Israel will lose by ‘winning’

After last year’s aid flotilla massacre, Israel wrongly believed it could continue operating under a ‘legal umbrella’.

Mavi Marmara in the harbour
Unlike Turkey, Israel has not grasped the massive regional changes inspired by the Arab Spring [AFP]

The “top secret” UN report on Mavi Marmara was leaked by the New York Times the day prior to its official release. Whether this leak happened because the UN panel had internal conflict in adopting the report or it was simply aimed at aiding the pro-Israeli propaganda is uncertain. In any case, the usual Israeli public diplomacy machinery undertook a full-court press as soon as the text made it to the public. The Palmer Report didn’t satisfy Turkey as was expected. In contrast, as the Israeli representative Itzhar noted in the appendix, the report “satisfied to a great extent the expectations of Israel”.

The report declares that Israel “failed to give a satisfying explanation on the deaths” and concludes that the “Israeli raid was legal but excessive”. This is, in fact, the exact summary of how Israel sees itself regardless of the bloody Flotilla raid. Israel gave itself to the victimhood of this vicious circle a long time ago. In a virtually schisophrenic world, Israel seems to swing between the “legal” and the “excessive”, resulting in a certain “security fetishism”.

Every excessive Israeli action is transformed into legal gain, supposedly serving Israel’s “security”. Add to this whether one should speak of “Israel’s power” or “power’s Israel”, we are faced with a deeper question than the Mavi Marmara incident or the Palmer report.

We need to recognise the problem as an existential one on the part of Israel. As a state not recognised by many countries, including its neighbours, Israel has transformed its existential trauma into a source of political motivation instead of trying to overcome it. Especially since 1979, Israel received legal support for each and every excess in its behavior in the “Camp David” order. The tragedy is not that Israel has been aided by this disingenuous status quo but the fact that Israel seems to resist and ignore every indication that this order is no longer sustainable.

A ‘New Middle East’

The momentous changes in the Middle East and the globe in general over the past decade are hard to miss. Most recently, the Arab Spring brought about the end of Arab dictators, which led many analysts to think about the “New Middle East” as well as a new global order. Over the past year, we saw that this is not simple talk but real transformation towards a new regional order. With the US invasion of Iraq, we saw the “transition from hegemony to a new balance of power”. Since Turkish Prime Minister Erdogan’s walkout in Davos in 2009, we have been witnessing the “transition from the Camp David order to the New Middle East”.

As the country with a serious degree of involvement in two of the three wars over the last seven years in the Middle East, Israel made its preference for the status quo very clear during the earliest phase of the Egyptian revolution. Continuation of the Camp David order was desirable for others such as the Saudi regime, Jordan, and Syria but Turkey did not have a vested interest in the status quo.

Turkey-Israel relations were based on the “old Turkey” and the Cold War dynamics. Relations enjoyed their peak during the February 28 post-modern coup in Turkey. The good relations based largely on security concerns created a great illusion. The illusion was that the old Turkey could enjoy good relations with the Middle East and the US only through good relations with Israel. However, such analyses proved to be meaningless in light of recent regional developments.

More importantly, Israel keeps failing to appreciate this structural fracture while Turkey recognises it. Moreover, Turkey sets out to contribute to the emergence of a new regional order and is in the business of rebuilding the region. Israel, however, is resisting to understand the “new Turkey” and longing for the “old Turkey”.

Law and legitimacy

Israel is having a difficult time in considering the Palmer report from the perspective of the Flotilla massacre or the deep impact the massacre had on its relations with Turkey. The core of Israel’s strategy since the setting up of the UN panel has been yet another reflex inherited from the Camp David status quo. It is Israel’s search for legitimacy for its excessive behavior through legal mechanisms.

Israel applied an incredible amount of pressure on the panel in order to achieve the following two results: firstly, that the Gaza blockade was legal, and that enforcement of the blockade was legal. Israel believes it reached these goals. Israel thinks that its “excessive behavior” with regard to last year’s flotilla could be brought under yet another “legal umbrella”. Israel is calculating that the Gaza blockade and the unilateral interventions concerning the security of the East Mediterranean will have a legal basis thanks to the UN report.

From Israel’s perspective, this approach may seem rational and acceptable. But it will not escape close scrutiny that it also belongs to the already collapsed Camp David order. In that previous order, the “appointed” (not elected) regional actors and the US could somehow compensate for the crimes committed by Israel often at the expense of the people of the region. Yet, as the new regional order emerges, it will be impossible to sustain such “transgressions” in the name of protecting the status quo. That’s because neither the old regional actors can preserve their power nor is the US willing or able to pay for the cost of maintaining the old regional order.

As long as Israel lives geographically in the Middle East, spiritually in Western capitals, mentally in the Camp David order, and actually in a new regional order; it will be torn between being a state and a project. As long as it is committed to the old order and remains torn in an existential dilemma, it will be Israel not Turkey who will be the one to worry in a rapidly transforming region. 

Taha Ozhan is Director General of the Foundation for the Political, Economic, and Social Research (SETA).

The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera’s editorial policy. 

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