July 28, 2014 | Policy Brief

Turkey’s Flotilla Charity Seeks Renewed Confrontation with Israel

The Humanitarian Relief Foundation (IHH), the Turkish charity that organized the ill-fated flotilla to the Gaza Strip in 2010, appears to be preparing for round two – this time with the help of the Turkish naval forces. Several news outlets report that the Islamist charity is waiting for the necessary permits from the Turkish government for “Freedom Flotilla II,” a convoy that organizers say will carry humanitarian aid to war-torn Gaza. 

The IHH, which has close ties to the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) and Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, is designated as a terrorist organization in Israel. The group has been linked to the Turkish Muslim Brotherhood network, al-Qaeda, and Hamas. It has also been raided recently in several operations targeting al Qaeda in Turkey.

Since 2010, when the IHH’s first flotilla led to clashes with Israeli commandos and the death of 10 Turkish citizens, the charity has continuously touted its role in the infamous affair through its marketing materials and other messaging. The charity’s president, Bulent Yildirim, now seeks to up the ante. He stated that the IHH intends to have the Turkish military accompany the aid convoy for protection against any potential Israeli response. 

The move, while provocative, is not surprising. The IHH has been organizing several anti-Israeli protests in Turkey since the conflict between Israel and Hamas erupted earlier this month. “With God’s permit, the necessary responses will shortly be delivered to the Zionists,” Yildirim told hundreds of angry demonstrators in front of the Israeli consulate in Istanbul on July 20. “One night, out of nowhere, we Muslims can come to Tel Aviv, to Jerusalem. We will continue to wave the flag of Islam everywhere,” he said. 

The IHH also launched a new campaign last week to recruit volunteer human shields for Gaza. One IHH official said that recruitment would be taking place in several cities in Turkey and is intended to expand to countries worldwide. “This is an effort to promote the idea that if the Egyptian border is forced to open and if people go to Gaza to become human shields, that perhaps then we could overcome this massacre,” the official said. Turkish reports indicate that as of last week, 73 Turks, including 38 women, had already registered. 

It remains to be seen if the IHH will go through with the second flotilla. Israeli officials are not convinced. It’s even more doubtful that Turkish armed forces will be involved. Nevertheless, these efforts indicate that the organization is straying further from the realm of the charitable and further into the realm of incitement. Troublingly, the charity appears to be advocating for open conflict between Turkey and Israel, which can now only be described as a former ally. 

Merve Tahiroglu is a research associate at Foundation for Defense of Democracies, focusing on Turkey. Find her on Twitter @MerveTahiroglu


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