On May 31, 2010, when Israeli warships boarded the inbound flotilla carrying aid to Gaza in international waters, firing on activists, it was not the first time Israel had taken unilateral action without regard for the consequences to the United States – or to their own interests properly defined. During the Bush years, Israel was even encouraged in such actions, as during their devastation of Lebanon in 2006. Little Israel has done has brought more than mild rebuke from the US government. The result: Israel has continually pushed the envelope of disproportionate response to the point that, this time, the only country even trying to stand behind Israel is the United States.
Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan was furious over the flotilla assault and issued the statement, “Israel cannot clean the blood off its hands through any excuse. It is no longer possible to cover up or ignore Israel’s lawlessness. This bloody massacre by Israel on ships that were taking humanitarian aid to Gaza deserves every kind of curse.”
India condemned Israel’s attack on the flotilla. In response, Israel’s Foreign Ministry released a statement that stated: “In the past month alone, 500 people were killed in various incidents in Thailand, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iraq and India, while the international community remained silent and passive, and generally ignored the occurrences, while Israel is condemned for unmistakably defensive actions.”
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That statement further inflamed India and caused Israel to issue another statement: “We hold nothing against friendly countries like India for criticising us. The mention of India is a human error. However, there are other nations which support terror and what we have said holds true in their case.” This “clarification” by Israel could do even more damage, however, as the statement could be interpreted to mean that the government’s of Pakistan, Afghanistan and Iraq support terrorists.
The United Nations has failed to make an outright condemnation of the attack. The Turkish prime minister called the attack by Israel “state terrorism.” Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu has already called for the United States to fully condemn the attack. He stated, “We expect full solidarity with us. It should not be a choice between Turkey and Israel. It should be a choice between right and wrong.”
A member of NATO, the Turkish government pushed for NATO involvement. NATO responded by calling for an independent investigation into the attack.
In a televised interview done in Israel, a journalist asked the Israeli government spokesman what the Israeli government will do if Turkey sends warships to escort the next flotilla. It was not an idle question. The Turkish government has warned that future supply vessels carrying aid will be sent to Gaza and that they will be escorted by Turkish warships.
The Jerusalem Post is reporting that a Top Israeli Naval commander stated, “We boarded the ship and were attacked as if it was a war. That will mean that we will have to come prepared in the future as if it was a war.”
This puts the United States in a very precarious position diplomatically. Tensions between Turkey and the United States are already bubbling over Iran’s nuclear ambitions. Turkey and Brazil are pushing for support on a deal with Tehran over its nuclear fuel. In response to critics that claimed the deal is simply to delay UN action, Turkish Foreign Minister Davutoglu responded, “This is not defending Iran. This is defending regional peace, global peace, and the national interests of Turkey.” In addition, the Turkish government wasn’t pleased when Congress decided as far back as 2007 to vote on a resolution condemning Armenian genocide during WWI and passed the resolution in March 2010.
White House spokesman Bill Burton stated on June 3, 2010, “It’s important to the President and to our country that we don’t see the same kind of events unfold like they did the last time. So we are talking to our partners and are hopeful that we won’t see a repeat.” It is critical for the United States government that Israel not repeat its attacking on another flotilla because support for Israel in a future such incident could jeopardize US interests, specifically, US bases in the Middle East.
One of the main US bases for operations in the Middle East is Incirlik AB, which is located in Adana, Turkey. During both the Gulf War in 1990-1991 and the invasion of Iraq in 2003, Incirlik AB played a major role in US and NATO operations. The United States has had to walk a fine line with the Turkish government as it supports the Kurdish people in northern Iraq since there is great animosity between the Kurds and Turks.
In 2009, the US ambassador to Turkey issued a statement that US forces would remain at Incirlik AB, Turkey. Apparently, Turkey had threatened to close Incirlik AB over the proposed Armenian genocide resolution. US unconditional support for Israel after its attack on the aid flotilla could very well strain US-Turkish relations to the point that the Turkish government once again looks to close Incirlik AB.
The loss of Incirlik AB in Turkey would be a huge blow to future military operations by the United States and NATO in the Middle East. It is so vital to the United States and NATO, and such a huge bargaining chip for the Turkish government, that there is no long-term lease for its use by the United States. New agreements are negotiated on a periodic basis, and Turkey has used the base as a bargaining chip before.
The troops the United States kept in Saudi Arabia during the Gulf War have already been moved to the bases the US built in Iraq after the 2003 invasion. Those Iraq military bases are now scheduled to be closed after Iraq ordered the withdrawal of all US troops by 2011. Those troops are now being moved to the bases the US built in Afghanistan since our invasion in 2002.
Without US military assistance, there is little hope of President Karzai keeping control of the government. He simply doesn’t have the security forces necessary to protect his government at this time. Given this fact, there is little doubt that the US and Afghanistan will enter into an agreement to keep US bases in Afghanistan despite President Obama’s reassurance that US troops will eventually leave the country. However, until Karzai’s power is secured, Incirlik AB remains the one operational base in the Middle East region maintained by the United States that is stable.
While there is hope that US diplomacy could defuse tensions between Israel and Turkey, that hope is looking even more bleak as Turkish prosecutors have started a criminal probe into Israel’s attack on the flotilla. Turkish prosecutors are looking, specifically, at actions taken by Prime Minister Netanyahu, Defense Minister Barak and Israel Defense Forces Chief of Staff Ashkenazi.
The military actions of the US in the Middle East since 2002 haven’t won it many friends, as well. The US invasion of Iraq killed hundreds of thousands. Drone strikes in Afghanistan and Pakistan that have killed untold numbers of civilians have turned civilian sentiment against the United States. With Israel issuing statements that could estrange the governments of Afghanistan, Iraq and Pakistan, it could damage the US’s relationships with these governments if the US stands with Israel unconditionally after its attack on the aid flotilla. And that could very well have major implications for future US military bases in the Middle East and Incirlik AB, Turkey.