- The Washington Times - Friday, August 12, 2011

Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan, once considered a friend to Israel, has had the audacity to demand that Israel apologize for last year’s incident involving the Gaza-bound ship Mavi Marmara. In fact, the Turkish government owes Israel an apology for this attack, along with other recent actions that have threatened the lives of Israeli citizens.

First, Turkey should apologize for encouraging the sending, under false pretenses, of anti-Israel activists into the country’s sovereign territory. These supposedly peaceful activists, who were in fact carrying a cache of illegal weapons, attacked Israeli soldiers without provocation. Furthermore, Turkey has been using the flotilla as an opportunity to establish itself as a superpower within the Muslim world. The Turkish government also should apologize for turning the flotilla incident into a platform intended to present Israel as aggressive and barbaric.

Most of all, Mr. Erdogan should apologize for continuing to support the flotilla and maintain connections with Hamas and other Islamic extremist groups. Hamas has called repeatedly for the destruction of the state of Israel, and the naval blockade was set up specifically to prevent the smuggling of arms into Gaza that could jeopardize Israel’s safety. The flotilla activists seek to circumvent this blockade with the intention of providing weapons to Hamas. Israel has a legal right to defend its borders and will continue to do whatever is necessary to ensure the well-being of its people.

Relations between Israel and Turkey were not always this bad. Less than four years ago, the two countries enjoyed a mutually beneficial diplomatic partnership based on economic, military and cultural agreements. Turkey was a popular vacation destination for Israelis, with more than a quarter-million people traveling to the country annually. In fact, things were going so well that in 2008, Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert met with Mr. Erdogan to discuss indirect talks Turkey was mediating between Israel and Syria.

However, Turkey’s current attitude toward Israel should not come as a surprise to those familiar with the Middle East. Since Mr. Erdogan took office, his political agenda has become increasingly clear. His goal has been to flex his country’s muscles and prove its ability to lead the Muslim world. Unfortunately, this has been done at Israel’s expense. As a result, he is positioning Turkey’s relationship with Israel on shaky ground.

The origins of Turkey’s current problems with Israel can be traced back to 2004, when Turkey was rejected for membership in the European Union. Mr. Erdogan warned of a rise in Islamic extremism as a result, stating that if Turkey was not welcomed into the EU, the country would pay a heavy price in continued and escalating violence from the increasingly dangerous terrorist group al Qaeda. When European leaders did not take this threat seriously, the Turkish prime minister sought solace in the arms of the most radical anti-Western, anti-Zionist leader of all, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. Mr. Erdogan and Mr. Ahmadinejad have since grown close, as their regimes have found common ground when it comes to their foreign policies toward Israel. This relationship has proved to be a dangerous one for the entire region.

I would argue that Turkey, which once was a diplomatic ally, has become an epicenter of controversy and a foe to Israel. What else would you call a country that publicly gives consent - if not outright support - to a falsely proclaimed “peaceful” flotilla that illegally enters the borders of another country and engages in violence?

By choosing to ally itself with dictatorial regimes throughout the Middle East, including Syria and Iran, the Turkish government is clearly thumbing its nose at the United States and its core democratic and social values. Moreover, Turkey is indirectly endangering the security of Americans by supporting the flotilla and aligning itself with Hamas, which has been shown to have direct ties to al Qaeda.

Turkey’s continued involvement in organizing the activists is a further attempt to delegitimatize Israel and exacerbate the Israeli-Palestinian problem. It is time for the flotilla’s supporters to recognize this deceit and call for an end to its hypocritical campaign against Israel, the only true democracy in the Middle East. To help achieve this goal, the United States and other allies should start by leading the call for Turkey to apologize to Israel for its repeated insults and provocations.

Danny Danon is deputy speaker of the Israeli Knesset and chairman of World Likud.