid flotilla bound for the Gaza Strip last year blame each other for the incident.

The incident on May 31 deeply strained relations between former allies Turkey and Israel. During the raid, Israeli commandos killed nine Turks.

An Israeli commission of inquiry said in a report Jan. 23 that the raid was legal under international law. The commission, headed by retired Supreme Court Judge Yaakov Turkel, ruled that Israel's continuing land, sea and air blockade of the Gaza Strip also complies with international law because Israel is effectively in a state of war with the territory's rulers, who are from the Palestinian Hamas movement.

Turkey's Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan denounced the findings.
"In my judgment there is no value or credibility to this report," he told reporters Jan. 24.
Separately, Turkey released its own report Jan. 24. The dueling reports add a new element to the diplomatic crisis that erupted between Turkey and Israel following the attack. Turkey said the report it released was an interim report and that a fresher one would be presented to the United Nations in mid-February.
"We will submit our pre-final report to the United Nations because we think the Israeli report is weak and is based merely on the views of the Israeli Supreme Court and the anonymous Israeli soldiers," said former Ambassador Ă–zdem Sanberk, the Turkish representative on the U.N. panel tasked with investigating the flotilla attack.
The Turkish report's key finding is its allegations that two civilians were killed by Israeli commandos even before they boarded the vessel from helicopters.

Following the attack, Turkey has demanded an apology and compensation from Israel in order to repair ties. Israel has refused to do so. A U.N. commission set up to investigate the incident is expected to complete its work in February after both sides submit their final reports.

Will Gaza Flotilla Raid Mark End of Turkey-Israel Relations?

Turkey called for an international investigation into the Israeli raid on the Gaza flotilla sent to break the aid blockade. At security meeting in Istanbul today, Turkey positioned itself as a leader in crafting a regional response. Turkey-Israel relations are fraying rapidly.

Christian Science Monitor
June 7, 2010

After decades of close Turkey-Israel ties, Turkish officials today asserted that friendship can continue under only one condition: If Israel conforms with international law and human rights standards. A close, 15-year relationship between the two countries appears on the brink of collapse.

Turkey's Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu said normal ties could not be restored unless Israel accepts an international investigation into the fatal raid on the Gaza aid flotilla, something it rejected last week.

Leading a summit on Eurasian security that opened Monday in Istanbul, Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan sought to take the lead in orchestrating a regional response to Israel’s raid on the “Freedom Flotilla” that tried to break the Gaza blockade. Nine Turkish citizens, one of whom had dual US citizenship, were killed in the raid, sparking widespread Turkish fury.
“If there is any so-called hate, that is the hate of the Israeli government. If there is any form of terror in the Mediterranean, this was in the state-terror organized by Israel,” Mr. Erdogan said at a joint press conference with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. “There have been more than 100 resolutions in the [United Nations] regarding Israel, and almost none of them have been implemented by Israel…. We need to follow and pursue these resolutions to [fruition], and we are very pleased that our brother Syria is supporting us."

“There can be no open-air prisons for people. This is a crime against humanity, and there is no way this can be associated with universal values or humanitarian values,” added Erdogan. “As long as there is bloodshed and tears shed in Gaza, we cannot remain silent.”
Why Turkey is pushing the Gaza issue

Israel sees Turkey's intense pressure as a sudden, opportunistic shift designed to boost its regional standing by capitalizing on widespread Muslim anger over Israel's treatment of Palestinians, particularly in Gaza.

Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman this week drew a comparison to Israeli-Iranian ties, which were close in the 1970s but collapsed following the Iranian revolution. Criticism of Israel has become a vehicle for Turkey to gain regional prominence, he said.
"We were good friends for a decade, and now they are changing their policy. It's not our fault. This flotilla is just an excuse; it could be something else, '' says Tal Nahum, a spokesman for Mr. Lieberman's political party Yisrael Beitenu. "Israel is paying the price of the new Turkish policy to receive more popularity in the Muslim world.''
But Turkish leaders, bolstered by other Muslim leaders in Istanbul for the security conference, say their concern over Palestinians goes back decades. As they become convinced that the US either will not – or cannot – substantively change Israeli policies, Turkey appears to be trying to back Israel into a corner where it will be forced to change.
“Turkey is today supporting Gaza, and less than a century ago, Turkey opposed giving Palestine to the Israelis,” said Mr. Assad. “So we have had one objective through history. We have now a kind of common cause, through the blood of your martyrs and our martyrs. We have embraced the same causes, and made the same sacrifices.”
Turkey has demanded a formal apology from Israel for clashes with club- and knife-wielding activists that left nine dead when naval commandos boarded the Turkish-flagged Mavi Marmara, the flagship of flotilla. Erdogan also called for lifting the three-year blockade on all but essential goods on Gaza – a situation for the 1.5 million Palestinians in the coastal strip that Washington has called “unsustainable” – and found a ready audience.

They dropped us after a 15-year love affair'

After years of brisk commerce between Israel and Turkey – a key Muslim friend of the Jewish state – Turkey's shift to becoming a leading critic of Israeli policy has left many in Israel surprised and embittered.
"It's very painful," says Alon Liel, a former Israeli charge d'affaires in Istanbul. "There is huge frustration that they kind of dropped us after a love affair of 15 years. The Israeli public feels betrayed.''
At the end of this past week, some 2,000 Israeli demonstrators gathered outside the Turkish Embassy in Tel Aviv, setting off smoke bombs and holding up signs of Erdogan alongside Osama Bin Laden and Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmedinejad. A memorial to Turkish soldiers was vandalized twice, and a right-wing group has demanded a leading Israeli coffee maker rename its Turkish coffee.

Meanwhile, amid mass anti-Israel demonstrations by protesters in Turkey, Israel's anti-terrorism bureau warned to tourists against visiting there. Israeli Deputy Prime Minister Dan Meridor canceled a trip to Turkey at the recommendation of the Shin Bet security service, Ynet.com reported.

What's at stake

The Turkey-Israel alliance, which began to flower in the late 1990s, had symbolic, strategic, and economic significance to the Jewish state. Israel could hold up its friendship with Turkey as proof that the conflict with Arab neighbors was not about religion. Ties between the defense establishments were so close that the Israeli air force trained in the skies over Turkey and their navies held joint exercises.

But those ties began to fray after the Gaza war in 2009, which destroyed Turkish-mediated peace talks between Israel and Syria just as Turkish officials say they were about to clinch a deal. Then earlier this year, Israeli Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon humiliated Turkey's ambassador in an on-camera meeting. Pictures of Israeli commandos rappelling onto a Turkish ship were a stark contrast.

Defense contracts for Israeli equipment that once topped $750 million have slowed, though as late as last week Turkey said a $180 million deal for Israeli drones would be unaffected by the diplomatic crisis. Israeli tourism to Turkey dropped by half in 2009 from the previous year to 250,000 visitors, and trade slid to $2.5 billion from $3.5 billion, says Alon Liel, a former Israeli charge d'affaires in Istanbul.
"There's almost nothing left,'' says Mr. Liel.
Israelis have ignored the recent signs a shift in Turkish foreign policy, one that is more oriented toward positioning itself as an international proponent of Muslim interests, says Anat Lapidoth-Frilla, an expert on Israeli-Turkish ties at Hebrew University.
"Some still believe it’s a temporary,'' she said, but "we are going to continue a very stormy relationship in the near period.''
Turkey-Israel crisis: Why the formerly obscure IHH is playing a key role

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