There are reports buzzing around the Internet that the IHH is planning a flotilla to Gaza in the coming days. Although there have been many (failed) flotilla attempts since the original Marvi Marvara, this is different. The chairperson of the IHH Bulent Yildrim has stated that the Turkish Navy will accompany the flotilla.
If true, Turkey has declared war on Israel.
Since 2007 when Hamas overthrew Fatah in a bloody civil war, Israel has maintained a legal blockade on the coastal waters of the Gaza Strip. The legality of this has been supported by the 2010 United Nations Palmer Inquiry headed by former New Zealand Prime Minister Geoffrey Palmer and Colombian President Alvaro Uribe.
Maintaining a blockade allows a state to prevent ships from entering another nation’s coastal waters so long as the blockade is publically known. If the ship refuses to be rerouted, it may be seized and depending on the threat provided, can be destroyed and sunk. For state actors, breaching a known blockade would bring about a Casus Belli (legal grounds) for war.
It is important to think about how this would play out: if the Turkish Navy is escorting a flotilla with a planned destination of Gaza, Israel is legally allowed and justified in boarding the ship in international waters upon warning the ship to be redirected. Israel invites aid directed at Gaza to be brought through their port in Ashdod to be inspected. Seeing how the purpose of the flotilla is to breach the blockade and not comply with Israeli demands and the Turkish Navy escort would be completely gratuitous if they ship were to be redirected to Ashdod, it appears as if the flotilla would reject calls to be redirected and sail ahead to Gaza. If this were to the case (and it seems certain that it would be), Israel would attempt to board the ship. Presumably, the Turkish Navy escort is there to prevent this from happening. Depending on the threat level, Israel will either seize the Turkish Navy vessel or simply destroy both of the ships.
This is not some far away hypothetical, but the almost certain result if the Turkish Navy escorts the flotilla as announced. With the current atmosphere in Turkey, this is a recipe for disaster and would surely lead to war.
The leader of Turkey, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, has a long history of anti-Semitism and opposition to Israel which I have been written about before. Some of the recent headlines consist of: last summer Erdogan blamed the massive Gezi protests as a Jewish conspiracy. Earlier this spring, before personally attacking a protestor, Erdogan called him an “Israeli sperm” (which apparently is an insult in Turkey).
This week Erdogan has described Israel’s actions as being worse than Hitler’s, accused Israel of committing genocide and compared an Israeli parliamentarian to Hitler. The head of the aforementioned IHH – Bulent Yildirim stated this week “Turkish Jews will pay dearly for Israel’s actions”.
This was accompanied by the Israeli embassy in Ankara being attacked and firebombed. The mayor of Ankara led the riots stating, “It will be taken… The despicable murderers’ Consulate has to be kicked out of Turkey. We do not want an Embassy in Turkey of the murderers!”. The same individual also displayed support for popular Turkish singer Yildiz Tilbe who tweeted “May God bless Hitler – If God allows, it will again be muslims who will bring the end of those Jews, it is near, near”.
Although there were surely anti-Semites in Turkey before Erdogan, his vitriol has intensified the hatred. An example of this can be seen with the tweets of a Turkish University professor who wrote 1) “Treblinka will be ready soon. Constructing the railway to transport jews at the moment” 2) “Unless u denounce the civilian massacre in Gaza I will assume your parents escaped Treblinka with error” 3) “If I was PM I would round up the stranded israelis here and send to deportation camp at once”. His justification for the tweets was “I am fully behind our PM and so is 90% of this country”.
Turkey unabashedly supports Hamas. In fact, Hamas leadership responsible for the kidnapping of the three Israeli teenagers earlier this summer (and the precursor to this current conflict) lives in Turkey with support of the government. Although Erdogan sympathizes with the terrorist organization; regional opportunism has made Erdogan concerned about revealing his true colours as full-blown anti-Semite and rabid Israel hater.
That being said, it is highly unlikely that Erdogan actually wants to engage in a war with Israel. Unfortunately, with how chaotic the Middle East is right now, the faux-Cold War in Europe and lack of American leadership, small acts can spiral out of control very quickly.