By Dr. Alex Sternberg

Turkish President Erdogan lashed out at Israel and Prime Minister Netanyahu after the Hamas-led attack on Israel by over 30,000 Gaza Arabs was met with live fire resistance by Israel.

During the attack on Israel’s border, 17 attackers were killed when they and a mob of Arabs rushed the border to break through into Israel proper. This was the latest provocation by Hamas terrorists to use women and children as human shields to try to score a public-relations coup against Israel. Erdogan, a longtime supporter of Hamas, was seething at his friends’ latest failure.

The mass invasion of Israel was billed by Hamas as a “non-violent, peaceful” expression of the desire of the Arabs to return to their lost homeland of Palestine.

The “peaceful” protesters were armed with Molotov cocktails, slingshots with heavy metal projectiles, and burning and exploding tires to roll at the Israel troops. As is the habit of the Arab “freedom fighters,” they send in the women and children first, followed by the armed attackers. Naturally, when Israeli troops come under fire, they return fire—thus, the “innocent civilians” lamented by Erdogan.

Hamas, the dominant Palestinian group in Gaza, admitted that five of the dead were members of its armed wing. Israel said eight of the 15 belonged to Hamas, designated a terrorist group by Israel and the West, and two others came from other militant factions. So much for “innocent civilians.” One has to wonder at the mindset of the parents who encourage their children to participate in such exercises. Perhaps they have no choice.

During a speech on Saturday, Erdogan condemned Israel for what he called an “inhumane attack” on Palestinians in Gaza on Friday. He called Netanyahu a terrorist and Israel a terrorist state.

Netanyahu, never known to be at a loss for words when defending Israel, responded to Erdogan’s condemnation of Israel in a tweet on Sunday morning: “The most moral army in the world will not receive moral exhortations from those who for years have indiscriminately bombed civilian populations. Apparently this is how Ankara marks April first.”

Need we remind Erdogan that Turkey still continues to deny the massacre of over one million Armenians by Turkish soldiers during World War I?

In a later tweet, Netanyahu said: “Erdogan is not accustomed to being answered back to, but he should start getting used to it. He who occupies northern Cyprus, encroaches on Kurdish territory, and massacres civilians in Afrin cannot preach to us on values and morals.”

This type of back-and-forth is becoming more commonplace between Israel and Turkey lately. Although allies and friends for decades, Israel’s relationship with Turkey has been steadily declining ever since Erdogan came to power. Long gone is the close military cooperation between the Turkish military and Israel, as well as the sharing of Turkish airspace for Israeli Air Force maneuvers.

Erdogan, a close ally and supporter of the Muslim Brotherhood, a fanatical Muslim fundamentalist group founded in Egypt in the 1920s, has become an avid supporter of even the most radical Muslim groups. But this is not surprising for those who have been Erdogan observers.

One can only wonder at the “buyer’s remorse” that Netanyahu must be feeling at the effort at reconciliation he attempted between Israel and Turkey some five years ago, years after the flotilla incident.

On May 31, 2010, the Turkish-based Turkish Foundation for Human Rights and Freedoms and Humanitarian Relief (İHH), attempted to break the Israeli blockade of the Gaza Strip, under the guise of bringing humanitarian aid to the beleaguered people of Gaza. You may recall that Israel unilaterally left Gaza in 2005, uprooting several beautiful Israeli communities established there for over 20 years.

Shortly after Israel evacuated Gaza, Hamas, in a bloody civil war against the PA, massacred their Palestinian brothers and took power. They immediately set about lobbying rockets into southern Israel and attacking Israel. In an attempt to put pressure on Hamas, Israel blockaded the Strip and prevented the entry of materials that had military use from reaching the hands of the terrorists.

The Turkish group IHH, together with a Hamas-based Gaza group, organized a flotilla of six ships to bring humanitarian aid to Gaza and to break the blockade. The ship Mavi Marmara was the flagship.

