NATO & Israel

The flotilla raid could cause our relations with Ankara to implode—and severely harm the transatlantic alliance.

Israel’s attack on a Gaza aid flotilla, killing nine, has earned near-universal condemnation, with even sympathetic observers terming it the act of a bully, tone deaf, staggeringly stupid, tactically incompetent, a major tactical blunder, a moral victory for Hamas, and an unqualified disaster for Israel’s reputation. But Israel is rather accustomed to international scorn and has every right to chart its own course. However, this latest incidence has potentially grave consequences for United States and its transatlantic allies.

Turkey, a founding member of the NATO alliance and heretofore Israel’s only friend in the region, is apoplectic.

Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu proclaimed Tuesday morning, ““Psychologically, this attack is like 9/11 for Turkey.” As idiotic as that may seem — there were 9 deaths, not 3000, and the incident involved provocateurs flouting a naval blockage, not innocents in the Turkish homeland — the actions of his government indicate that the sentiment is genuine.

Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan accused Israel of “state terrorism” and he told his parliament the Israeli assault violated “international law, the conscience of humanity and world peace.” Erdogan proclaimed the incident “a turning point in history. Nothing will be the same again.” Serkan Demirtas,writing in Hurriyet Daily News & Economic Review, sees “a long-term diplomatic war between Turkey and Israel” as “unavoidable.” Similar statements have been made by Turkish pundits and analysts, including those considered moderates.

Erdogan, noting what seems to be the end of the Turkish-Israeli alliance for the foreseeable future, proclaimed, “Turkey’s hostility is as strong as its friendship is valuable.” And veteran columnist Sami Kohen proclaims, “Turkey now is one of the sides in the Middle East conflict. It is quite clearly opposed to Israel.”

Erdogan also raised the specter of Article 5: “Citizens of member states were attacked by a country that was not a member of NATO,” he said. “We think that should be discussed in NATO.” Again, this is overblown. Whatever one thinks of the Israeli action, it was decidedly not an attack on Turkey “in Europe or North America.” And, while Article 6 makes provisions for extending the umbrella of protection to “forces, vessels, or aircraft of any of the Party” operating in the Mediterranean Sea, it rather clearly is intended to apply to the defense of colonial territories.

But security analysts Steve Hynd and Robert Mackey think this irrelevant and that if Turkey invokes the Charter, the U.S. will face a dire choice, indeed. As Mackey puts it: