Israel’s Turkey Problem *updated*
Turkey, for their part, have made it quite clear that they consider the attack on the flotilla a violation of international law and they are not going to let this incident ride quietly off into the sunset. In fact, prior to their meeting, the Turkish FM let the press know, in the polite but firm way that the Turks are famous for, that Turkey was very disappointed in the WH response yesterday:
Turkey’s foreign minister ratcheted up the pressure on the Obama administration to take a tougher stand against Israel Tuesday, saying he was disappointed by what Ankara regards as a slow and tepid response by the international community to the raid by Israeli forces on a flotilla of Turkish aid ships.
Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu said he expected the U.S. to more strongly condemn the raid and to put pressure on Israel to release all civilians they are holding, points he would raise with both Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and National Security Adviser James Jones in meetings Tuesday.
“I have to be frank: I am not very happy with the statement from Washington yesterday,” Mr. Davutoglu said in a meeting with a small group of reporters here. “We expect a clear condemnation.”
The firm stance taken by Turkey could further complicate an already delicate balancing act the Obama administration is conducting in the region, with the White House needing Turkish support for a new round of sanctions against Iran, among other regional priorities…
Mr. Davutoglu expressed disappointment that it took 11 hours for the U.N. Security Council to come up with a statement condemning the raid, a thinly-veiled criticism of the U.S., which worked behind the scenes to weaken some of its language.
“We expect full solidarity with us,” Mr. Davutoglu said of the U.S. response. “It should not seem like a choice between Turkey and Israel. It should be a choice between right and wrong, between legal and illegal.”
Mr. Davutoglu called the raid a “criminal act,” saying that because it occurred in international waters, the ships were sovereign territory that couldn’t be legally boarded. He said that the Turkish government had intervened with the nongovernmental organizations behind the flotilla before they approached Israel in hopes that a confrontation could be avoided, but couldn’t directly order the groups to desist.
He said that in discussions with the NGOs, the Turkish government had been led to believe the flotilla would approach only Gazan waters, where they would protest Israel’s blockade before moving on to Israeli ports to unload their aid…
The Turkish FM met with Secretary Clinton and although it had originally been scheduled to be open cameras, that was changed later this morning (understandable). Nonetheless, Secretary Clinton was asked about Turkey during one of her other meetings (excerpt dealing with that one issue):
SECRETARY CLINTON: We should sing Auld Lang Syne or something. (Laughter.)
QUESTION: Well, thank you very much even without doing it.
Madam Secretary, I’d like to ask you a couple things about the Israeli situation which, as you know, is getting more and more serious by the day. I know there are many unknowns at this point, but do you accept Israel’s argument of self-defense? And do you think that the investigation should be done by Israel or by a third independent party, as other Security Council members have said?
And more broadly, we all know there are so many moving pieces to this. There’s Turkey, there’s Israel and in the Palestinians, there’s Iran, there’s Syria. What are the implications in your mind of this situation to the peace process and in the larger issues in the Middle East? Thanks.
SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, Nick, on your last day, you’ve asked a very complicated set of interrelated questions. And let me put it into context as I respond. First, let me say how deeply we regret the tragic loss of life and injuries suffered among those involved in the incident aboard the Gaza-bound ships, and we offer our condolences to the families of the deceased and the wounded.
Turkey and Israel are both good friends of the United States, and we are working with both to deal with the aftermath of this tragic incident.
The United States supports the Security Council’s condemnation of the acts leading to this tragedy. And we urge Israel to permit full consular access to the individuals involved and to allow the countries concerned to retrieve their deceased and wounded immediately. We urge all concerned countries to work together to resolve the status of those who were part of this incident as soon as possible.
We support in the strongest terms the Security Council’s call for a prompt, impartial, credible, and transparent investigation. We support an Israeli investigation that meets those criteria. We are open to different ways of assuring a credible investigation, including international participation, and we will continue to discuss these ideas with the Israelis and our international partners in the days ahead.
The situation in Gaza is unsustainable and unacceptable. Israel’s legitimate security needs must be met, just as the Palestinians’ legitimate needs for sustained humanitarian assistance and regular access for reconstruction materials must also be assured.
We will continue to work closely with the Israeli Government and the Palestinian Authority along with international NGOs and the United Nations to ensure adequate access for humanitarian goods, including reconstruction and building supplies. And we welcome efforts to promote the reunification of Gaza and the West Bank under the legitimate and internationally recognized Palestinian Authority.
Ultimately, the solution to this conflict must be found through an agreement based on a two-state solution negotiated between the parties. This incident underscores the urgency of reaching this goal and we remain committed to working with both sides to move forward these negotiations.
I think the situation from our perspective is very difficult and requires careful, thoughtful responses from all concerned. But we fully support the Security Council’s action last night in issuing a presidential statement and we will work to implement the intention that this presidential statement represents.
QUESTION: Madam Secretary, thank you very much for taking this question.
Notice that the condemnation of the “acts” is very careful not to assign blame to either the Israelis or the activists. She does indicate willingness to have international participation in an investigation into what happened, something which the US apparently refused to allow into any statement or resolution yesterday at the U.N. (and which was a sticking point with Turkey).
This just came through this evening a little while ago:
Readout of the President’s Call with Prime Minister Erdogan of Turkey
The President spoke today with Turkish Prime Minister Erdogan to express his deep condolences for the loss of life and injuries resulting from the Israeli military operation against the Turkish-flagged ship bound for Gaza. The President told Prime Minister Erdogan that the United States is working in close consultation with Israel to help achieve the release of the passengers, including those deceased and wounded, and the ships themselves. He also affirmed the United States position in support of a credible, impartial, and transparent investigation of the facts surrounding this tragedy. The President affirmed the importance of finding better ways to provide humanitarian assistance to the people of Gaza without undermining Israel’s security. He underscored the importance of a comprehensive peace agreement which establishes an independent, contiguous, and viable Palestinian state as the way to resolve the overall situation and the United States’ continuing commitment to achieving that goal by working closely with Turkey, Israel, and others with a stake in a more stable and secure Middle East.[emphasis mine]
That’s very different wording than we were hearing yesterday. We are definitely moving in the right direction.
UPDATE: Some of the European activists are returning home and are now allowed to talk to the press (Israel had ordered a complete media black-out). You can see their accounts here. Clearly there is a lot of he-said she said which is why there needs to be an independent investigation – not undertaken by Israel, but by an objective, independent body or commission. Israel has demonstrated it has no intention of being objective and they are already saying they will use greater force the next time around.