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