Security cabinet meets to ‘contain crisis’ with Turkey

Netanyahu: We won’t apologize; Barak signs security cooperation agreement with Greece

By
September 5, 2011 00:51
Ehud Barak and Greek counterpart

Barak and Panagiotis Beglitis 311. (photo credit: Ariel Hermoni/Defense Ministry)

The security cabinet met in a special session Sunday night, and among the issues expected to have been addressed were ways to “defuse the tension and contain the crisis” with Turkey following Friday’s release of the UN Palmer report and Israel’s refusal to apologize for the Mavi Marmara incident.

One government official, explaining a discussion of the crisis at the security cabinet level, said that the crisis with Turkey was now “only beginning.”

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No statement was released after the meetings.

The ministers, however, were expected to discuss the veiled Turkish threats to break the naval blockade of Gaza by promising to ensure freedom of maritime travel in the eastern Mediterranean, as well as support for legal actions expected to be launched with Turkish government backing against IDF soldiers and officers who participated in the Mavi Marmara raid.

In addition, Jerusalem is now bracing for the possibility that Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan might carry through with a threat he has been issuing for months to visit Gaza from Egypt. He is reportedly going to visit Egypt in mid-September.

Israeli officials said that a Gaza trip for Erdogan would be a double-edged sword. On the one hand, he would be welcomed as a hero in Gaza, but on the other hand, meetings he would almost certainly have there with Hamas leaders would place him at odds both with the US and with the Palestinian Authority.

Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, at a meeting of Likud ministers before Sunday’s cabinet meeting, said that while the Palmer Commission report gave Israel’s blockade of the Gaza Strip “strong support,” and said it was “very positive from our point of view,” he said “it is not the end, the story is still continuing.

“We don’t want to see a deterioration of ties with Turkey,” he said, “but they are choosing differently.”

One government official predicted that following the expulsion of Israel’s ambassador from Ankara, and Turkey’s hints about breaking the naval blockade, the US would be more energetically involved in solving the crisis between its two allies. While the US did try to push both Israel and Turkey into resolving the issue before the formal presentation of the Palmer report on Friday, now – the official said – it is likely to get involved with a greater sense of urgency.

Netanyahu said that over the last few months some workable ideas for resolving the conflict were put forward, but they were not accepted by the Turkish side. He did not elaborate.

At Sunday’s cabinet meeting, Netanyahu said publicly for the first time that Israel would not apologize to the Turks, even while reiterating that Israel regretted the loss of life in the incident. Nine Turks were killed when IDF commandos stopped the Mavi Marmara from breaking the naval blockade of Gaza.

Netanyahu said the Palmer report “unequivocally determined that Israel acted according to international law during the Mavi Marmara incident.

The commission determined what we knew from the outset – that Israel has the full and basic right to defend itself.

“We need not apologize for the fact that naval commandos defended their lives against an assault by violent IHH activists,” he said. “We need not apologize for the fact that we acted to stop the smuggling of weapons to Hamas, a terrorist organization that has already fired over 10,000 missiles, rockets and mortar rounds at our civilians. We need not apologize for the fact that we acted to defend our people, our children and our communities.”

Netanyahu said to the IDF commandos that “just as you and the rest of the IDF defend us, we will defend you everywhere and in every forum.

With that I reiterate again that Israel expresses regret over the loss of life. I also hope that a way will be found to overcome the disagreement with Turkey.

Israel has never wanted deterioration in its relations with Turkey; neither is Israel interested in such a deterioration now.”

Because of the sensitivity of the issue, Netanyahu asked his ministers not to talk publicly about Turkey.

Meanwhile, in very interesting timing and a move that could be interpreted as Israel’s own signal to Ankara, Defense Minister Ehud Barak – who was the leading voice inside Netanyahu’s inner circle calling for a rapprochement with Turkey – signed a security cooperation agreement Sunday with Panagiotis Beglitis, the visiting defense minister from Greece, Turkey’s historic rival.

“We welcome the Greek Defense Minister and thanked the Greek government for their rapid assistance during the Carmel fire,” Barak said at the end of the meeting.

“We’re pleased with the strengthened relationship between Greece and Israel in all aspects, including defense.”

Barak said that the Israeli and Greek nations are “ancient nations that provided the world with culture. Looking ahead, the nations expect to see a deepening of the cooperation between the two governments, defense ministries and peoples.”

According to Barak, the security cooperation agreement represents future cooperation with the Greek government. “Both Greece and Israel are undergoing a difficult period in the world and I believe we view each other positively.”

A statement put out by the IDF said that in recent years it has trained with a number of foreign armies, and that recently the cooperation between the Greek Army and the IDF has grown significantly.

Last June, the IAF participated in a joint-training exercise with the Greek Air Force in Greece using UH-60 Black Hawk and Boeing AH-64 Apache helicopters.

In a related development, Sunday night’s security cabinet meeting was also expected to deal with who would foot the bill to equip Israeli passenger planes with defensive equipment against missiles fired from the ground. While Netanyahu has said that the Treasury would allocate funds for this purpose, El Al reportedly complained that the money for the project was not being released.


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