Saturday, September 03, 2011

Turkey Ups the Ante Again

After expelling Israel's ambassador, now Turkey is apparently going to send naval escorts to ships trying to break the blockade of Gaza. This, of course, puts them on a military crash course with Israel.

Just so everyone is clear: as a matter of international law, one of the requirements for a blockade to be legal is that it has to be effective. That is to say, the blockade must actually work in stopping all or most shipping into the blockaded area. So, to the extent Israel wants to maintain its blockade, it has to stop all ships trying to breach it -- including those under Turkish military guard.

Meanwhile, Turkey also is promising to take the matter of Israel's blockade to the ICJ. If I were Turkey, and I was set on the course of escalation that they seem to be pursuing, this is exactly what I'd do too. Part of what makes the Palmer Report so notable is its rarity -- a relatively decisive victory for Israel in the international arena. It is a case of Turkey losing a bet where the odds were strongly in their favor. So if I'm them, why not return to the table? The ICJ has not been historically friendly territory for Israel (and in particular, like the UNHRC, it tends to play fast and loose with proportionality claims). If Turkey floods the zone with enough authoritative-sounding international legal opinions, the Palmer Report will become an anomaly and easily dismissed.

But of course, this sort of escalation is dangerous -- even Ban Ki-Moon can sense it. We're getting past the point where this is mere posturing. It is difficult to overstate just how wildly irresponsibly Turkey is behaving. You won't find a more fervent critic of the Israeli foreign ministry than I, but in this case they've made reasonable efforts at rapprochement that Turkey has rejected over and over again. The match is being held to the fuse, and Turkey seems bent on setting the whole region alight.

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