As Turkish Islamists Prepare To Sail to Gaza, the Cat Seems to Have Gotten President Biden’s Tongue

Will America use its naval assets — which include two carrier groups in the Mediterranean — to prevent a disaster that could be bigger than that of the Mavi Marmara?

AP/Ariel Schalit, file
On May 31, 2010, the Mavi Marmara, the lead ship of a flotilla headed to the Gaza Strip that was stormed by Israeli naval commandos, sails into the port of Ashdod, Israel. AP/Ariel Schalit, file

Turkish Islamists are planning to sail toward Gaza, possibly repeating a 2010 incident that triggered an international crisis. Will American naval assets, sent to the Mediterranean to avert a widened war, prevent the looming clash?

Up to 1,000 boats and ships will reportedly gather in Turkey tomorrow and start toward Gaza on Thursday. The flotilla will be manned by 4,500 people from 40 countries, “including anti-Zionist Jews,” the Turkish website Haber 7 reports, and 313 Russian and 104 Spanish vessels. Only 12 Turkish boats will join the flotilla.

In 2010, a similar flotilla claiming to deliver aid to Gaza was organized by an Islamist group, IHH, which calls itself a “humanitarian relief foundation” but is classified by Israel as a terrorist organization. A bloody clash ensued on the deck of the largest ship, the Mavi Marmara, once it entered Israeli waters. Ten Turks were killed.

A widely distributed Turkish-language poster calling for donations was seen by the Sun last week. “Because of the genocide carried out by the occupying forces, hundreds of thousands of Gazans are in urgent need of assistance,” it said. “The International Freedom Fleet Coalition is setting out again for Gaza. Now is the time to support lifting the blockade and embargo and for the genocide to end.”

Such language echoes the ever-escalating hostility in President Erdogan’s speeches since October 7. “Erdogan doesn’t give two hoots about Palestinians,” a Turkey watcher at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, Sinan Ciddi, tells the Sun. “He highlights Gaza to distract the public from the economic situation.”

Official numbers put Turkey’s inflation at just above 61 percent. Yet, according toTurkish economists with the much more reliable ENAgroup, the rate is as high as 126 percent. As middle class Turks struggle, Mr. Erdogan, who has long backed the Muslim Brotherhood and hosted Hamas leaders, is egging on Turkish Islamists. 

In addition to Hezbollah and the Houthis, who bombard Israel in an attempt to divert the IDF’s attention from Gaza, Iranian proxies have attacked American forces stationed in Iraq and Syria at least 66 times since mid-October. An American strike killed several Iraqi militia members on Tuesday, the fourth such response that some Pentagon officials criticize as inadequate.  

After President Biden’s famous “don’t” warning to anyone trying to enter the war, the Department of Defense dispatched two air carrier groups to the region. On Monday, Secretary Austin extended the deployment of United States Ship Gerald Ford and its carrier group’s deployment in the Mediterranean. Last week the Pentagon announced the arrival in the region of a nuclear guided-missile submarine, the United State Ship Florida.

The eastern Mediterranean is becoming crowded with American naval assets whose entire purpose is to deter would-be Hamas supporters from escalating the war. Judging by the events of 2010, a Turkish-led flotilla near Gaza’s shore could trigger the kind of complications that these Navy vessels were sent to avert. 

Following the Mavi Marmara incident, Turkey severed diplomatic ties with Israel and demanded international prosecution against members of Shayetet 13, the Israeli equivalent of the Navy SEALs, who engaged in battle against the ship’s passengers who were armed with knives, hammers, and at least one pistol. Turkey accused the IDF of enforcing an illegal blockade and wrongly attacking a humanitarian mission. 

Following Ankara’s demand, the United Nations issued a report in 2011 that, much to Turkey’s chagrin, justified Israel’s blockade of Gaza and said that the flotilla “acted recklessly in attempting to breach” it. Its IHH organizers “needlessly carried the potential for escalation,” it added. 

Five years later, Prime Minister Netanyahu issued an apology and paid Turkey $20 million as part of an agreement to renew diplomatic ties between the countries. Mr. Erdogan, nevertheless, declined an Israeli demand to close Hamas offices at Istanbul as part of the deal. 

Israel may rue its Turkish detente. Mr. Erdogan “calls Israel a terror state, but in his actions he supports the terror state of Hamas,” Mr. Netanyahu said in a statement last week. “He himself shelled Turkish villages within the borders of Turkey. We will not accept his preaching.”

On Monday, IDF troops in northern Gaza destroyed a monument Hamas had erected there to honor the Mavi Marmara, even as Turkey is preparing a repeat of the deadly 2010 stunt. While Mr. Erdogan’s anti-Israel rhetoric may lack real bite, “he is playing with fire” by allowing his followers to set sail to Gaza, Mr. Ciddi says. 

Mr. Biden is yet to publicly call on Mr. Erdogan to reverse course, or to warn would-be flotilla participants to stay home. Would the ships he deployed to the Mediterranean act to prevent a potentially new Mideast war front? 

The New York Sun

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