A Blog by the Editor of The Middle East Journal

Putting Middle Eastern Events in Cultural and Historical Context

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Further Thoughts: Turkey and Israel . . . and Article 5

More boats are reportedly planning to try to run the Israeli blockade and send aid to Gaza, and there are reports that Turkey might be planning to provide a naval escort. The Turks (who lost four nationals in the Israeli raid) are spitting mad at the moment. But this raises the possibility of a formal military confrontation between Israel and Turkey. And that in turn reminds us of Article 5 of the NATO Treaty:
The Parties agree that an armed attack against one or more of them in Europe or North America shall be considered an attack against them all and consequently they agree that, if such an armed attack occurs, each of them, in exercise of the right of individual or collective self-defence recognised by Article 51 of the Charter of the United Nations, will assist the Party or Parties so attacked by taking forthwith, individually and in concert with the other Parties, such action as it deems necessary, including the use of armed force, to restore and maintain the security of the North Atlantic area.
One may argue that the Eastern Mediterranean is not "Europe or North America" for the purposes of the NATO Treaty, though Turkey and Greece would disagree. (The provision is there so NATO allies didn't have to help fight British and French colonial wars.) But yes, an armed confrontation with Turkey could see Israel confronting NATO. I don't expect that to happen, but it's a sign of the ramifications of this botched raid.

And that, I think, underscores why I think this was a major mistake. It calls to mind the famous comment (usually attributed to Talleyrand) concerning Napoleon's execution of the Duc d'Enghien: "It was worse than a crime; it was a blunder." (I was planning to make that allusion at some point, but now I see several editorialists around the world have already done so. I'm not plagiarizing; I'm just late getting around to making it.)

It's a blunder because the results of the botched raid are far more severe for Israel internationally than any damage that might have been done if the flotilla had been allowed to pass through, or had simply been turned back with shots across the bow. Israel's defense that the commandos were attacked first as they were boarding and thus the first blow was from the other side misses a point: the boat was in international waters and flying a friendly flag, and those aboard had a perfect right to attempt to repel boarders.Those denouncing Israel with terms like "piracy" miss the point: this was an act of state policy and arguably constitutes an act of war.

It is, in fact, a classic case of overreaction to a provocation. I have no illusions that there were "activists" aboard who wanted a confrontation like this, in order to embarrass Israel. What I don't comprehend is why the IDF so willingly obliged them.

I'll let others decide whether the raid can be justified under international maritime law. The question is whether anything was accomplished that makes the negative impact on Israel's image worth the price? Now that the IDF says it is delivering the humanitarian aid to Gaza, what exactly was accomplished by the operation? I can think of several answers:
  1. Israel has driven another nail in the coffin of Israeli-Turkish relations, in the wake of Danny Ayalon's calculated insult to the Turkish Ambassador last year;
  2. It's a black eye for Israel internationally;
  3. It postponed a Netanyahu-Obama summit and makes its rescheduling awkward;
  4. It opens up the possibility of a confrontation with NATO (see above);
  5. It has led even right-wing Israelis to criticize their Navy's handling of the matter;
  6. It has divided the Israeli government, and strengthened a Turkish government which Israel is uncomfortable with; and
  7. It has led Egypt to end, at least temporarily, its blockade of Gaza.
It has, therefore, produced quite a few results. I just fail to see that any of them were policy objectives of those who approved the raid.

Lawyers say you should never ask a question of a witness if you don't know what the answer will be. Similarly, you should never resort to military force unless you've gamed out the worst-case scenarios.


David Mack said...

In addition to the bad political fallout for Israel, its action has also undermined three key US strategies:
1. Resuming progress toward Palestinian-Israeli peace. Mahmoud Abbas will keep talking to Mitchell, but Israel has made it unlikely that he will agree anytime soon to direct talks.
2. Building up Abbas and his Prime Minister, Fayyad Salam, in contrast to the dismal record of Hamas in Gaza. The action against the Gaza relief flotilla highlights the weakness of Abbas and has upped the pressure on him to do foolish things to appease the anger of his Palestinian constituency.
3. Rebuilding trust of the US as a reliable strategic partner on the part of our NATO ally Turkey and the key Arab states whose cooperation we need for our policy of confronting Iranian ambitions and defeating Al Qaeda and similar terrorist organizations.

If the Netanyahu government had set out to validate the Petreus thesis of the tie between US regional strategy and the Israeli Palestinian standoff they could not have done a better job.

Michael Collins Dunn said...

David: Obviously I fully agree. I just got weary of listing all the negatives. Despite Israel's knee-jerk backers' reflexive support, in Israel the left is angry for obvious reasons, the right is angry because insufficient force was used, and many in the Cabinet are angry if they weren't consulted. Again: worse than a crimE: a blunder.