Obama to Israel: Apologize to Turkey, or else

Wednesday, August 17, 2011 |  Ryan Jones

Israel's largest daily newspaper, Yediot Ahronot, reported on Wednesday that the Obama Administration is threatening Israel to either apologize to Turkey over its bloody interception of a Gaza aid flotilla last year, or risk strained ties with Washington.

Israeli diplomats in Washington told the newspaper that they had received a communique from US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton insisting that the rift between Israel and Turkey was harming American interests in the region, such as affecting regime change in neighboring Syria.

Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan demands that Israel publicly apologize for intercepting a May 2010 "humanitarian aid" flotilla that tried to break Israel's maritime blockade of the Gaza Strip. The flotilla had set sail from Turkey, and nine Turkish nationals were killed when they and others aboard the largest ship, the Mavi Marmara, attacked the Israeli boarding party.

Erdogan called the operation an act of piracy. And even though Washington and other Western powers agree with Israel that the Gaza blockade is legal and legitimate, the Obama Administration has decided that it is more politically expedient to simply have Israel meet Erdogan's unreasonable demands (as if that won't have any long-term negative consequences).

A year ago, Obama actually pressured Erdogan to either make up with Israel, or risk his ability to purchase American weapons. But, like other Middle East powers embroiled in conflict with Israel, Erdogan had learned that Western threats are fleeting and toothless. Obama never followed through on that ultimatum, and all Erdogan had to do was wait one year for Washington to decide to start pressuring Israel, instead.

What's worse, the Obama Administration's pressure on Israel - the party it agrees is in the right - has also reportedly come in the form of a threat.

According to the Israeli diplomats cited in the Yediot report, they were told that if Israel does not comply with Clinton's request to apologize to Turkey, the White House may suddenly find itself unable to continue building opposition to a unilateral Palestinian declaration of statehood at the UN next month.

"God forbid we apologize," declared Israeli Vice Prime Minister Moshe Ya'alon at a conference of Likud activists on Tuesday.

Demonstrating a firm understanding of Israel's regional antagonists, Ya'alon, a former IDF chief, noted that Erdogan "will never let go, even after we apologize."

Most Israeli leaders maintain that the flotilla raid was legal and that the deaths, while regrettable, cannot be blamed on Israel. The Israelis fear that meeting Erdogan's demands will negate that position, and play into the hands of those who claim Israel is conducting a cruel and inhumane siege against Gaza.

However, Israel is more easily pressured than its neighbors, and those same Israeli leaders are even more afraid of upsetting the White House. As such, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's cabinet has for weeks been debating not just if, but how to apologize to Turkey in a way that does the least harm to Israel.

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