Turkey’s role in the Gaza conflict

Israeli sources say it appears likely that the demonstrators who used knives. clubs and other weapons to attack IDF soldiers aboard the Turkish ship Mavi Marmara are themselves Turkish nationals, and belong to an Islamist group connected with global jihadi networks. In fact, around 400 of the 700 people who sailed in the 6-vessel convoy were Turks. A recent TIP release notes that

The IHH (Insani Yardim Vakfi – “humanitarian relief fund”)…has provided financial support to Iran-backed Hamas and has ties to global jihadi networks and the Muslim Brotherhood – a global umbrella Islamic organization of which Hamas is a branch – as well as mujahideen groups in Afghanistan.

In 2006, a study conducted by the Danish Institute for International Studies showed that the IHH was involved in planning an al-Qaeda attack against Los Angeles International Airport in 1999. IHH reportedly acquired forged documents, enlisted operatives and delivered weapons to al-Qaeda in preparation for the attack, which was ultimately foiled.[6]

The Danish study also cites a French intelligence report which stated that in the mid-1990s the IHH sent a number of operatives into war zones in Muslim countries to get combat experience. The report said that IHH transferred money and “caches of firearms, knives and pre-fabricated explosives” to Muslim fighters in those countries.[7]

Israeli officials have expressed concern that Islamist groups that endanger Israeli national security now have considerable influence within the Free Gaza movement, the group that organized the flotilla. According to the group’s own mission statement, “We agree to adhere to the principles of nonviolence and nonviolent resistance in word and deed at all times.”[8]

6] “IHH, which plays a central role in organizing the flotilla to the Gaza Strip, is a Turkish humanitarian relief fund with a radical Islamic anti-Western orientation,” Intelligence and Terrorism Information Center, May 26, 2010, http://www.terrorism-info.org.il/malam_multimedia/English/eng_n/html/hamas_e105.htm

[7] “IHH, which plays a central role in organizing the flotilla to the Gaza Strip, is a Turkish humanitarian relief fund with a radical Islamic anti-Western orientation,” Intelligence and Terrorism Information Center, May 26, 2010, http://www.terrorism-info.org.il/malam_multimedia/English/eng_n/html/hamas_e105.htm

[8] “Our Mission,” Free Gaza Movement Web site, Jan. 30, 2009, http://www.freegaza.org/en/about-us/mission

[9] Wilson, Scott, “Israel says Free Gaza Movement poses threat to Jewish state,” The Washington Post, June 1, 2010, http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2010/05/31/AR2010053103445.html

The release goes on to stress the links that are believed to exist between the IHH and Turkey’s ruling party, the AKP, observing that in recent years the Turkish government has moved away from cooperation with Israel and has adopted a less friendly stance on several issues, including a conciliatory approach to Iran on the question of sanctions and the Iranian nuclear program.

While in themselves the actions and statements of a self-styled humanitarian organization might not be thought to present a significant challenge to the security of other states, including Israel, the IHH group’s connections both with militant Islamists and with the Turkish government party do give considerable cause for concern. In particular, the news that the Turkish Navy is reported to be considering sending a naval escort for the next two boats carrying pro-Palestinian demonstrators presents the possibility that such an action could spark a major conflict between Turkey and Israel. That the Mavi Marmara incident was a deliberate provocation there seems little doubt – hopefully it did not mark the first stage in a planned series of escalations. Western peace activists who have joined the convoys need to be careful that their activities do not end in starting a regional war.

Update (4.25pm): Turkey’s foreign minister Ahmet Davutogu has said in Ankara that “it’s time calm replaces anger”.

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