Israel sparked an outcry across the world and Turkey, when Mavi Marmara, a Turkish ship accompanying eight other vessels carrying 10,000 tonnes of medical aid, housing material and other humanitarian supplies, was attacked by Israeli forces early on May 31st, 2010. The Israeli marines stormed aboard from dinghies and rappeled down from helicopters. More than 10 people are believed to have been killed, but it is difficult to obtain a clear picture due to an Israeli news embargo.
Thwarting a New Cycle of Negotiations
We would like to argue that the causes of this appalling episode lie neither with the explanations of the Israeli authorities (“there is not only humanitarian aid there, but rockets and war material too”), nor with those offered by Hamas (“the international community must take action against Israel’s state terrorism”). We believe that this act of violence against civilians aims at thwarting a new cycle of negotiations between the Israeli and Palestinian leadership, as well as to force the Obama administration to come out more openly in favour of Israel on a host of issues, from Iran to Syria and Iraq, the list is long indeed. So the chief target of the attack was not Mavi Marmara, Turkey or the pro-Palestinian activists transporting some outdated rockets amongst tons of humanitarian aid, but the political strategy of the US state towards the Middle East as a whole. This, according to Israel’s neo-zionist elite, does not make the grade since the advent of Obama in office. Yet, this is pretty much a neo-zionist illusion.
Obviously, Israel will be most concerned by Turkey’s reaction, and so will the US itself. In fact, one of the arguments that works in favour of Washington’s Obamacised political culture is that episodes like this damage Turkish-Israeli relations further, thus depriving Israel and the US one of its key allies against the ‘rogue’ regimes of Iran and Syria, and against organisations like the Hizbollah. Seen from a different angle, certain conservative-nationalist circles in Greece, encouraged by what is left of the neo-cons, may now entertain the idea of an open alliance with Israel in order to gain some advantages in the Eastern Mediterranean, primarily by way of tipping the diplomatic balance of forces in favour of Hellenism in the Cypriot negotiations over a new Constitution (although, it should be said, the Greece withdrew from some planned joint military exercises with Israel in protest of the way Israel dealt with the humanitarian convoy). But these are rather short-sighted considerations and deep-seated Cold War illusions. Similarly, it is both short-sighted and catastrophic to believe that the only way in which the US and Israel can secure their long term interests in the region is their willingness to use overwhelming force, including the use of nuclear weapons. Why are we saying this?
Turkey Owning its Sovereignty
The truth of the matter is that Turkey’s foreign policy emancipation from the US/NATO and Israel has to do with a number of factors, which are wholly different with the Cold War mentality of neo-zionism and US neo-imperialism. The most important of these factors is Turkey’s growing economic power and sheer geopolitical size. Turkey, with a population of 76 million, is an attractive consumer market, and all those youthful workers have turned the country into a workshop for export industries such as cars, aerospace, appliances, and textiles. International observers put Turkey in the same category as Brazil, Russia, India, China, Indonesia, Mexico and South Africa as an emerging economic power, already dominant in the Middle East and the Balkans. The last few years have seen a marked rise in both Turkey’s economic prosperity and its political confidence. Turkey in recent years has upgraded its engagement with Asia, Africa and Latin America. As a result, Turkey’s foreign policy not exclusively focused on Europe anymore.
Unlike in the 1980s and 1990s Turkey doesn’t perceive relations with the EU as a mutually exclusive partnership. The official Turkish foreign policy line here is that it can have good relations both with its neighbors and also in the wider global network of countries and also with the European Union. The Turkish political elite also understands that the Anglo-Saxon and the European worlds are the weak links in the post-Cold War global scheme of things, which sees Eastern and Southern Eurasian powers dominating the continent and the globe in the foreseeable future. This power shift to the East guides the new Turkish foreign policy of Erdogan and Davutoglu and it is generally in tune with the visionary policy of Ozal in the 1980s. What is interesting to note is that this policy is being effected by a modest Islamic democratic movement in power, which has opened up to all Arab states and Iran in an unprecedented manner. This is a concern for the US only insofar as the US itself sees the world with its old lenses of a super-imperial power. But this is no longer the case and the demise of the Anglo-Saxon dominance in economics which is bound inextricably up with neo-zionism, will certainly reflect a new era in international relations, albeit not necessarily a progressive one. But what is the irony in this equation?
Neo-Zionism in Regression
The irony is that neo-zionism, assessing matters in terms of power-politics, thinks of a world in which Israel and the US alone are the only players. Neo-zionism has been cultivating this illusion in the US political establishment since 1967, but for all intents and purposes the world and the US today are not as they were in 1967 and 1948. The Obama administration has recognised this – see, for example, Obama’s speech in Cairo last year – but neo-zionism keeps pushing Obama’s ruling elites in the old neo-con, Cold War, direction. But neo-zionism has to understand that the US is no longer the credit power it was, or the industrial engine it once was, not to speak of the tottering dollar and its huge current account and budget deficits. Irony and illusion at the same time, these are but facts of life that both Israeli and US elites as a whole have to come to terms with and abandon their cult for macho politics, as times have changed to their disfavour. Doing otherwise, they simply perpetuate unnecessary conflicts, ultimately leading to their inevitable downfall.
Sudden Turns in IR
In the history of international relations, every once in a while things take a turn, and that turn is generally punctuated by a singular, stunning event. Israel’s deadly raid on the Gaza Freedom Flotilla yesterday was one such event. Even though the Israeli officials and the corporate media are in the process of spinning the Mavi Marmara story in Israel’s favour, the fact remains that Israel crossed a line with the raid on Mavi Marmara. Just as the massacres carried out by police during protests against the racist apartheid government of South Africa in Sharpeville in 1960 and Soweto in 1976 showed millions worldwide what the South African state really represented, so the attack on the flotilla has illuminated what the Israeli state really stands for.
In a sense, deadly raid on Mavi Marmara is the equivalent of Israel’s crossing the Rubicon. It is not just the use of brutal force against civilians (something which Israel has been doing for decades), but the murder and use of extreme force against non-Palestinian and non-Arab internationals, people who are entirely external to the Jewish-Palestinian conflict.
** Vassilis Fouskas is a Professor of International Relations, University of Piraeus, Greece, and Managing Editor of the Journal of Balkan and Near Eastern Studies (quarterly, Routledge); Bulent Gokay is a Professor of International Relations, Keele University, and the the founder of the Eurasian Studies Network.