In itself, the Israeli military’s raid on the “Free Gaza” aid flotilla was proof, as the astute thinker Forrest Gump put it, that “Stupid is as stupid does.”  The flotilla was sponsored by a mishmash of Western lefty peaceniks and Turkish-backed Islamist groups that were trying, to use historian Daniel Boorstin’s term, to produce a “pseudo-event”—an activity that exists for the sole purpose of gaining media coverage.

To put it in national-security terms, the flotilla did not pose any clear and present danger to Israeli security interests or to the lives of Israeli civilians.  It was more of a p.r. nuisance; even under the worst-case scenario, it would have created nothing more than an embarrassing media circus for the Israelis.

Trying to disrupt this mostly inconsequential “humanitarian” operation by launching a risky military operation did not make a lot of sense.  In fact, it helped transform a pseudo-event into a military disaster that left nine Turkish civilians dead and created a major diplomatic crisis for Israel at a time when her relationship with Turkey has been deteriorating, when ties with the Obama administration have been under pressure, and when Israel has yet to recover from the devastating international condemnation of her earlier offensive in Gaza.

Indeed, on all these and other diplomatic fronts the Israelis have suffered major losses and achieved nothing.  If anything, their deadly commando operation seemed to have played directly into the hands of the radical Islamists of Hamas who control the Gaza Strip and their many international allies in the Muslim world, as well as the Western intelligentsia, whose members include ardent feminists and homosexual-rights activists who do not seem to see the irony in providing support for radical Muslims who seek to hide women under veils and stone homosexuals to death.

From that perspective the Israeli decision to storm the Turkish ship was, to rephrase Talleyrand, worse than a crime; it was a blunder.

The pseudo-event that has taken the form of an international incident may yet prove to be one of those “defining moments” in history.  In the aftermath, Turkey announced that she was halting military cooperation with Israel and not sending back the ambassador she had already withdrawn from Tel Aviv, demonstrating that the strategic partnership between Turkey and Israel is coming to an end.  Moreover, the rupture in the relationship between these two Middle Eastern governments was taking place at a time when Ankara seemed to be trying to distance itself on the diplomatic front from Washington by placing obstacles in the way of American efforts to isolate Iran and force her to end her military nuclear program.

Some commentators have suggested that under the leadership of the Islamist Justice and Development Party (AKP) Turkey has been setting aside the secular and pro-Western orientation of Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, the founder of modern Turkey, and is transforming into a radical Islamist state.  Indeed, Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan and his aides have been pursuing a strategy known as Neo-Ottomanism, based on establishing closer ties with the Arab world and reasserting Turkey’s leadership in the Middle East.

According to this narrative, which seems to be an intellectual derivative of the “Clash of Civilizations,” Turkey is seeking to use her growing diplomatic and economic power to serve as the geostrategic core of a more integrated Muslim ummah that will be able to challenge the United States and the West.  In that context, leading an effort to promote the Palestinian cause and delegitimize the Jewish state could be seen as part of a consistent strategy to mobilize Arab and Muslim support.

But one could draw a more realpolitik narrative to explain recent Turkish policies.  The Turks have concluded that French and German opposition is making it less likely that they will be able to join the European Union anytime soon, and they have recognized that the mess the Americans have made in Iraq and the erosion of Egyptian leadership of the Arab world have helped create a strategic vacuum in the Middle East, which they are now trying to fill.

So the Turks may be hedging their bets by strengthening ties with Syria and other Arab countries, as well as with Iran, lessening their ties with Israel, and projecting a certain level of diplomatic independence vis-à-vis the United States and the European Union—while at the same time maintaining their traditional Western orientation, including their membership in NATO.  In a way, is it not conceivable that a secular nationalist Turkish leader à la Atatürk would have followed a similar strategy?

Whether Erdogan and his political allies are neo-Ottomans hoping to recreate the caliphate or just a bunch of Turkish Gaullists, the crisis over the aid flotilla has helped to dramatize the growing diplomatic isolation of the Jewish state in the Middle East and worldwide at a time when the United States, Israel’s leading global patron, seems to be losing her global influence.  This is all happening close to 100 years after the collapse of the Ottoman Empire and the onset of the British Empire’s influence in the Middle East, including its effort to establish a Jewish political entity in Palestine (in the Balfour Declaration).  Facing another example of the return to history, some Israelis are probably recalling that, before approaching the European governments, Theodore Herzl, the founder of the Zionist movement, had lobbied the Turkish sultan to grant some sort of autonomy to the Jews in Palestine.