The Turkish navy will not participate in upcoming joint drills staged by the United States and Israel in the Mediterranean, in a display of its disappointment with Israel after the country refused to comply with Turkey's demand for an apology and compensation for the Israeli raid on the aid ship Mavi Marmara in May 2010.
“Under the circumstances Turkey cannot be expected to join in the drills,” diplomatic sources told Today's Zaman on Thursday. For two years, Turkey has refrained from joining the drills, which aim to help the navies operating in the Mediterranean become acquainted with one another's methods and gain experience in collaborative research and rescue missions. The drill, called “Reliant Mermaid,” has been held under the joint efforts of Israel, the US and Turkey for ten consecutive years, but faced disruption when Turkey refused to participate in 2010 after Israeli commandoes raided the Mavi Marmara to keep it from crossing the Israeli blockade as it attempted to bring humanitarian aid to Gaza.
Reliant Mermaid is not the first instance of drill crises between the countries: In October 2009 Turkey refused to host members of the Israeli army in Turkey as guests participating in the Anatolian Eagle drill, as a display of disapproval of the massacre Israel carried out in Gaza. Turkey scrapped the international stage of that drill, which was scheduled to include the United States and NATO, in order to block Israeli participation. Turkish officials claimed the drill was only being postponed, but Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu linked the cancellation to the Gaza incident by saying “Turkey-Israeli relations will also benefit from a new atmosphere when the situation in Gaza improves.”
Turkey’s stance against Israel grew more negative again last year after the raid that took the lives of eight Turkish and one Turkish-American peace activists aboard the Mavi Marmara, and relations soured further when Israeli officials failed to issue an apology and admit culpability for the deaths, and defended the killings by saying they were in self-defense. The two countries are currently awaiting a report from the United Nations to settle the debate on the raid, the results of which Turkey thinks will be in its favor and define the killings as homicides. The report has been delayed for months to allow Israel to strike a deal with Turkey, but Israel has taken no public action to ameliorate the situation so far.
In spite of the diplomatic tension between the countries, Israel and Turkey have maintained their contracts for military equipment, including tanks and planes. The military purchases have helped Turkey in its fight against the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) but ties between the countries on the diplomatic end deteriorated since Israel hardened its push on the Gazans by way of a blockade that damages the Gaza Strip’s economy and endangers civilian lives. Turkey, along with the UN, called on Israel to lift the blockade since it defied international law and human rights, but Israel has not changed its stance on the issue despite the tension.
Israel had shown signs of warming up for an apology when its Defense Minister Ehud Barak suggested it might be in Israel’s best interest to come to an agreement with Turkey to dodge the UN report on the raid, but his words fell on deaf ears as many other prominent figures in the Israeli government remained against the prospect of concessions and admitting responsibility for the raid. Israel defends its military intervention on the high seas as part of precautionary actions to prevent arms from reaching Hamas in Gaza as Hamas displays a hostile attitude toward Israel. The UN report is expected to come out in August if it does not face further delays or Israel and Turkey come to an agreement over reconciling on the issue.