US pressures Israel to apologize to Turkey

Sunday, July 31, 2011 |  Ryan Jones  

Following meetings with American officials in Washington last week, Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak said that Israel should consider apologizing to Turkey over the deaths of nine Turkish nationals in last year's interception of a Gaza blockade-busting flotilla.

Barak had previously been opposed to Turkey's demand that Israel apologize for boarding and commandeering the Mavi Marmara and the five other vessels sailing with it in an attempt to break Israel's maritime blockade of Gaza in May 2010.

Israeli commandoes took control of the other five ships with no violence or loss of life. But on the Mavi Marmara, the Israelis were violently attacked by Turkish Islamists, resulting in a brief firefight that left nine of the activists dead.

Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan called the operation an act of piracy, and has since refused to resume normal diplomatic relations with Israel until the latter issues a public apology and pays compensation to the families of the deceased.

Israeli officials have balked at Erdogan's demands, and insisted that it is Turkey that owes Israel an apology for backing the flotilla, which was sailing in support of Hamas, and allowing it to embark from a Turkish port.

While Israel suffered international criticism for the violence used in subduing the crew of the Mavi Marmara, the UN and other experts have acknowledged that Israel's maritime blockade of Gaza is legal and legitimate. Israel fears that by apologizing for the raid it would be suggesting otherwise.

That is why Barak and other Israeli officials are now saying that Israel should apologize for the regrettable deaths that resulted from the raid, but not for intercepting the flotilla. That is the formula reportedly put forward by the Obama Administration, which is keen to get Israel and Turkey back to friendly relations with the rest of the Middle East in such turmoil.

But Israeli observers note that, like Israel's other Islamic opponents, Erdogan is unlikely to accept anything short of full compliance with his demands. Especially now that Washington has demonstrated that its solution is to pressure Israel to accept Turkey's position, rather than the other way around.

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