An Israeli military reservist predicted relations between Turkey and Israel will normalize despite tensions inflamed by May’s deadly confrontation aboard a Gaza-bound ship.
“Turkey needs Israel as much as Israel needs Turkey,” said Lt. Amit Shuker, a reservist in the Israeli Defense Forces who lectures widely in the United States on Israeli military and strategic affairs.
When Israeli commandos landed on one of six Turkish-registered ships attempting to break Israel’s blockade of Gaza May 31, they were met with knives and were struck with various objects; the Israelis said they fired in self-defense. Nine passengers aboard the ship were killed.
Turkey, whose relations with Israel began deteriorating after the Gaza war in the winter of 2008-09, recently shelved 16 bilateral agreements with Israel and closed its airspace to Israeli planes.
Shuker spoke June 22 at Temple Beth El of Somerset in a program cosponsored with United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism and Nefesh b’Nefesh, which encourages North American immigration to Israel.
As the only democracy and Westernized Muslim country in the Middle East, Turkey has a long history of cooperation with Israel on strategic and technology issues, said Shuker.
As an example of the historical cooperation, he said, 11 years ago the Israeli Mossad captured Kurdish leader Abdullah Ocalan in Kenya at the request of Turkish leaders. Wanted in Turkey for murdering thousands, Ocalan is now serving a life sentence there.
In recent moves, Turkey is “playing a political game,” Shuker said. As proof he cited an incident from several months ago, when Egypt forcibly prevented another Turkish convoy from breaking its blockade of Gaza. Dozens of Turks were injured, but the incident got little press and no public outcry from Turkey.
In a talk that covered a wide range of security issues for Israel — including Iran and terrorist organizations such as Hamas and Islamic Jihad — Shuker relied on some of his own military experiences serving in the IDF, particularly during the withdrawal from southern Lebanon and during the second Intifada, including in Gaza.
The decision to have Israeli Navy Seals storm the six vessels in May was made because “Israel has to be aggressive all the time” in defending itself from hostile neighbors, Shuker said, and to ensure battles and conflicts are fought on enemy turf rather than in Israel.
According to Shuker, Israel was within its rights under international law to board the vessels, which were supposed to be taking humanitarian aid to Gaza.
However, although the Israelis knew they might be met with some resistance while boarding one ship, they were surprised when they were met by the large group armed with sticks and knives, said Shuker.
Calling Israel’s Navy Seals “maybe the top of the top of soldiers in the world,” Shuker said that had they known just what they would be facing, more troops would have been sent aboard.
“If you have two or three people on you, you can handle that,” he added. “But, 20, there is nothing you can do. There was nothing in the intelligence about knives and sticks. If we knew this, we would have gone in a different mode.”
In light of the fourth anniversary, just days later, of the Hamas kidnapping of Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit, Shuker explained that it has become IDF policy to do everything in its power to prevent a soldier from being taken captive — even sacrificing his life.