New Aid Flotillas, Or New Rivalries?

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Context
200_TURKEY-funeralThe dust is still settling after the May 31 Freedom Flotilla raid by Israeli commandos-in the nearly two weeks since the raid, new alliances have formed, old ones have been broken, and new rivalries are emerging for the title of ‘Bastion of Palestine’.

This analysis of perceptions and perspectives explores the implications of the proposed new aid flotillas headed for Gaza, and how the balance of power has shifted in the Middle East. The planned investigations of the incident and their implications are also discussed, with reference to the US refusal to support a UN-backed probe into the incident.

Analysis

Freedom Flotilla 2

A new aid flotilla to Gaza is being planned, with funding already received for three ships and more expected to flow in as the fallout from the Israeli attack on the original Freedom Flotilla continues to create ripples around the globe.

The European Campaign To End The Siege Of Gaza (ECESG) reported that preparations are already underway for the second flotilla, and it is expected to carry more than the 10,000 tons of aid that the first flotilla had on board. Dr. Arafat Madhi, head of ECESG was reported by Al Jazeerah as saying that the second flotilla will again sail for Gaza, despite any Israeli intervention, and that senior officials from Turkey would likely accompany the second flotilla.

Turkey has emerged from the flotilla incident as the new ‘Bastion of Palestine’ much to the disgruntlement of Iran, who has been championing the issue for decades. Reports from inside Gaza are telling of mothers naming their new babies Edrogan after the Turkish Prime Minister, and the Turkish flag flying over many a home in the Gaza strip. While on the outside Turkey and Iran are moving closer together, it surely smarts the Iranians that, after so many years of support, there aren’t that many (if any) kids name Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in Gaza.

The issue of Palestine will not likely cause a damaging rift between Iran and Turkey, but there is every likelihood that a ‘cold’ rivalry between the two countries has begun, not just over the Palestinian champion title, but for a preeminent role in the affairs of the Middle East. The emerging role of Turkey as a regional power broker was evident in the nuclear swap deal recently negotiated between Turkey, Brazil and Iran, as previously discussed by PoliTact,. Turkey is perceived as having tempered the somewhat unpredictable administration in Tehran, a perception certainly not lost, or liked by the Iranians.

So what will happen? Iran and Turkey are, for all intents and purposes, on the same side, and neither wants it to be any other way, however Iran is feeling pushed out of the limelight, especially when it comes to Palestine. So, it has announced that it will send its own aid flotilla to Gaza, accompanied by the Iranian National Guard.

While Ahmedinejad skirted direct questions about the planned Iranian flotilla, when asked at a press conference while in Istanbul this week, the fact remains that even if the Iranian flotilla did get through, it would take another Israeli attack for the flotilla to have a similar impact as the Turkish-led Freedom Flotilla. Iran will have trouble being perceived as anything but riding the bandwagon. Perhaps that is why the Iranian National Guard have been enlisted to escort the proposed aid ships, as this is much more likely to draw out the Israelis than an unescorted aid ship.

An Iranian aid ship would also have to have the approval of the Egyptian government in order to pass through the Suez Canal, which would further try the strained Egypt-Israel relations. Egypt-Israel relations would be even more sorely tested if Iranian aid were to be let through the reopened land border at Rafah between Egypt and Gaza. Whether or not the Iranian aid eventuates, and what route it takes into Gaza remains to be seen, but it will have a hard time competing with the Turkish efforts, unless a confrontation with Israeli forces occurs for a second time. Given the severe backlash of the first incident, Israel is unlikely to want a repeat performance, although there is no doubt Israel will respond with force if tested.

New Alliances

While Iran and Turkey are jostling with each other for the limelight, other Arab nations are becoming increasingly alarmed at the role these two non-Arab nations are playing in the region. Arab-Turkish and Arab-Iranian relations are historically fraught, while Turkish-Iranian relations have been getting warmer and warmer with every year passing-their current rivalry over the champion of Palestine title belies a very firm alliance in development, and the Arab states are not at all happy about it. So much so, that according to media reports, Saudi Arabia this week invited Israel for a second time, to use a narrow corridor of airspace over the Kingdom, to better facilitate the bombing of Iranian nuclear installations.

Israel must be looking on aghast at the rise of these two nations in perception in the region, and their growing alliance-although it has not yet made a move to take Saudi Arabia up on its offer of a fly-over corridor for more ‘persuasive’ action against Iran. Furthermore, the developing Turkish-Iranian alliance represents a new Sunni-Shiite bridge-one which Arabs have been unable to create. This development poses far reaching consequences for the AfPak conflict in particular and the Islamic world in general.

In the game of public perception, the Arab states are beginning to look more and more pithy, especially when compared with the daring of the Turkish-led flotilla, in stark contrast to the compliant attitudes of the Arab states regarding Palestine-not that the other Arab states don’t care for the Palestinian cause, but their reliance on the US, prevents them from taking any actuating steps against Israel in the name of the Palestinians. This is definitely not the case with Iran, and nor, would it seem, with Turkey.

The Investigations

Turkish calls for a UN-led investigation have met with resounding nods of approval, especially from the participants of the Turkish-Arab Economic Forum held in Istanbul this week. Internationally most countries are also calling for a UN-led investigation into the incident, with one significant exclusion: the US.

The Obama administration is not backing a UN probe into the flotilla ‘intervention’-rather, they are maintaining their support for an Israeli-led investigation. Meanwhile reports from Washington are hinting at strained ties between the US and Israel, mainly because the US is finding it hard to maintain its line under international pressure, while Israel takes so long to set up it’s own investigation. This by no means diminishes the public support that Washington gives to Israel, but in this case, it is giving it somewhat reluctantly.

The issue of the investigation will likely inflame tensions in the region, as Turkey has said they will reject the finding of an Israeli investigation, and Israel has responded that they “don’t intend to satisfy them [Turkey]” in conducting their own investigation. The Human Rights Council has already set up an independent investigation into the flotilla raid, but Turkey wants its own investigation to have the backing of the UN, otherwise, it claims, there will be ‘too many investigations’ a case of ‘too many cooks spoil the brew?’

In any event, investigations are likely to be somewhat hampered by the fact that the mobile phones, cameras, laptops and other electronic devices aboard the attacked freedom flotilla remain in Israeli hands, so any evidence they contain, may never come to light. Recently released ‘footage‘ of the Israeli intervention as proof of the flotilla passengers being armed show only darkness, with a subtitled text of Israeli soldiers calling to one another that there is live fire below-if this evidence passes muster under an Israeli investigation, then it is doubtful that a ‘credible’ investigation from Israel is possible, as in reality, the footage could have been shot in a dark room, such is the visibility.

Whoever conducts an investigation, and how many investigations are conducted, the fact remains that it is extremely doubtful that any investigation is going to be found mutually acceptable to the parties involved. On-the-ground perceptions are so irreversibly opposed, and the rhetoric of each side runs so deeply ingrained that no matter what the findings of the investigations, the conclusions have, for the most part, already been drawn: reality, as always, lies somewhere in the middle.

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