Israeli apology to Turkey creates firestorm at home

Sunday, March 24, 2013 |  Israel Today Staff

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Friday phoned his Turkish counterpart, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, to apologize over the deaths of nine Turkish nationals resulting from Israel's interception of a Turkish-led flotilla attempting to break the maritime blockade of Gaza three years ago. Many Israelis, including the soldiers involved in the raid, were not pleased.

The battle that erupted aboard the lead ship, the Mavi Marmara, when Israeli commandos boarded it in May 2010 had led to a severe chilling of relations between Israel and Turkey.

For the past few years, Erdogan has led and international campaign against Israel, labeling the Jewish state as pirates and terrorists, and demanding an apology and compensation.

Israel initially rejected calls to apologize, noting that the blockade was legally enforceable under international law, and that the deaths aboard the Mavi Marmara only occurred because its passengers resorted to armed violence, including the brief abduction of at least one Israeli soldier.

But US President Barack Obama's visit last week seems to have softened Jerusalem's position. It is being reported that Obama was behind Netanyahu's call to Erdogan on Friday, during which the Israeli leader apologized to the Turkish people "for any operational errors that could have led to loss of life."

Netanyahu notably did not apologize for intercepting the flotilla, but did agree to compensation for some of the families of the deceased.

Erdogan reportedly accepted the apology, and Turkish officials immediately began speaking of a full renewal of the warm ties that for decades had made Turkey Israel's best friend in the region.

"Deep rooted, strong and historic friendship between the two peoples brought the apology and opened the door for Turkey and Israel to move forward," Turkish Ambassador to the US Namik Tan wrote on his Twitter account. "As we always said, only true friends apologize to each other."

Many of Netanyahu's more left-leaning coalition partners were also pleased by the move, noting the tremendous strategic importance of Israeli-Turkish relations. But others, like former (and future) Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman said all Netanyahu had done was make Israel look weak in a region where looking weak is an invitation for violence.

"Israel's a serious mistake," said Lieberman in a statement released over the weekend. "Such an apology harms the motivation of soldiers and their willingness to go out on missions in the future and bolsters the radical elements in the region."

In interviews with Israel's Hebrew media, a number of the naval commandos who took part in the raid voiced similar concerns.

"I don’t feel we did anything wrong. We did the right thing, I’m not ashamed of it, and we have nothing to apologize for," a commando identified only as "N" for security purposes told Ma'ariv.

Another told Yediot Ahronot, "We fought aboard the [Mavi] Marmara in terrible conditions, and with this reconciliation agreement it seems that we’ve been given a cold shoulder."

It should be noted that Erdogan had already gone on the offensive against Israel prior to the flotilla incident, and many Israelis saw his harping on the Mavi Marmara deaths as nothing more than an excuse to heighten tensions.

In November 2009, Erdogan visited Sudan, where he insisted the mass killings in Darfur were a myth because "a Muslim can never commit genocide." By contrast, he clearly labeled Israel's Jews as genocidal for their purported "war crimes" in Gaza.

Earlier that year, Erdogan compared Netanyahu and his government to the Hamas terrorist organization.

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