It could not have been easy for Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu to accept US President Barack Obama’s request and issue an official apology to Turkey.

After all, the government has strongly defended the IDF commando raid on the Turkish ship Mavi Marmara for violating the Israeli embargo to deliver aid to Hamas in Gaza in May 2010.

The Turkel Commission investigating the deaths of nine Turks on board cleared the government and military of wrongdoing, blaming the passengers on the ship for the violence. The commission accused the IHH, an Islamist charity based in Istanbul, of planning violent resistance and said the IDF commandos acted in self-defense, but it did point to “operational errors” that might have increased the number of casualties.

According to the Prime Minister’s Office, Netanyahu spoke with Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Friday and agreed to restore bilateral relations severed after the incident, including the dispatch of ambassadors and the cancelation of legal steps against IDF personnel involved in the raid.

“The prime minister made it clear that the tragic results regarding the Mavi Marmara were unintentional and that Israel expresses regret over injuries and loss of life,” according to the official statement. “In light of the Israeli investigation into the incident, which pointed out several operational errors, Prime Minister Netanyahu apologized to the Turkish people for any errors that could have led to loss of life and agreed to complete the agreement on compensation.”

The apology elicited a range of political responses. On the one hand, former foreign minister Avigdor Liberman called it a serious mistake, saying it harmed Israel’s struggle over the justice of its cause and the morality of its soldiers.

On the other hand, Justice Minister Tzipi Livni called it a strategically smart decision, which would enhance security ties among Israel, Turkey and the US at a time of instability in the region, especially in Syria.

While both Liberman and Livni made valid points, the prime minister saw the broader picture and acted in Israel’s ultimate interests.

As World Jewish Congress President Ronald Lauder put it, the apology was “the right thing to do in this situation,” despite the “very justified reservations” Netanyahu and others had against such a step.

Lauder knows what he is talking about. He met with Erdogan seven times since the flotilla incident. “In these talks, the Turkish side has always made it clear that if Israel apologizes, a new beginning in relations is possible,” Lauder said. “We sincerely hope that they will keep their word.”

Praising Obama for brokering the breakthrough, Lauder expressed the hope that Israel’s gesture would end the diplomatic crisis.

“Turkey and Israel must work together. There are so many issues in the region where these two countries can make a difference. One of them is military cooperation in order to secure geopolitical stability in the Middle East,” he said.

This sentiment was echoed by the Anti-Defamation League, whose national director, Abraham Foxman, applauded the restoration of ties between two of America’s most reliable allies.

“The long friendship and mutual cooperation between Israel and Turkey has been beneficial for both countries and an important model for partnership between Muslim nations in the region and Israel,” Foxman said. “Full diplomatic relations at this time of increased regional instability will serve the interests of both and contribute to international efforts to address the many challenges ahead.”

In the past, this newspaper has said that Turkey should be apologizing to Israel (for provocatively allowing armed Islamists to travel to Gaza in a flotilla) rather than vice versa.

But regional realities require that Israel now swallow a bitter pill and do what is right, for the future of Israel, the region and our common interests with the United States.

It is clear that the deteriorating situation in Syria furnished the motivation for both Obama and Netanyahu. “The fact that the crisis in Syria is getting worse by the minute was the central consideration, in my eyes,” Netanyahu wrote on his Facebook page. What is needed now is for the US and world powers, together with relatively moderate countries in the region – including Turkey – to put an end to the horrific civil war in Syria.

It has gone on for too long (more than two years) and claimed too many lives (more than 70,000). Having Israel and Turkey on the same side can only help to avert any further spillover of the violence into neighboring countries.

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