The main impetus for this is the fact that around the same time that Israeli commandos were sliding down their ropes onto the deck of the Mavi Marmara, the Turkish cruise ship turned naval embargo buster, PKK guerillas attacked a naval base on the southern Turkish coast, killing six sailors. The implication is that Israel was using the PKK attack as a kind of virtual smoke screen against the Turkish-led flotilla and sending out a warning shot to Turkey to not push things too far.
Turkish officials have certainly been hinting at that being the case. “We do not think the two attacks are a coincidence,” Huseyin Celik, deputy chairman of the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP), said. Turkey's interior minister, Besir Atalay, also expressed his concern that the two events were somehow connected and said any links will be investigated. In an article in Sunday's edition, Today's Zaman runs a fairly long piece entitled, "Suspicion growing about possible link between PKK and Israel," quoting a host of analysts who make some fairly inflammatory accusations (Israeli agents training PKK terrorists in how to "penetrate" cities and that captured PKK guerillas have confessed that they were trained by Israel, for example) without offering much evidence.
In a column in the same paper, Andrew Finkel -- one of the few voices of caution in the overheated Turkish media -- sees the attempt to link Israel with the PKK as part of a worrying trend. From his column:
....It is this sense of events slipping out of control which is among the most worrying aspects of Turkey’s current standoff with Israel. As if the nation did not have enough issues to deal with, it has now taken on responsibility for the Middle East. If the government appears to be taking a hard line on Israel, public opinion is shouting that it should take a harder line still. A recent public opinion survey undertaken by the MetroPOLL organization reports that 60 percent of the population believe the government has under-reacted to events. If pressure continues to build then Turkey will continue to back into uncharted waters.Full piece here.
There must be suspicion among the cynical few that the government is not displeased with the current crisis with Israel. Its total command of the headlines and the uniformity of the popular outrage has usefully overshadowed debates over constitutional reform, unemployment and the resurgence of the PKK. However, such cynicism would be misplaced; a more realistic view is that the government is genuinely concerned that those of its citizens trying to run the blockade in Gaza are now wagging the dog of Turkish foreign policy. One can only assume there is debate among the highest echelons between those who believe that the last week has served to redefine Turkey’s new soft power in a positive way and those who worry this exercise is getting out of hand; the contrast between a Turkey which enjoys more prestige and one which risks dismantling its carefully nurtured image of an ambassador between different regions. Distaste for the policies of the Netanyahu government aside, a Turkey able to speak to Israel presents a very different picture to the world than a Turkey which might adopt the anti-Zionist discourse of the Middle East.
Making a link between Israel and the PKK/Kurds is not a new trope in Turkey. It was raised a few years ago during the American war in Iraq, when Turks were particularly worried about how the war might empower the Iraqi Kurds and the PKK and threaten Turkey. At the time, the rumors didn't only involve suggestions that Israel was training Kurdish peshmergas and helping the PKK, but also included the mother of all rumors -- that Iraqi Kurdish leader Massoud Barzani is in fact Jewish (there was a line of rabbis in Kurdistan, which until recent decades had a large and thriving Jewish community, named Barzani). His being "Jewish," of course, would explain everything very neatly. Follow this link to an article I wrote at the time about this particular "who's a Jew" campaign.
A full-scale diplomatic war is clearly going on between Israel and Turkey right now. But there are clearly also efforts being made to drive a further wedge between the two countries, something both sides should be very vigilant about.