The "Turkish flotilla effect" continues to plague Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, leading him into one misstep after another with the result that he arrives in Washington on July 6 for talks with President Barack Obama with a divided government.
debkafile's Jerusalem sources report that Thursday, July 1 finds Netanyahu scrambling to stabilize his cabinet lineup and recover from the fallout of his disastrous decision to let infrastructure minister Binyamin Ben-Eliezer meet Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmed Davutoglu for supposedly secret talks in Brussels to try and narrow the widening rift between Ankara and Jerusalem.
It was leaked that same day, causing a huge uproar in Jerusalem – both because the initiative which failed was seen to be a crass error at a time that the Turkish prime minister Recep Erdogan's anti-Israel campaign was in full flight, and because the prime minister neglected to update foreign minister Avigdor Lieberman of the event.
Lieberman, who heads the right-wing Israel Beitenu, publicly accused Netanyahu of breach of trust. All day Thursday, he refused to answer the prime minister's phone calls. The result: total disconnect between the head of government and his foreign minister less than a week before the Israeli prime minister meets the US president.
Another key member of the Netanyahu cabinet, defense minister Ehud Barak, leader of the Labor party, is suspected by broad political circles of engineering the Israeli minister's rendezvous with Davutoglu – not just for a reckless bid to melt the Turkish wall of hostility, but to edge the foreign minister and his party out of the government coalition.
He has denied this charge – according to debkafile's sources, to avoid being associated with a second fiasco after the fumbled Israeli commando raid of the Turkish Mavi Marmara ship heading for Gaza on May 31.
The defense minister understands that his complicity in the Brussels encounter could weigh against him when he testifies before the public inquiry commission Israel established to find out how the flotilla incident came to end with nine Turkish activists dead and six Israeli soldiers injured.
Its findings could damage Barak's career irretrievably.
The panel, headed by ex-justice Jacob Turkel with two foreign observers, is to be given a broader mandate and real teeth.
Instead of preparing calmly for a hardheaded discussion with the US president on a long list of tough issues, Netanyahu must now concentrate all his efforts on hauling his government coalition out of a morass. It is hard to see him managing this uphill job in the four days left before he boards a flight to Washington. He will therefore arrive at the White House with his government in disarray and his personal standing uncertain.
In Ankara, debkafile reports, the Turkish prime minister is gleefully capitalizing on Netanyahu's embarrassment to pour salt in his wounds. He has issued "a clarification" of his comment on June 20, when he said, "Everyone knows who is behind the (Kurdish rebel) PKK's terror attacks."
This comment was taken as a heavy hint referring to Israeli intelligence.
However, ten days later, on Wednesday, June 30, the Turkish prime minister "clarified" this comment by explaining he had been referring to a group of right-wing Turkish military officers and politicians, known as Ergenekon, who are facing trial for attempting to overthrow the government by means of armed and terrorist attacks.
On the face of it, the Turkish prime minister backtracked on his aspersions of Israeli involvement in PKK attacks – or so it sounded to some Western circles. However, seasoned Turkey watchers point out that the prime minister's aides have for months been spreading rumors that Israel's Mossad intelligence agency was behind Ergenekon, fed the anti-government generals intelligence and supplied them with weapons for their planned coup.
In other words, Erdogan has stepped up his smear campaign against Israel from vague insinuations of its complicity in Kurdish terrorism to snide allegations of Jerusalem's involvement in a subversive conspiracy to overthrow the Muslim-led government in Ankara.