Israel has apologized to Turkey – for killing nine Turks on the Mavi Marmara
three years ago – because of the volatile situation in Syria, Prime Minister
Binyamin Netanyahu said on Saturday night.
“The fact that the crisis in
Syria is getting worse by the minute was the central consideration in my eyes,”
Netanyahu said on his Facebook page of his apology Friday afternoon in a phone
conversation with Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan for “any errors
that could have led to loss of life.”
According to a statement put out by
Netanyahu’s office after the conversation, Erdogan and Netanyahu “agreed to
restore normalization between Israel and Turkey, including the dispatch of
ambassadors and the cancellation of legal steps against IDF
Netanyahu, according to the statement, told Erdogan the tragic
results on the Mavi Marmara were “unintentional and that Israel expresses regret
over injuries and loss of life.”
The statement continued that “in light
of the Israeli investigation into the incident, which pointed out several
operational errors,” Netanyahu “apologized to the Turkish people for any errors
that could have led to loss of life and agreed to complete the agreement on
Erdogan said on Saturday Israel’s apology met Turkey’s
conditions and signaled its growing regional clout.
“We are entering a
new period in both Turkey and the region,” said Erdogan.
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“We are at the
beginning of a process of elevating Turkey to a position so that it will again
have a say, initiative and power, as it did in the past.”
its ambassador with Israel, and significantly downgraded its diplomatic ties
following the Mavi Marmara incident in May 2010 where Israel Navy commandos,
attacked by activists on a ship intended to break the blockade of Gaza, killed
nine Turks. Erdogan demanded that Israel apologize, pay compensation, and lift
the blockade of Gaza to allow a normalization of ties.
telephone conversation, which took place from Ben-Gurion Airport with US
President Barack Obama in the room just before he boarded Air Force One for
Jordan, Netanyahu said that Israel had already lifted “restriction on the
movement of civilians and goods to all of the Palestinian territories, including
Erdogan announced on Saturday that he may visit Gaza and the West
Bank next month.
“Syria is disintegrating, and the huge advanced weapons
stockpiles are beginning to fall into the hands of different forces,” Netanyahu
wrote on his Facebook page.
The Syrian reality, which includes global
jihadist elements on its border with Israel on the Golan, creates tremendous
security challenges for Israel, he wrote. “It is important that Turkey and
Israel, which border Syria, can communicate with each other, and this is true
regarding other challenges as well.”
Netanyahu said Obama’s visit created
an opportunity to end the three-year crisis with Ankara.
The US, an ally
of both Turkey and Israel, has for months been trying to come up with a formula
that would end their crisis, believing that a stable Israeli-Turkish
relationship is key now, with the Middle East, and especially Syria, in the
throes of tremendous upheaval.
National Security Council head Yaakov
Amidror, in a Channel 2 interview on Saturday night, denied that there was any
US pressure on Israel regarding the issue.
“This was our idea, and we
brought it to the Americans. They helped us put it together with Turkey,” he
said. “There have been contacts between us and the Turks for a long time. If the
Turks would not have made mistakes during the process, it could have happened
earlier, but there is no doubt that the US presence, and US assistance, helped
in bringing this to a conclusion.”
Erdogan, who has relentlessly bashed
Israel since the incident, called Zionism a crime against humanity at a UN forum
last month. Last week he said in a Danish newspaper that he had been
misunderstood, and Netanyahu alluded to this semi-retraction in his conversation
Netanyahu said he saw the interview, and “appreciated”
Erdogan’s clarification Amidror said he did not think that the Turkish premier
would continue to criticize Israel to the same degree he has in the past, and
that if he did not want an improvement in the relations he would not have
consented to the formula that was agreed upon. He also noted that Turkey
assented to cancel all legal steps against IDF personnel.
“What we wanted
is to get to a situation where the relationship will be upgraded so that we can
cooperate more regarding Syria, and will give Israel more freedom of action in
the Middle East and elsewhere,” he said.
Amidror added that this move was
also important because Israel wanted to upgrade its ties with NATO, something
that Turkey, as a NATO member, had continuously vetoed.
were careful to stress that the ending of the Mavi Marmara crisis did not mean
Israel and Turkey would necessarily return to the type of ties they had before
the incident, or before Erdogan came to power in 2002.
Asked how he felt,
one senior official said, “I feel like a baby was born, but that now it is
dependant on the parents to determine what will happen with it.”
official said he hoped that this would create an opening for better ties, even
if they did not return to what they once were.
Defense Minister Moshe
Ya’alon welcomed the move, calling the decision “responsible,” and adding that
the arrangement did not contradict “the principles we have held for the past
“Regional developments and American involvement allowed for
the crisis to be resolved. This is a common interest to both Israel and Turkey,”
the defense minister said.
In his previous position as strategic affairs
minister, Ya’alon was involved in talks with the Turks over the past three
Former foreign minister Avigdor Liberman, who was the leading
voice in the previous government against apologizing to the Turks, issued a
statement slamming the move.
Calling Netanyahu’s apology a “grave error,”
Liberman said that anyone who saw the pictures from the Mavi Marmara understood
that the IDF commandos acted out of self-defense.
This apology, he said,
“harms the motivation of IDF soldiers and their readiness to go out on similar
missions in the future, and strengthens the hands of the extremists in the
Liberman said this also harmed Israel’s unending struggle over
the righteousness of its cause and the morality of its soldiers.
that Erdogan and Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu were responsible for
the deterioration in the ties, and that Israel’s apology – even as Erdogan
refused to apologize for his remark calling Zionism a crime against humanity –
harmed Israel’s honor and standing in the region and the world.
to the Turkish daily Hurriyet, meanwhile, Erdogan made clear that the dispatch
of an ambassador to Israel would not take place immediately.
“We will see
what will be put into practice during the process. If they move forward in a
promising way, we will make our contribution.
Then, there would be an
exchange of ambassadors,” Erdogan was quoted as saying.
According to the
paper, Turkish and Israeli diplomats will hold technical talks over the next few
days in Ankara to discuss the compensation package for the relatives of the
activists killed in the raid.
“We took a stand but we managed to resolve
the process without being [overly] intractable,” Erdogan was quoted as saying.
“We are at the beginning of a process of elevating Turkey to a position so that
it will again have a say, initiative and power, as it did in the
Erdogan, according to the paper, said Netanyahu’s statement, which
included the word “apology” and not only “regret,” “was issued in accordance
with Turkey’s expectations.”
Obama, during a press conference with
Jordan’s King Abdullah in Amman on Friday, called the phone call between Erdogan
and Netanyahu a “beginning.”
“This is a work in progress,” he said. He
added that the two leaders “don’t have to agree on everything in order for them
to come together on a wide range of common interests and
British Prime Minister David Cameron and Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte called Netanyahu on Saturday and praised him for the
rapprochement with Turkey.
Netanyahu, according to the Greek newspaper,
Ekathimerini, also spoke to Greek Prime Minister Antonis Samaras on Saturday,
who called to congratulate him on forming a new government. The Prime Minister’s
Office would not confirm that telephone call.
The deterioration in
Israeli-Turkish ties over the past three years led to the strengthening of
Israel’s ties with a number of Turkish rivals, foremost among them Greece and
Cyprus. It is likely the apology to the Turks was raised in the
Netanyahu-Samaras conversation.Reuters contributed to this report.
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