'Israel will mull apologizing for Marmara raid problems'

Defense minister says J'lem must "come to an understanding with Turkey" in order to prevent publication of "problematic" UN report.

Ehud Barak 311 (R) (photo credit: Reuters)
Ehud Barak 311 (R)
(photo credit: Reuters)
Defense Minister Ehud Barak on Thursday said that Israel was "willing to consider apologizing" for problems that occurred during last year's raid of the Turkish flotilla ship the Mavi Marmara in which nine Turks were killed by IDF commandos.
Speaking to reporters in Washington following a meeting with his US counterpart Leon Panetta, Barak said that he would prefer to come to an understanding with Turkey rather than wait for the publication of a UN report on the incident, which he deemed "problematic for Israel."
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"Defense Ministry and IDF legal advisers recommend that we come to an understanding with Turkey in order to protect commanders and soldiers from legal action," Barak stated.
"We are not apologizing for the blockade and we are not apologizing for using force," he said. "We are willing to consider apologizing for problems that occurred during the Marmara operation, if indeed their were such problems...I don't like it, but that is the choice that must be made," Barak added.
US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton stressed the importance of Israel reaching a path to reconciliation with Turkey during an hour-long meeting with Barak on Thursday, Barak’s office said.
The issue also came up in talks Barak held earlier in the day at the White House with Vice President Joe Biden and National Security Adviser Tom Donilon.
Washington – which believes a strong US-Israel-Turkey is critical for Middle East stability – has brought pressure to bear on both Jerusalem and Ankara to find a formula to end the crisis over the Mavi Marmara, according to diplomatic officials.
Barak has come out as the key advocate in Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s inner forum urging Israel to take steps necessary to bring about a normalization of ties with Turkey.
Turkey is demanding Israel apologize for May 2010’s Mavi Marmara raid, pay compensation to the families of the nine men killed, and lift the naval blockade of the Gaza Strip.
Barak was scheduled to meet with UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon in New York on Friday before returning to Israel.
On the Palestinian plan to see recognition of a state at the UN in September, Barak told reporters, "I hope and believe there is a chance to reach an understanding on a formula agreed upon by the Americans and the Quartet that will convince the Palestinians not to make a unilateral declaration."
He added: If their will not be Palestinian willingness to answer this agreement, at least European nations will vote with Israel and empty of content, to a certain extent, the Palestinian achievement. If we do not reach an understanding on such a formula, some of the Europeans may vote with the Palestinians, which could begin a problematic process for Israel, even if it does not have immediate results."
Hilary Leila Krieger and Herb Keinon contributed to this report.