Turkish ties

Istanbul’s Seventh Criminal Court to seek prison terms totaling over 18,000 years for four former IDF commanders.

Turkish PM Erdogan in Beijing 370 (R) (photo credit: REUTERS/David Gray)
Turkish PM Erdogan in Beijing 370 (R)
(photo credit: REUTERS/David Gray)
The decision this week by Istanbul’s Seventh Criminal Court to seek prison terms totaling over 18,000 years for four former IDF commanders may or may not have been timed to coincide with the second anniversary of the May 31 Mavi Marmara debacle. But many have used the occasion of the indictment – and the anniversary of the incident – to argue that the time has come to apology to the Turks.
New York University’s Alon Ben-Meir, a professor of international relations and a regular columnist for The Jerusalem Post, made such a recommendation in an oped that appeared in the Turkish daily Hurriyet. Ben-Meir claimed that “Turkey has repeatedly reaffirmed that once Israel apologizes, Ankara will resume full diplomatic relations.”
In addition, according to a Channel 10 news report, Vice Premier Shaul Mofaz supports apologizing to the Turks, thus strengthening the position held by Defense Minister Ehud Barak and Intelligence Agencies Minister Dan Meridor.
The US has reportedly relaunched an effort to convince Israel to reconsider apologizing to Turkey, encouraged by Mofaz’s strengthening of the apologist camp in the government and by the fact that the broad government coalition cannot be toppled by Yisrael Beytenu’s Avigdor Liberman, a strong opponent of apologizing to Turkey.
But will an apology truly improve Israel’s relations with Turkey? Last July ahead of the release of the UN-appointed Palmer Commission’s report – which found that Israel had every legal justification for enforcing a naval blockade on the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip, though the IDF was taken to task for using excessive force – a concerted effort spearheaded by the US, attempted to resolve the tension between Jerusalem and Ankara.
To pacify the Turks, the US would see to it that the Palmer report would be buried. In addition, the Turks demanded that Israel apologize for the incident and pay compensation to the families of the nine people who were killed when IDF commandos raided the Mavi Marmara.
Israel also was expected to lift its blockade of Gaza.
In exchange, the Turks agreed to refrain from bringing legal claims against the commandos who boarded the Mavi Marmara or against the officers and political leaders who sent them, and resolve the conflict with Israel.
For its part, Israel was willing to express “regret” over the incident and provide monetary compensation. But Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and Liberman refused to issue an official apology or lift the naval blockade.
As a result, the deal fell through and the Palmer report was published. In response, Ankara downgraded its diplomatic relations with Israel.
At the time, this paper supported the government’s decision not to cave in to Turkish demands. Doing so would have been interpreted as a sign of weakness.
Agreeing to lift the blockade would only encourage future attempts to use diplomatic pressure to influence Israeli policies. And a full apology would also be a disservice to IDF soldiers and military commanders.
Finally, an Israeli apology – without any recognition on the part of the Turks that by allowing the Mavi Marmara to set sail from their shores, they were also responsible for the debacle – might be interpreted as an admission of guilt.
Obviously, if the Turks had really been interested in improving relations with Israel they would have – “If you don’t want to marry, ask for a large dowry,” says a Ladino expression.
And even if Israel had apologized, it is highly unlikely that Ankara would fully normalize relations. Doing so would hurt its standing in the Muslim world. In contrast, taking a tough stand against Israel is an easy way of currying Muslim favor, both inside Turkey and throughout the region.
It is naïve to believe that if only Israel were to apologize for the Mavi Marmara raid, relations with Turkey would return to normal.
True, Israel might score a small diplomatic victory by apologizing and proving to the world that it is Turkish intransigence and radicalism – not an Israeli refusal to apologize – that are the real obstacles to normalization.
But Israel also has an obligation to itself to maintain a modicum of self-respect and deterrence power.