Analysis: Turkish perception versus reality

Despite Erdogan's statements that PM's apology "satisfied Turkish expectations," Israel only apologized for operational mistakes.

turkish PM Erdogan 370 (photo credit: REUTERS/Stringer )
turkish PM Erdogan 370
(photo credit: REUTERS/Stringer )
There was something Hassan Nasrallah-like, Ismail Haniyeh-ish, in the way Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu stepped up to numerous microphones over the past two days and crowed that Israel acceded to all of Ankara’s demands in apologizing for the Mavi Marmara incident.
These claims bring to mind the Hezbollah and Hamas leaders because the Turkish leaders’ words created a perception not exactly in line with reality.
Nasrallah boasted victory over Israel in the Second Lebanon War, but still does not venture out of his bunker. Nor, for that matter, has his organization fired on Israeli cities in the North for the past seven years.
Haniyeh claimed victory in November’s Operation Pillar of Defense, but the Gaza border, following Hamas’s “stunning victory,” has for years not been as quiet as it is now.
And Erdogan and Davutoglu’s words, claiming that Israel came almost on a bended knee with an apology, fall into the same category. A look at what was actually said in the apology – and what Erdogan initially demanded – paints a significantly different picture.
In July 2011, even as the UN’s Palmer Commission was about to issue its report on the 2010 Mavi Marmara incident, Erdogan told the Turkish parliament it was “unthinkable” to normalize ties with Israel unless it apologized for killing nine Turks aboard the ship, paid compensation to the families, and lifted the “siege” of Gaza.
Indeed, Erdogan repeated these conditions on numerous occasions since then.
A careful look at Friday’s statement agreed upon by Turkey and Israel of the Netanyahu-Erdogan conversation that put the relationship on the road to repair, however, shows it is far from the fulfillment of Erdogan’s “requirements.”
First of all the apology.
Erdogan, according to Israeli diplomatic officials familiar with the months-long negotiations over the formula, said Erdogan wanted a public apology to him for the raid on the ship and the killing of nine Turks.
What he got was a bit different.
Netanyahu regretted the loss of life, and issued an apology to the Turkish people, not to Erdogan, for operational mistakes – if they happened – that led to the loss of life. That is not exactly a full-throated, public apology. Furthermore, Netanyahu did not apologize for commandeering the ship, something the Turks wanted.
Here is the exact language of the apology: “In light of Israel’s investigation into the incident which pointed to a number of operational mistakes, the Prime Minister expressed Israel’s apology to the Turkish people for any mistakes that might have led to the loss of life or injury and agreed to conclude an agreement on compensation.”
That is not an apology for boarding the ship, that is not even an apology for the soldiers taking the acts that they did. It is an apology if – during the operation – mistakes were made that led to loss of life.
On the issue of compensation, Israel always said it would pay compensation and that was never a major sticking point.
And, finally, there is the issue of lifting the blockade of Gaza.
Erdogan has ridden the wave of appearing as the champion of Gaza to a position of leadership in the Sunni world, something he covets. The more he bashes Israel, the higher his stature rises; the more he champions Gaza, the more he is cheered in the Arab world.
But Israel did not accede to his demand to lift the blockade of Gaza, something it could never do because that would essentially turn over to a third country the determination of what it needs for its own security.
What did it do? The statement issued by the PMO and carefully crafted by both sides read: “Prime Minister Netanyahu also noted that Israel had substantially lifted the restrictions on the entry of civilian goods into the Palestinian territories, including Gaza, and that this would continue as long as calm prevailed. The two leaders agreed to continue to work to improve the humanitarian situation in the Palestinian territories.”
That in no way can be interpreted as “lifting the siege of Gaza.” But never mind, Erdogan declares his demands were met, and Haniyeh hails him as a hero.
It was clear from the beginning that Erdogan and Davutoglu would claim this as a major victory.
What is less immediately clear is why Israel has not filled the airwaves with its own interpretation of the apology.
Not Netanyahu, International Relations Minister Yuval Steinitz, Naftali Bennett, who is charged with public diplomacy, or even Tzipi Livni, the justice minister who has some competence on this issue, bothered to explain to the Israeli public why Israel said it was sorry, and what – indeed – it was sorry for.
The net result is that the Turks are defining the apology and what it means, and are spinning it to their benefit.
The reason for Israel’s silence? Netanyahu called Erdogan with the hope this would lead to an overall improvement in ties that will culminate in a normalization of relations. The call was about upgrading the ties, so important now with Syria disintegrating, not “scoring points.”
Ankara, over the past two days, is racking up points, while Jerusalem is standing silently on the sidelines, not even trying to respond with some points of its own.
For Israel this is about changing the atmosphere, not playing “gotcha” or embarrassing the Turks.