The writer is senior research scholar at the International Institute for
Counter-Terrorism (ICT), and senior fellow at the The Institute for
Policy and Strategy (IPS) at The Interdisciplinary Center (IDC),
In recent days, there has been heavy American pressure at the highest level on Israel to apologize to Turkey for the deadly results of the May 2010 “humanitarian” flotilla led by the Turkish Islamist organization IHH, in which nine Turkish citizens were killed during their violent opposition to the Israeli marines’ operation to stop their attempt to breach the Gaza blockade.
The incident has produced an unprecedented crisis in relations between Turkey and Israel, and has had a negative influence on the important US regional alliance with the two non-Arab states.
The Obama administration has tried to mediate between the two rival governments, against the backdrop of the upcoming UN Palmer report on the incident, which it seems will give legitimacy to Israel’s naval blockade of Gaza and ask it to express sorrow for the tragic results.
The Erdogan government is under pressure concerning the results of the UN inquiry commission, and insists on a public apology and the payment of reparations to the Turkish victims. Otherwise, it threatens to downgrade bilateral relations and take other unspecified measures.
The Netanyahu government has decided not to bow to American or Turkish pressure concerning the apology, and to postpone its final position until the publication of the UN report.
The Israeli government, or at least part of it, is not convinced that
the apology will restore relations, and is worried that the legitimacy
it would give to the Turkish behavior would invite international
judicial measures against Israeli politicians and military personnel.
On the highest strategic level, the US insistence on an apology stems
from its shaky regional standing, as the Arab Spring seems to be leading
to a more Islamist, anti-American Middle East.
Moreover, after the Western intervention in Libya produced mixed
operational results and political woes for President Barack Obama at
home, Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s government seems to
be the only international actor capable of confronting the Assad regime
tangled in the bloody repression of the Syrian people.
A SOBER analysis of future regional trends does not support the Obama
administration’s optimistic evaluation of the results of an Israeli
From the Israeli point of view, besides Erdogan’s ultimatum for it to
“apologize and compensate,” there is the threat that if it “doesn’t
remove the [Gaza] embargo, it is not possible for Turkey and Israeli
relations to improve.”
This sine qua non condition clearly shows that Erdogan (planning to
visit Gaza in the near future) is working decisively to strengthen his
country’s relations with Hamas, and thus to support one of the main
obstacles to a peace process between Israel and the Palestinians.
Just two weeks ago, Usama Hamdan, responsible for Hamas’s international
relations, declared during an international conference on “resistance”
held in Cairo with the support of the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood: “The
[Palestinian-Israeli] conflict will never come to an end until Israel
comes to an end… We will never recognize Israel, and today I say more
than that, [I say that] Israel completely doesn’t exist in our political
or intellectual dictionary.”
And while Turkey lately condemned a decision to authorize the
construction of more than 900 apartments in east Jerusalem, its
government issued no condemnation for the deadly August 18 Palestinian
terrorist attack in Israel’s South.
Ironically, the same day, the Turkish air force bombed “60
pre-determined targets belonging to the separatist [PKK] organization”
in Iraq, and its artillery struck at 168 additional targets with
Turkey’s firm policy in opposing the Assad regime’s repression is not so
much an alignment with Western and US positions as a result of the fear
that instability in Syria, the killing of so many Sunnis by an Alawite
regime, and the strong revival of the Kurdish problem and PKK terrorism
inside Turkey could jeopardize the AKP government’s efforts to achieve
regional hegemony and the necessary internal economic development.
In the longer term, Ankara is already preparing for a scenario in which
the Muslim Brotherhood becomes the next ruler in Syria (and in Egypt),
as Hamas is today. This would improve Turkey’s regional status even
more, but on a more Islamist basis, as competitor to the other Islamist
In the internal arena, Erdogan has almost completely neutralized the
military after the resignation of its leadership and arrests of dozens
of high officers, and is working to revise the constitution and install a
presidential system – steps that don’t bode well for the secular
Therefore, an apology to Turkey could bring perhaps short-term calm in
bilateral relations with Israel, but not real cooperation on the
strategic level between the two old allies, and more probably a boost to
the Islamist credentials of the AKP government and its regional
AS THIS op-ed is about to be published, Israel is faced with a new
“apology problem” – the deadly attack by a large Palestinian terrorist
group, which penetrated the Egyptian Sinai border, fired rockets and
automatic weapons and killed six Israeli civilians and two soldiers.
The attack also resulted in the deaths of five Egyptian soldiers.
It is not yet clear whether the Egyptian soldiers were killed by Israeli fire or by the Palestinian terrorists.
Oddly these soldiers did not intervene to stop the terror attack going
on under their noses, and Israelis who escaped testified that soldiers
or terrorists dressed as Egyptian soldiers had fired on them.
The Egyptian military government, under popular pressure fueled by the
Muslim Brotherhood, accused IDF forces of shooting the Egyptian security
guards dead, asked for an immediate apology and an investigation, and
threatened to recall its ambassador.
It seems that it is also not happy with Israeli statements that Egypt couldn’t control the Sinai Peninsula.
The many Egyptian politicians struggling to make their way in the future
elections asked for swift retaliation against Israel, and the Egyptian
media as a whole did not mention the deadly results of the terrorist
attack coming from their territory.
What about the five attacks on the Sinai gas pipelines, which serve not
only Israel, but also Jordan and Syria, and have caused huge economic
losses to Egypt; the terror attacks against Egyptian police forces in
northern Sinai; and the three Egyptian battalions sent to Sinai to fight
these insurgents, in coordination with the Israeli government? The
Egyptian daily Al-Masry al-Youm reported Saturdat that the North Sinai
security directorate has developed a plan to track down law-breakers in
coordination with the security directorates of South Sinai, Suez and
Ismailia; that Interior Minister Mansour al-Essawy ordered police
dispatched to checkpoints attacked in the past few days; that the head
of North Sinai security directorate announced a state of emergency in
anticipation of further attacks by outlaws; and that crackdowns in Arish
were continuing for the sixth day, with security forces seeking to root
out jihadist elements.
No mention in this detailed report about the Palestinian attack.
The Israeli government has already stated that it regrets the deaths of
the Egyptian soldiers. Israel is clearly interested in keeping the peace
agreement with Egypt alive. It is not certain that a full apology will
stop the growing Islamist anti-Israel trend there.