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ARAB WORLD: Israel is scorned over deadly flotilla raid in regional media while Turkey is praised

June 1, 2010 | 10:41 am


Outrage and condemnation over Israel's deadly raid on a flotilla carrying humanitarian aid to the Gaza Strip  continue to be heard around the world.

In the Arab media, the Jewish state's storming of the flotilla, which was attemptung to break the Israeli-imposed blockade, has been denounced as high-seas piracy and a violation of international law that should be met with a harsh response from the international community. Although Israel has been branded widely as a crook and a pariah, Turkey on the other hand is being praised for its strong reaction to the incident, leading some Arab media commentators to suggest that Turkey has emerged as the "champion of the Palestinian cause."

An editorial published in the UAE-based Gulf News echoed Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan's denouncement of the flotilla raid as an act of state terrorism.

"It should be made clear that Israel's attack on the Freedom Flotilla is unacceptable. At least 19 people were killed and dozens injured when Israeli troops intercepted the Freedom Flotilla in international waters.In a flagrant act of state-sponsored terrorism and piracy, Israeli forces seized control of the ships and detained their crews and passengers," it said. (The Israeli military has said the number of those killed is nine.)

 In Saudi Arabia, the Jeddah-based newspaper Arab News published an unsigned editorial titled "Terror at Dawn" taunting Israel's storming of the ship convoy as an act of piracy that should carry dire consequences for the Jewish state.

"Israel has once again shown its true colors to the world with its murderous piracy in international waters ... which demands the highest penalty for those who planned and carried it out. This was Israel once again at its most violent and unacceptable worst with vicious behavior that demands utter condemnation as well as real sanctions from the international community," read the commentary.

That the attack on the Freedom Flotilla came amid an alleged series of recent Israeli mishaps only makes things worse for Israel, writes Christian Merville in the Lebanese French newspaper L'Orient Le Jour.

The toll may be even higher for Israel, "especially after a failed war against Hezbollah in July-August 2006 and, in recent months, a series of missteps: the Dubai assassination of Hamas leader, a crisis with Washington because of the insistence on expanding settlements, the Goldstone report on war crimes in Gaza in December 2008 and January 2009, nuclear issues, etc.," wrote Merville. Meanwhile, an opinion piece published in the Lebanese newspaper the Daily Star said the "tragic logic" behind the raid on the aid convoy and the violence used by Israeli troops against the activists should ring warning bells for neighboring Lebanon.

"The utterly inappropriate use of overwhelming force calls to mind the cliché that problems look like nails to a man who has a hammer. However, there are many political actors with hammers, and not all of them see all external challenges as nails. ... Israel’s leaders often look north and see only nails," read the commentary, titled "Israel's Logic of the Hammer". 

Aside from stark condemnation of Israel, Turkey was hailed for its tough stance against Israel. Tens of thousands of angry protesters descended on the Israeli consulate in Istanbul in the early morning hours of May 31, when news broke of the raid. The Turkish ambassador to Israel was subsequently withdrawn, and Prime Minister Erdogan used strong language in his condemnations of the raid.

So Turkish flags were waved along with Palestinian flags at protests over the flotilla attacks on the streets of Arab capitals Monday, and Turkey's stand against Israel was hailed in some media commentaries. Reports on the micro-blogging service Twitter said demonstrators in Cairo shouted praise for Turkey and celebrated  Erdogan as a hero at a rally Monday night. An MP from Lebanese Hezbollah, Nawar Sahili, told Lebanese TV station Al-Jadeed that Turkey's stand was "more honorable than the attitude of most Arab regimes."

Some Arab commentators suggested Monday's raid of the flotilla marked a historic turning point in Turkish-Israeli relations and symbolized the day when Israel let down an important regional partner.

"When analysts and historians look back at the unraveling of the Israeli-Turkish relationship, it won’t be difficult to map its downward trajectory. Yesterday’s killing of at least 10 activists aboard the flotilla heading to the Gaza Strip, which included many Turkish citizens, will have a special place in that story, standing as the moment when Israel sacrificed its strategic ties with the rising power of the Middle East," wrote Emile Hokayem, the political editor of the Abu Dhabi-based the National newspaper, in the editorial "Turkey Has Become the True Champion of Palestine."

He continued:

In the coming days, Turkey will no doubt lead the diplomatic charge to condemn Israel at the United Nations... and with its European partners, who cannot dismiss a large, powerful state at their door. Turkey is in a position to rally the kind of support among middle powers and the non-aligned movement that no Arab state can muster.

On Tuesday, Erdogan blasted once again Israel's raid of the aid convoy, referring to the operation before Turkish lawmakers as "a bloody massacre" and an attack on "international law, the conscience of humanity and world peace" that "deserves every kind of curse."

-- Alexandra Sandels in Beirut

Photos, from top: Israeli commandos board one of the ships in the flotilla headed to Gaza in its pre-dawn raid on the convoy May 31, 2010. Credit: Associated Press.  A Palestinian fighter holding a Turkish and a Palestinian flag jumps over burning tires at a protest in the Ain el-Helwe refugee camp in Lebanon over Israel's deadly raid. Credit: Agence France Presse / Getty Images