Gordon Smith (8 Sep 2011)

Turkey trying to abduct Israeli soldiers?

The detention of Israeli travelers at Ataturk Airport in Istanbul on Monday may have had a more sinister purpose than simple Turkish harassment of their new favorite enemies.

According to several of the detained passengers, Turkish authorities may have been searching for active Israeli special forces soldiers in order to arrest and put them on trial for "war crimes."

"The Turks took all the young [Israeli] men aside and asked them where they served in the army, if they served in the naval commandos," one Israeli passenger told Israel's Yediot Ahronot newspaper.

"The feeling we got was that they [the Turks] were searching for combat soldiers connected to the Marmara raid."

Nine Turkish nationals were killed after attacking Israeli commandos who boarded the Mavi Marmara, a Turkish-flagged ship leading a five-ship flotilla that tried to break Israel's maritime blockade of Hamas-ruled Gaza in May 2010.

Turkey insists the raid was an act of piracy and that Israel must apologize and compensate the families of the deceased. After the UN last week confirmed that Israel's enforcement of the Gaza maritime blockade was legal, Turkey threatened to retaliate by prosecuting individual Israeli commandos at the International Criminal Court in The Hague.

Though arresting Israeli soldiers at the airport in such fashion could amount to criminal abduction.

Israeli officials said they were not surprised by the Turks' unkind treatment of the Israeli travelers, some of whom said they were made to strip down to their underwear in humiliating interrogation sessions.

"The Turks are trying to forcefully lead us into an open confrontation," an Israeli diplomatic source told the Ynet news portal. Another official added, "We were not surprised by what happened there. After all, the Turks promised to harass us, and this is one way of doing it."

Nor does the Israeli government expect the harassment to subside, and has even cautioned that it may have to issue a travel warning for Israelis planning to visit or transit in Turkey.

At first, the Turkish Foreign Ministry insisted it had given no official order for airport security to detain Israeli travelers. But later Turkish officials acknowledged that the new harsh treatment of Israelis at Turkish airports had been ordered at the highest levels, and would become permanent policy.

"The new criteria has been decided by the Turkish Foreign Ministry," Ataturk Airport chief Ahmet Aydin told reporters in Istanbul.

Aydin tried to turn the tables claiming that the harsh treatment of Israeli travelers entering Turkey was no different than the treatment of Turkish travelers entering Israel.

"If Israel asks our citizens the nature of their visit, we will ask Israeli citizens the same thing."

Israeli commentators pointed out the obvious: that travelers entering any country in the world are asked the nature of their visit by passport control agents, but confiscating passports and detaining travelers based on nationality alone is another matter entirely.