Syria Israel graphic 224.
(photo credit: Rendering by Jonathan Beck)
Prime Minister Ehud Olmert told the cabinet Sunday that he apologized last week to Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan if Israel violated Turkish airspace during a strike on an alleged nuclear facility in Syria last month.
In a carefully worded statement that was given to reporters after the cabinet meeting, Olmert said, "In my conversation with the Turkish prime minister, I told him that if Israeli planes indeed penetrated Turkish airspace, then there was no intention thereby, either in advance or in any case, to - in any way - violate or undermine Turkish sovereignty, which we respect."
Olmert, according to the statement, "added that he had expressed Israel's apology to the Turkish government and to the Turkish people for any violation that may have occurred."
Olmert met with Erdogan last week during his visit to Britain.
Turkey has said it discovered fuel tanks on its side of the border with Syria that were allegedly dropped by IAF jets during the raid. Foreign Minister Ail Babacan, who visited Israel earlier this month, called this development "unacceptable" and demanded explanations.
Diplomatic officials said Sunday they now expected that the apology would "close this chapter," a chapter that has somewhat strained Israeli-Turkish ties.
The officials said the public apology was important for Turkey to show that Ankara was not in on the raid that allegedly destroyed a nuclear facility in Syria. Articles appeared in the Syrian and Egyptian press following the raid accusing the Turks of everything from quiet acquiescence to active cooperation in the alleged operation.
The Turks are extremely sensitive to violations of their airspace, the officials said, noting that earlier this year they demanded a similar apology from the US because American warplanes flew into Turkish airspace on their way to Iraq.
And in 2005, Syria had to apologize to Turkey when a Scud missile it was testing broke up and landed harmlessly in Turkey.
In a related development, Turkish Chief of Staff Gen. Mehmet Yas'ar BÃ¼yÃ¼kanÄ±t, who was originally scheduled to visit Israel this week, has postponed his trip. According to Turkish diplomatic sources, the postponement was due to tension on the Turkish-Iraqi border and the possibility of a Turkish incursion into northern Iraq to fight PKK Kurdish guerrillas.