(photo credit: AP)
The US leaned on Israel “quite a lot” and helped facilitate the speedy release of more than 400 Turkish citizens whom the IDF took into custody on the Gaza-bound protest ships, Turkey’s Deputy Under Secretary for Public Diplomacy Selim Yenel told The Jerusalem Post on Thursday.
Government sources in Jerusalem refused to comment on any US involvement in the deportation of the activists, who were brought to Ashdod Port on Monday.
An Israeli official said they were freed quickly because Israel had no desire to keep them, as that would only have further aggravated a sensitive diplomatic situation.
Already late Tuesday night, the diplomatic-security cabinet made a decision to release the 700 people who had been on board the vessels, the sources said.
“It is a first step,” Yenel said, and it helped cool down some of the tensions. But he added that the crisis the incident caused in Israeli-Turkish relations was far from over.
During the IDF raid, eight men from Turkey aged between 32 and 61 were killed on board the Mavi Marmara
Turkish passenger ship, as was Turkish-American Furkan Dogan, 19.
The deaths mark the first time in “our joint history that the Israeli military has killed Turkish citizens. We are friends. We are partners. We have had close cooperation on everything. That is why we feel so taken aback,” Yenel said.
To protest against the incident, Turkey recalled its ambassador for consultations. He arrived in Ankara from Israel on Thursday. It is unclear how long he will be there, or when he will return.
“We wish that Israel would apologize and accept an international investigation into the incident,” said Yenel. Turkey also wants Israel to end its naval blockade of Gaza and fully open the land crossings into the area.
It would be difficult to accept an Israeli investigation, Yenel said. “We want something that is impartial, independent and transparent.”
Despite the IDF videos that showed activists on the ship attacking the IDF soldiers as they rappelled onto the Mavi Marmara
via rope from a helicopter, Yenel said he believed the people on the boat acted in self-defense.
He dismissed Israel’s claim that it had a legal right to board the ship 50 nautical miles off the Gaza shore. Turkey’s attitude would be different if the IDF had stopped the ship within its territorial waters, he said.
“They could have taken more peaceful measures,” said Yenel. The Marmara
was checked before it left port and there were no weapons on board, he said.
Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan said on Thursday that Israel made a “historic mistake” when it boarded the ship.
“Israel stands to lose its closest ally in the Middle East if it does not change its mentality,” he said.
“Turkey tried to preserve their relationship, but the Israeli government did not understand this,” Erdogan said.
But Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman said, “All responsibility, from the beginning to the end, falls on Turkey.
“We have an obsessive need to always take the blame – but it just isn’t true. [The changes] are not coming from our relationship with Turkey, they are coming from internal changes in Turkey,” he told Israel Radio.
Turkey expert Anat Lapidot-Firilla of the Hebrew University said the
two countries had a history of troubled ties. In the early 1980s,
Turkey downgraded its level of representation in Israel from ambassador
to consul. An ambassador did not return until the 1990s.
But this crisis was worse, she said, because it was an expression of
internal and external changes in Turkey. There was a new paradigm to
Turkish foreign policy that aimed at hegemony in the region,
In the past, Turkey believed that good ties with Israel would improve its relationship with the US, she said.
Now it believed it could be close to the US without Israel, on the
strength of the role it could play to “prevent a clash of
civilizations,” by acting as a mediator between the US and Muslim
countries, Lapidot-Firilla said.AP contributed to this report.