Barak advocates apologizing for ‘Mavi Marmara’ raid

Defense minister cites Turkey’s future role in shaping post-Assad Syria as reason for apology; Ayalon: There is no place for saying we’re sorry.

August 24, 2011 01:16
3 minute read.
Ehud Barak and Benny Gantz observe Egypt border

Egypt border Barak 311. (photo credit: Defense Ministry / Ariel Hermoni)

Turkey’s likely role in shaping the face of a post-Assad Syria, perhaps facilitating the establishment of a pro-Western regime there, is increasingly being used in Jerusalem as an argument by those advocating a reconciliation with Turkey – even at the cost of consenting to Turkish demands for an apology for the Mavi Marmara incident.

Defense Minister Ehud Barak, who has been the leading advocate inside the government for mending fences with Ankara, said that neither he nor ministers using strong rhetoric toward Turkey – an apparent reference to Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman and Strategic Affairs Minister Moshe Ya’alon, who are opposed to any form of apology to Turkey – were able to have any impact inside Syria.

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On the other hand, he said Monday in a Channel 2 interview that “Turkey is capable of doing a lot and influencing a great deal.”

Israeli political officials have said very little about the situation in Syria, fearful that anything they do or say would be used by President Bashar Assad for his own benefit.

It has been made clear, however, that Israel feels its interests lie in Assad’s removal, and his replacement by a Western-oriented government.

Israel’s envoy to the UN in Geneva, Aharon Leshno Yaar, proved an exception to Israel’s silence on Syria, saying at a Human Rights Council special session on Syria on Monday that Israel was watching with “shock and grave concern” the “horrific news relentlessly coming from Syria.”

“Israel, together with all freedom-loving people, salutes the defiance of so many Syrians who continue to stand up for their rights despite the dangers, despite the repression, despite the mass murder,” he said.

“Israel hopes for all Syrians – men and women, young and old, people of all faiths and backgrounds – to be able to fulfill their right to live in an open and free democratic society that respects individual freedoms, adheres to the rule of law and gives hope and concern for the welfare of its people.”

Leshno Yaar said that Israel, as one of Syria’s neighbors, “hopes for better times for the people of that country.”

He added: “We are convinced that positive changes there will improve relations across our border, throughout our region and lead to a future for Syrians that will most certainly include freedom, peace and prosperity.”

Turkey has now emerged as a backer of the Syrian opposition, with a meeting of Syrian opposition leaders held earlier this week in Istanbul. It is also likely to play a key role in the reconstruction of Libya after the fall of Muammar Gaddafi, with Turkey’s Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu having paid a visit to rebel governing council chief Mustafa Abdel Jalil, in Benghazi on Tuesday.

One argument currently being advanced by those advocating for reconciliation with Turkey is that with the US position in the region weakening, with the European Union facing an economic crisis that will likely limit its role and with the Arab world in tumult, Israel needs to do whatever it can to build up coalitions to deal with a very volatile regional situation.

Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon, however, had a much different take.

In an Israel Radio interview on Tuesday, Ayalon said that good relations between the two countries was in Turkey’s interest, no less than in the interest of Israel and the US.

“There is no place for an apology,” Ayalon said, saying it was time to stop the “farce” regarding whether Israel would or would not apologize to Ankara. He said that an apology had “political strategic” significance, and that there was no need for Israel to “play to the whims” of “someone in Ankara.”

Ayalon continued that in international relations, it was expected that both sides act rationally.

“When a particular player behaves irrationally, this does not allow any room for maneuver by the other side, and therefore we will wait until these things will ripen and there will be more rationality on Ankara’s side.”

Ayalon said that Israel would not be frightened by Turkey’s threats to further downgrade ties with Israel if an apology was not forthcoming, perhaps closing the embassy in Tel Aviv completely and freezing economic ties.

He added that if there was no Turkish ambassador in Tel Aviv, there would also be no Israeli envoy in Ankara.

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