When apologizing last month for operational errors that might have led to the loss of life on the Mavi Marmara flotilla, Israel realized this would be perceived by some in the region as weakness, but decided a wider array of factors had to be weighed in, a government source said Saturday.
The source was responding to a comment carried by the Turkish Anadolu news agency on Saturday by Alireza Bikedeli, Iran’s ambassador to Ankara, saying that “in the past three years, Turkey, with its constant resistance, showed us we can take what we want to take from Israel.” The source said that in government meetings over the last few years dealing with whether to apologize to Turkey for the May 2010 incident, the question of how an apology would be perceived in the region was always taken into consideration.
But, the official said, there was “a wide array” of other factors to think about as well.
“If the decision leads to a thawing of relations with Turkey, then the Iranians won’t be happy,” the official added.
Meanwhile, US Secretary of State John Kerry arrived in Turkey Saturday night on the first stop of a six-country tour that will take him to Jerusalem and Ramallah on Sunday through Tuesday.
The Turkish media said that the visit to Istanbul, Kerry’s second visit to Turkey in two months, is coming amid expectations he will offer Turkey a role in the Middle East diplomatic process.
State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said at a press briefing last week that Kerry would meet Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan and discuss the “complex issues surrounding Middle East peace.”
In the past, she said, they have discussed Fatah-Hamas reconciliation, “and our insistence that Quartet principles need to be abided by if this is going to serve the cause of peace.”
While not directly referring to Erdogan’s announced intention to visit the Gaza Strip this month, Nuland said that in the past the US has urged senior Turkish officials that any contact with Hamas be “in service to the greater issue of stability and peace, and that the fundamental underlying tenets of the Quartet principles be reiterated as the necessary precondition.” The Quartet principles are that Hamas recognize Israel, forswear terrorism and accept previous Israeli-Palestinian agreements.
The prospect of Erdogan indeed going ahead with a trip to Gaza, which he has threatened to do a number of times in the past, seemed to fade somewhat with the announcement that he will be meeting US President Barack Obama in the White House on May 16. The US has in the past urged Erdogan to refrain from making that trip, arguing it would undercut Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas and strengthen Hamas.
Asked whether Turkey could play a role in the Israeli-Palestinian diplomatic process, something Ankara has expressed an interest in doing, Nuland said Turkey certainly “has significant influence with the Palestinians. It has the ability to encourage Palestinians of all stripes to accept Quartet principles and move forward on that basis.”
One Israeli official said that Turkey is one of any number of international actors – the EU, the French, British, Russians and the UN – which would like to have a larger role in the diplomatic process. “We are ready for countries to play a positive role in the peace process, the official said, adding that to do so these countries “have to have the confidence of both sides.”