After the Six Day War, Yitzhak Rabin gave what will be remembered as his
“Rightness of the Path” speech, in which he paid tribute to the IDF’s moral
conduct during the war, conduct which he said “begins with the spirit and ends
with the spirit.”
Israeli soldiers’ sacrifices and brotherhood were not
the result of militancy, according to Rabin, but arose from their knowledge that
their cause was just, and awareness of their role: “To ensure the existence of
the nation in its homeland.”
Throughout history it has been proven time
and again that victory, whether political or on the battlefield, is achieved by
those whose belief in the rightness of their path is stronger, those with the
deep conviction that they are doing the right thing, those that are fighting for
the greater cause. Many countries have lost wars for the want of such
conviction, even though they had superior military strength.
happened in Israel’s War of Independence, when the small Jewish Yishuv beat the
Arab armies; it also happened in Vietnam, where the US suffered severe losses
due to domestic disagreement with regard to the war’s justification. This is the
principal reason for my objection to Israel’s apology to Turkey.
If it is
detrimental to the Israeli people’s basic sense of righteousness and morality,
such an apology, no matter how much it seems to be in the country’s immediate
political interest, inflicts long-term damage outweighing the short-term
The soldiers who risked their lives on behalf of the State of
Israel on the Mavi Marmara deserve better.
For the state to apologize for
their actions means it has abandoned them, turned them from warriors who risked
their lives in the defense of the state into guilty parties. Israel’s
willingness to pay compensation sends the message that fighting terrorist groups
sent to harm the country is not morally justified.
For the nation and its
soldiers to be sent such a message by their leadership is devastating to
Israel’s long-term survival.
On the diplomatic level, we must recall that
the deterioration of relations between Israel and Turkey did not begin with the
Marmara or the humiliation of Turkish ambassador Ahmet Oguz Celikkol. The
deterioration began much earlier, and was due to ideological and strategic
decisions made by the current Turkish leadership, headed by Prime Minister Recep
Tayyip Erdogan and Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu. The first notable public
expression of this occurred during the Olmert government, when Erdogan – at the
Davos conference – dramatically walked off the stage after calling President
Shimon Peres a “killer.”
Many other aggressive measures soon followed,
including Turkish TV series portraying IDF soldiers as baby murderers and
culminating in Erdogan calling Zionism racism and a crime against humanity
during a speech in Vienna on March 1. Even now, after the Israeli apology and
the “reconciliation,” Erdogan has not apologized for this statement. One cannot
construe Erdogan’s casual statement to a Danish newspaper that his remarks were
misunderstood as an apology or retraction, especially given his refusal to
apologize to Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu during a private conversation
between the two.
I have said many times in the past, both in closed and
public discussions, that I am willing to state that Israel regrets the deaths of
Turkish citizens on the Mavi Marmara, in the same way the US expressed regret to
Pakistan, despite the major differences between the two cases.
killed 24 Pakistani soldiers due to mistaken identity, while our soldiers were
defending themselves against members of a terrorist organization (recognized as
such in European countries including Germany and the Netherlands) who wanted to
kill them and illegally breach Israel’s borders.
That Erdogan would not
accept such an apology, together with the way Israel’s official apology was
received and interpreted in newspapers in east Jerusalem and by the leadership
in Gaza, Ramallah and Lebanon – as well as by Erdogan himself – attests to the
importance of the difference.
Even more important is the way in which the
Israeli apology was received by Greece, Cyprus, the Gulf states, the Kurds, and
among the moderate and secular Turks. Their interpretation is that instead of
cooperating with Israel, it is better to ignore Israel and deal directly with
Erdogan and Davutoglu. It proves to them that they cannot rely on Israel and
that they cannot cooperate with us on issues that are critical for us in terms
of strengthening the moderates in the Middle East. This is longterm strategic
damage the results of which we have yet to feel the full effects of.
conclusion, it is important to me to repeat to the soldiers of the IDF what the
prime minister told them at the end of a naval cadet course two years ago:
“Israel is proud of you. We are proud of you.”
The author is chairman of
the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee.