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As the United Nations vote on Palestinian statehood approaches, Israel has been forced to face security and diplomatic crises that challenge the peace and stability of the entire Middle East, as well as undermine the carefully wrought network of alliances that has kept the Jewish state from becoming diplomatically isolated for decades.
From souring relations with its once strong ally Turkey, to new dangers emerging in Egypt, to the growing threat from Iran, and the tide of Islamization sweeping across the Arab world, Israel is increasingly finding itself nearly alone, and threatened with instability along its borders, and the entire region.
It is surprising how quickly Israel’s relations with Turkey have gone south. They had been slowly deteriorating since Prime Minister Erdogan’s Islamist party took over the government in 2003. But the Mavi Marmara incident last year, where Turkish radicals tried to run the Gaza blockade by sea and 9 activists were killed, has accelerated the decline dramatically. A UN report released last week blamed Israel for actions that were “excessive and unreasonable,” while also blaming Turkey and organizers of the blockade runners for the deaths. The report also called the blockade “legitimate,” while criticizing Ankara for not warning activists of the consequences of trying to run the blockade.
On the heels of the report’s release, Prime Minister Erdogan demanded that Israel apologize. Prime Minister Netanyahu, while offering his regrets at the loss of life, refused, saying that Israel would never apologize for defending itself.
This was not good enough for Erdogan, who expelled the Israeli ambassador and cut military ties with the Jewish state. And in an interview with Al Jazeera television, Erdogan stated that the Gaza flotilla raid was “a cause for war” and that future Gaza-bound aid ships would be accompanied by Turkish war ships. He has since walked back from that last statement, saying that Turkey would not deploy its ships as long as Israel did not intercept the aid vessels in international waters. But the threat is there, and a clash between the Israeli and Turkish navies is a possibility if Erdogan carries through on his threat.
Erdogan’s government has now completely turned away from the West and is facing toward Iran and the Middle East. Some observers believe Erdogan wishes to supplant President Ahmadinejad of Iran as the number one champion of the Palestinians in the region. To that end, Erdogan has embarked on a tour of Arab nations, including Egypt, where he arrived to cheering throngs who chanted “Egypt-Turkey: one fist” and “brave Erdogan welcome to your second home.” His goal is to isolate Israel even further by developing a strategic partnership with Egypt, Tunisia, and other Arab countries. Given his anti-Israeli stance, he has become very popular on the Arab street and especially in Egypt, where the Israeli embassy was overrun by a mob of protesters over the weekend, forcing a harrowing evacuation of embassy personnel, including the ambassador.
The attack on the embassy was the second in less than a month. The first incident occurred following a terrorist attack in Israel that killed seven civilians and two soldiers. The attackers infiltrated into Israel from the Egyptian side of the Sinai border crossing, and in hot pursuit of the terrorists – who were reportedly dressed in Egyptian police uniforms – three members of Egyptian security were accidentally killed by the IDF. The incident resulted in a crowd of several thousand besieging the Israeli embassy, with one man ascending to the roof of the building and tearing down the Israeli flag and replacing it with the Egyptian standard, while police and military members stood by and watched.
The second incident occurred on Friday, when thousands of Egyptians broke through the wall surrounding the embassy, trapping the ambassador and other personnel inside the building while the mob vandalized several rooms. Repeated calls to the Egyptian head of state, Field Marshal Tantawi, by US defense secretary Leon Panetta went for naught when the authorities claimed the field marshal couldn’t be found. Panetta wanted to urge the Egyptians to launch an immediate rescue operation, but Tantawi’s mysterious disappearance intensified speculation that Egypt’s generals had deliberately failed to protect the embassy for political gain.
Eventually, Egyptian commandos rescued the Israelis, but only after Panetta warned the Egyptian government of “serious consequences” if any Israelis were killed.
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