The Israeli-Turkish rapprochement agreement that was formally announced on Monday is expected to be approved by the nine-member security cabinet on Wednesday, even though newly appointed Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman does not support it.
Before joining the government last week, Liberman was among the MKs most adamantly opposed to an accord with Turkey, saying just seven months ago that Turkey under President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is a “radical Islamic regime.” He told his Yisrael Beytenu faction in the Knesset on Monday that he does not support the deal, but will not actively campaign against it.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced the agreement at a news conference in Rome, shortly after meeting with US Secretary of State John Kerry, who welcomed the deal. Netanyahu’s Turkish counterpart, Binali Yildirim, announced the deal at about the same time in Ankara.
Netanyahu said the accord – which has come under fire in Israel from both the Right and the Left as a capitulation to Turkey, and a national humiliation because compensation will be paid to families of the nine victims on the ship who violently resisted IDF soldiers – will strengthen Israel’s position in the region.
“Israel has reached an agreement of strategic importance for the State of Israel, for security, for regional stability and for the Israeli economy,” Netanyahu said. “As prime minister of Israel, it is my responsibility to be concerned with its strategic interests, to take a broad and long-term view, based on an understanding of the international arena as well as of our security and economic needs, at present and in the future.”
Netanyahu said that with both the world and the region going through enormous changes, it is important to create centers of stability, and this accord does that with Turkey. He said that his strategy is to create these points of stability in ties with some Arab states in the region, with Greece and Cyprus, and with Russia.
Netanyahu said he kept Greece, Cyprus, Egypt and Russia – all countries that have a fraught relationship with Turkey – in the loop regarding the negotiations leading up to the accord, adding that every move was also coordinated with the US.
Just hours after the announcement, the Kremlin said that it had received a letter from Erdogan apologizing for Turkey’s downing of a Russian jet over its airspace last year, a move that led to a dramatic deterioration in its ties with Russia.
At the same time that Netanyahu was announcing the accord in Rome, stressing the elements favorable to Israel, Yıldırım was doing the same in Ankara, underlining elements in the agreement more to Turkey’s liking.
Both prime ministers said that relations between the two countries will now be normalized.
Relations between Israel and what was once its principle Muslim ally crumbled in 2010, after the IDF stormed the Mavi Marmara, which was trying to break a naval blockade of the Gaza Strip. After being attacked by passengers, the soldiers killed 10 people on board.
Netanyahu stressed that the accord – through a law to be passed in the Turkish parliament – will prevent any criminal or civil suits to be brought against IDF soldiers in Turkey.
He also stressed that the agreement does not compromise Israel’s naval blockade of the Gaza Strip. Lifting the blockade was long one of Turkey’s conditions for reconciliation.
Maintaining the security blockade, he said, “is our supreme security interest – I was not prepared to compromise on it. This interest is vital to prevent the strengthening of Hamas, and it remains as it has been.”
Under the accord, however, Israel will allow Turkey to transfer unlimited amounts of humanitarian and civilian aid to the Gaza Strip, and build a hospital there as well as a power and desalination plant.
Dealing with humanitarian issues in Gaza, Netanyahu said, is also in Israel’s interest.
As an example, Netanyahu noted that when there is not enough water in Gaza – beyond humanitarian considerations – it means that the aquifers become polluted, something that could pass to the Israeli side as well.
“When there is not enough electricity, various problems arise, including those having to do with sanitation, and when there are outbreaks, the outbreaks do not stop at the fences,” he said. “This is both a humanitarian interest and an outstanding Israeli interest.”
Netanyahu said that the accord also includes a Turkish commitment to prevent all terrorist or military activity against Israel from Turkish soil, “including collecting funds for these purposes.
This is an important – even primary – commitment that we have not had up until now.”
Yildirim stressed other parts of the agreements, saying that the first shipment of 10,000 tons of Turkish humanitarian aid will set sail next Friday. He presented this as a lifting of the blockade on Gaza, something Netanyahu denied during his comments.
Yildirim made no mention of Turkey’s commitment to limit Hamas activity on Turkish soil in his prepared comments, presenting the agreement instead as a document that provides relief to the Palestinians. “Turkey is the protector of the justified aspirations of the Palestinians,” he said, including their right to declare a state.
Netanyahu said the agreement opens the door to very lucrative energy deals with Turkey that will be of extreme importance to the Israeli economy.
He also said that the agreement requires Turkey to assist Israel in entering all international organizations where Turkey is a member. Until recently, Turkey blocked an upgrade of Israel’s ties with NATO.
Regarding the return of the two Israeli prisoners in Gaza and the bodies of two soldiers killed during Operation Protective Edge – Oron Shaul and Hadar Goldin – Netanyahu said that the Turks have given their commitment to assist in every way in gaining their return.
“I understand the suffering of the families,” Netanyahu said. “I speak with them and I know what they are going through, and I would like to assure them: I promise you, members of the families, I promise you that we will not stop and we will not rest until we bring the boys back home.”
The families of the two soldiers, however, condemned the deal, issuing a statement saying Netanyahu’s declarations “are empty. He is acting against his promises to us in recent days, and is bringing the people of Israel and us a bad, problematic agreement, one that ignores the pain of the families and the fate of Israeli heroes.”
Responding to criticism of the agreement heard in Israel from both the Left and the Right – including calling the payment of $20 million to a fund for the families of those killed a “humiliation” – Netanyahu said that this accord promotes Israel’s “vital interests,” and that he would not be deterred by the criticism.
Sydney Denmark and Reuters contributed to this report.
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