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SEMİH İDİZ > Islamists in disarray after Israeli apology

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They never expected it. Neither did they really want it to come. But when Israel’s formal apology for the Mavi Marmara raid did arrive they were caught off guard. And when Erdoğan went ahead and accepted the apology they were deeply perturbed.

What made the matter even more disturbing for them was the fact that the Israeli apology was accepted only days after Erdoğan had equated Zionism with racism, saying it should be considered “a crime against humanity,” much to the joy of the Turkish members of the international Muslim Brotherhood.

As if this was not bad enough, one of the principle activists on the Mavi Marmara, the actor Sinan Albayrak, came out in remarks to daily Akşam after the Israel apology saying he wished the government had prevented them from trying to break Israel’s Gaza blockade in the first place.

“What is the importance of the apology? ‘We killed nine people and are sorry’ – of course it sounds ridiculous. I say this is what the state should have done. If only it had prevented this at the start. But we asked for it. We went there ourselves.”

This is what Albayrak said. Confused as his remarks appear to be, they nevertheless express a regret that cannot have gone down well in Islamist circles. Especially the bit about “We asked for it.” Some are suggesting now that those who were on the Mavi Marmara when it was raided by Israeli commandoes should bring charges against the Turkish state, seeing as a prominent personality on the ship now says it could have prevented them from trying to breach the Israeli blockade.

The corollary to this is that that the state could have, and should have prevented the deaths of the nine Turks on the ship. That is a flight of fancy of course. But so is trying to get senior Israeli officials convicted over the raid through court cases opened by prosecutors in Turkey. These cases can only be meaningful if they are seen in international courts, but that is not happening.

Turkey demanded a formal apology, compensation for the families of those killed, and a lifting of the Gaza blockade. Israel has said the first two conditions will be met. As for the blockade, most observers agree that while this still continues, routes for aid and other material into Gaza are open. But the intention of Islamists is not to “eat the grapes but to beat the keeper of the vineyard” to quote a Turkish saying.

In other words they want Israeli noses rubbed in the mud and were relying on Erdoğan to do this for them. But they forgot about “realpolitik.” Turkey is a country in a delicate part of the world where it has to consider the bigger picture. The Mavi Marmara activists, barring Sinan Albayrak, nevertheless say they are determined to stay on course.

Addressing a press conference recently on the Mavi Marmara, they refused to accept the Israel apology. They are demanding that Israel apologize individually for each victim of the Israeli raid. In addition to this they say they will not drop the court cases they have initiated against Israeli officials, even though the apology deal worked out by President Obama requires this to be done.

How the government will handle this situation is not clear. There is also the possibility that Erdoğan will bow to pressures from his Islamist grass roots and try to reverse the situation that has emerged after the Israeli apology by finding some excuse or other. Some expect him to use the Gaza blockade argument as the excuse. If that were to happen, though, Erdoğan’s credibility in the West will be tarnished.

Populism is all very well but leaders have a responsibility to see the bigger picture and act according to the interests of the nation as a whole, and not just the interests of their grass roots. Netanyahu saw the bigger picture in the end. The crisis with Israel should also provide a lesson to the Erdoğan government on the subtleties of foreign policy administration in a dangerous part of the world.

April/11/2013

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