Relations between former allies Turkey and Israel have been on the skids since last year, when Israeli commandos killed nine Turks in an attempt to take over a ship that was part of an aid convoy heading to Gaza. Turkey demanded Israel apologize and pay compensation for the deaths (and later added a third condition, that Israel lift is blockade of the Gaza Strip), but -- despite negotiations and efforts by Washington to bridge the divide -- Jerusalem refused to meet Turkey's demands.
After the flotilla incident, both countries joined a United Nations panel created to take a look at the event and perhaps assign some responsibility for what transpired. After months and months of delays, the report (here) was leaked yesterday to the New York Times. While strongly criticizing the conduct of Israel's military in both taking the ship over and in how it treated the passengers afterwards, the report deems Israel's naval blockade of Gaza and the interception of the ships heading there legal. It also has some harsh words about the motives of the flotilla's organizers, saying the convoy was more of a publicity stunt than a humanitarian effort.
The release of the report, as expected by many, has resulted in a futher -- and quite severe -- downgrading in Turkey's relations with Israel. From Hurriyet:
Turkey expelled Israel's ambassador and senior Israeli diplomats and suspended military agreements on Friday, the day after it emerged a U.N. report said Israel had used unreasonable force in a raid on a Gaza-bound ship that killed nine Turks, Reuters reported.
Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu had said Thursday that Friday's official release of the “Palmer Report” would constitute Israel's last chance to apologize for its raid on the Turkish-sponsored flotilla and warned of consequences, including sanctions, should Israel continue to refuse to apologize.
Stung by Israel's refusal to meet demands for a formal apology, pay compensation for families of the dead, and end the blockade of Palestinians living in the Gaza enclave, Turkey announced it was downgrading ties with Israel further.
"Turkey-Israel diplomatic relations have been reduced to a second secretary level. All personnel above the second secretary level will be sent home by Wednesday at the latest," Foreign Minister Davutoğlu told at a news conference in Ankara.
Davutoğlu announced five measures that the Turkish government would take against Israel:
1. Downgrade diplomatic ties between the two countries to level of second secretary, effectively expelling diplomats above the said level.
2. All military agreements will be put on hold.
3. Turkey will take measures for freedom of maritime movement in the eastern Mediterranean Sea.
4. Turkey will no longer recognize the Gaza blockade and will take the issue to the International Court of Justice.
5. Turkey will support all flotilla victims, Turkish and foreign, in court.
Full story here. Today's Zaman's report here. The big question now, it appears, is how will this falling out play out regionally and how will its impact be felt in Washington, where support for Israel, especially in Congress, is very strong. Clearly, this is only the beginning, and not the end, of this story.