Israel saw the outfitting of these ships in Turkey as a provocation and warned both Turkey and the organizers to abort the mission, stating categorically that none of the ships would be allowed to dock in Gaza.

IHH ignored the warnings.

On the night of May 31, 2010, the Israeli Navy contacted the ships while in international waters and ordered them to sail to Ashdod to submit to inspection of their cargo or they would be boarded. The flagship refused. Radio transmissions reported fiery rhetoric from the ships warning of heavy Israeli casualties if Israel attempted to board them.

Israel sent a combination of navy speed boats and helicopters with Shayetet 13 navy commandos on board. Five of the ships were boarded without significant resistance, but the IHH and Hamas activists aboard the Mavi Marmara put up stiff resistance. Armed with swords, knives, metal bars, and some pistols, they beat and stabbed the commandos who were coming down from the helicopters by rope. Some commandos were thrown overboard and nine were seriously wounded. Meeting such lethal resistance from between 40 to 600 activists aboard, the commandos opened fire in defense. Ultimately, ten Turkish and Hamas activists were killed as Israel took control of the ship.

Naturally, this incident was followed by an international outcry condemning Israel, with demands for an “impartial and transparent” investigation. Sounds familiar?

After numerous inquiries, several facts were established.

According to flotilla organizer Greta Berlin, the Israeli soldiers didn’t start firing until an activist seized a gun from one of them. Five of the activists who were killed had previously declared their desire to become martyrs.

The New York Times, in an editorial, said, “At least some of the activists on the lead ship, the Mavi Marmara, were seeking a confrontation—and got one.”

After all the hoopla died down, it was discovered that while three of the ships did carry medical and humanitarian supplies, the Mavi Marmara did not. Instead, they had stored weapons and were manned by activists spoiling for a physical and possibly deadly confrontation with the Israeli Navy. As the New York Times pointed out, they got one.

Erdogan was very much in the thick of planning the Mavi Marmara attack, outfitting the ships and enabling them to sail to confront Israel.

Perhaps Israel was still naïve about Erdogan and was optimistic that the plunging relationship with Turkey could be repaired. After protracted negotiation, Israel agreed to pay $20 million in compensation to the families of the dead activists, with Netanyahu apologizing to Erdogan in a much-publicized phone call.

This brings us to the present.

I can only imagine how much Netanyahu regrets making that humiliating apology and the $20 million dollar restitution agreement. Yes, hindsight is 20/20. I think this is all the more reason why he slaps Erdogan whenever he can.

Many in Israel thought that the gesture was wasted as Turkey by that time was in the grip of radical Sunnis. Erdogan has often been tied to dreams of a caliphate, a remaking of the Ottoman Empire of old. When he looks in the mirror, I bet he sees Suleiman the Magnificent looking back at him.

Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan expressed regret that Israel had agreed to reconciliation with Turkey in 2016. Asked about the détente reached between the two countries, ending six years of animosity after the 2010 Mavi Marmara incident, Erdan said, “The agreement should not have been approved, and trying to improve ties with Turkey was a mistake.”

The present Gaza episode reminds everyone of the Mavi Marmara fiasco with some key differences. Israel still has not developed a more sophisticated and clever way of thwarting these publicity maneuvers by the Arabs, but they are more disposed to defend themselves without any apologies. I don’t imagine we will have the numerous soul-searching “independent and transparent” inquiries of years ago. At that time, the UN Human Rights Commission condemned Israel. President Obama was not interested in helping Israel. Today, things are different.

We are reminded during this Pesach season that “in every generation some rise up against us to annihilate us.” May the Al-mighty continue to defend us through the able hands of our Israeli military.

Dr. Alex Sternberg authored the forthcoming book “Recipes from Auschwitz–My Parents’ Story of the Murder of Hungarian Jewry.” He is a lifelong student of Jewish history, focusing on the development of Zionism and the Holocaust. He is presently teaching graduate studies and is active in several pro-Israel organizations. He is a retired research doctor in children’s pulmonary health and a master karate instructor.


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