Israel’s apology to Turkey for “operational errors” in the Mavi Marmara incident
is a diplomatic mistake both in terms of substance and timing. It’s hard to
understand or justify Israel’s weekend apology to Turkey. While the use of
Israeli force in the Mavi Marmara “flotilla” incident was not very elegant, it
was perfectly legitimate – as the UN-appointed “Palmer Commission” unequivocally
determined. Moreover, the incident was a Turkish provocation that warrants a
Turkish apology, not an Israeli one.
Worse still, the hopes in Jerusalem
for a new era in Israeli-Turkish relations in exchange for the apology are
The Israeli apology will hardly stop Turkish Prime
Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s regular Israel-bashing rhetoric. Nor has it
secured a clear Turkish commitment for the resumption of full diplomatic
Moreover, Erdogan already has conveyed his intention to visit
Hamas-ruled Gaza. Such a visit is a slap in the face to both Jerusalem and
Turkey, under the AKP, an Islamist party, has gradually
adopted a new foreign policy, fueled by neo-Ottoman and Islamist impulses, whose
goal is to gain a leadership role in the Middle East and the Islamic
Attaining this objective requires harsh criticism of Israel, which
has generated great popularity for Erdogan and Turkey. Unfortunately, vicious
attacks on Israel come easily for Erdogan, who is plainly and simply an
Israel has failed to fully grasp Turkey’s new Islamist
direction. For several years already, we no longer have a pro-Western Turkey
with which Israel can cooperate in the turbulent Middle East. Ankara and
Jerusalem have very different views on a variety of issues. While Turkey is
truly an important and powerful player in regional politics, its behavior over
the past decade actually harms Israeli interests. It does not follow the US
policy on Iran and helps circumvent the international sanctions imposed on
Tehran. As a matter of fact, Turkey helps Iran, a country with genocidal
intentions toward Israel, to progress in its nuclear program.
sides with Hamas, an Islamist terrorist organization dedicated to the
destruction of the Jewish state, and helps it entrench its rule in Gaza and gain
international support and recognition.
Turkey is also actively helping
radical Islamic Sunni elements take over Syria. It also supports the idea of
violent opposition against Israel’s presence in the Golan Heights. As such, the
hope that Israel and Turkey can cooperate together with the US in limiting the
damage from a disintegrating Syria has little validity.
TURKEY, still a NATO member, is obstructing the efforts of Israel in developing
its ties with this organization. The Turkish position in NATO also hinders the
Western alliance’s ability to deal more effectively with the Iranian nuclear
Turkey’s policy in the Mediterranean similarly clashes with
Israeli vital interests. Its bullying of Cyprus interferes with Israel’s plans
to export via this island its newly found gas riches to an energy- thirsty
Europe. Turkey, that sees itself as an energy bridge to Europe, does not want
the Israeli competition. It may even use military force to maintain its role in
the energy market.
What is also important is how the Israeli apology will
be perceived in a region whose prism on international relations is power
politics. Inevitably, Israel under Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu will be
seen as weak, bowing to American pressure. Public regrets about use of force
erode deterrence and project weakness.
Perceived weakness usually invites
aggression in our tough neighborhood.
This is also what Ankara thinks,
which is very problematic for Israel. Moreover, Tehran and Cairo, both ruled by
radical Islamists, cherish the Turkish victory over the Zionist
The Israeli-initiated apology is an American diplomatic success,
but reflects a dangerous American misperception of Turkey as representing
“moderate Islam,” which is incredible naïve. Turkey is distancing itself from
the West and its values.
Nowadays, more journalists are in jail in Turkey
than in China.
Israel’s friends in Turkey, part of the democratic
opposition, must be bewildered as Israel hands Erdogan a diplomatic achievement,
buttressing the grip of the Islamist AKP on Turkish politics.
is particularly troubling.
Turkish foreign policy is in crisis because
its much-heralded approach to the Middle East (“zero problems with its
neighbors”) is in shambles. Turkey needed a diplomatic success here more than
Israel did. Israel could have negotiated a better formula to end the impasse in
ONLY VERY recently, we heard Erdogan call Zionism a
crime against humanity. He did not apologize, as he should have, but told a
Danish newspaper that he was misunderstood.
This was part of a concerted
effort on part of Turkey to prevent additional international criticism on this
issue. Nevertheless, the pressure was on Ankara, not
Furthermore, an apology to a Hamas supporter, just a day after
Hamas again launched rockets against Israel, communicates terrible weakness.
Sanctioning an Erdogan victory trip to Gaza at this particular moment is
terribly foolish, too, particularly when Israel is seeking to bolster the
standing of the rival Palestinian Authority.
It is highly unlikely that
we will see a reversal or a turnaround in Turkey’s anti-Western and anti-
Israeli policies. The apology from Jerusalem only enhances Turkish ambitions and
weakens Israel’s deterrence.
The writer is a professor of political
studies at Bar-Ilan University, the director of the Begin-Sadat (BESA) Center
for Strategic Studies and a fellow at the Middle East Forum.