An unscientific survey of opinion among friends in Israel by this writer, on the subject of Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s apology to Turkey, reveals almost unanimity in rejecting the apology. Netanyahu’s call to the Islamist Prime Minister of Turkey, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, was engineered by President Obama just before leaving Israel last Friday. The people surveyed expressed the notion that Erdogan should apologize to Israel.
Netanyahu’s apology was related to the events of May 30, 2010, when a Turkish flotilla breached Israel’s naval blockade of Hamas’ ruled Gaza Strip. Passengers of one of the ships, the Mavi Marmara, violently attacked Israeli commandos with axes, knife, and guns. Acting in self-defense, the IDF commandos shot and killed nine Turkish nationals.
The Meir Amit, Intelligence, Terrorism Information Center (ITIC) asserted that Turkish PM Erdogan actively supported the flotilla’s sail to Gaza. According to the ITIC, Erdogan agreed to its departure while knowing that Israel would prevent it from reaching the Hamas controlled Gaza. The ITIC, according to the Jerusalem Post, was about to publish “an extensive report that is being written on the Turkish government’s ties with the IHH.” (IHH-İnsan Hak ve Hürriyetleri ve İnsani Yardım Vakfı). Translated into English it reads The Foundation for Human Rights, Freedoms, and Humanitarian Relief. IHH is an Islamist Turkish NGO whose members are predominantly Turkish Muslims, who organized the flotilla to the Gaza Strip.
ITIC uncovered a protocol from a meeting IHH held two weeks before the Mavi Marmara sailed, which shows the close cooperation between IHH and the Erdogan-led Turkish government. Reuven Erlich, ITIC head, said that “The Turkish government was behind this unprecedented provocation against the State of Israel. The Turkish government went through several levels of involvement from behind the scenes to the front. You cannot disconnect the two.”
A UN Panel of Inquiry dealing with the Mavi Marmara incident of May 30, 2010, headed by Geoffrey Palmer, the former New Zealand Prime Minister concluded (September 2011) that contrary to Turkey’s position, Israel’s naval blockade was legal. The UN Panel furthermore agreed that attempting to breach Israel’s blockade of Gaza with a large number of passengers on board was a dangerous and reckless act.
Israel’s Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman suggested that Netanyahu’s apology was a “serious mistake.” He said that the apology makes Israel look weak in a region where looking weak is an invitation for violence. “Such an apology,” Lieberman added, “Harms the motivation of the IDF soldiers and their willingness to go out on missions in the future, and bolsters the radical elements in the region.” Lieberman also asserted that worse yet, the apology harms Israel’s uncompromising struggle on behalf of the righteousness of its cause and the high moral standards of its soldiers.
According to Lieberman, pictures taken on board of the Mavi Marmara prove that the IDF soldiers acted in self-defense in face of the violence carried out by the IHH activists. Lieberman pointed out that both Germany and the Netherlands consider IHH a terrorist organization.
Lieberman blamed the Erdogan government for the deteriorating relations between Turkey and Israel. He pointed out that Erdogan used every opportunity to vilify Israel, beginning with his confrontation with Israel’s President Shimon Peres in 2009, at the Economic Summit in Davos, Switzerland. Erdogan’s recent statement that “Zionism is a racist movement and a “crime against humanity,” speaks volumes about his attitude towards Israel. Lieberman opined that Erdogan’s refusal to apologize for that statement while Israel apologized to Turkey is denigrating Israel’s honor and hurts Israel’s standing in the region and in the world.
Interviewed by Israel’s Hebrew daily Maariv, a number of Israeli naval commandos who participated in the raid on the Mavi Marmara expressed concern over Netanyahu’s apology. One of the commando members identified as “N” declared, “I don’t feel we did anything wrong. We did the right thing. I am not ashamed of it, and we have nothing to apologize for.” Another commando told Yediot Ahronot, (largest Hebrew daily) “We fought aboard the Mavi Marmara in terrible condition, and with this reconciliation agreement it seems that we’ve been given a cold shoulder.”
Naftali Bennett, Israel’s new Minister of Economy and Trade, responding in his official Facebook page to Netanyahu’s apology, said on Wednesday that “It seems that since Netanyahu’s apology, Erdogan is doing everything to make Israel regret it. He is running a personal and vitriolic campaign at the expense of Israeli-Turkish relations.”
Netanyahu’s apology was supported by the IDF Chief-of-Staff, Lt. General Benny Gantz, who suggested that it was good that Netanyahu took action to promote ties with Turkey since it will have a positive effect on our security and strategic interests. PM Erdogan declared in a public address on Sunday (March 24, 2013) that Turkey’s ties with Israel will only normalize if Israel follows through on its promises both to ease the Gaza Blockade, and compensate Turkey for the death of nine Turkish citizens. Erdogan assured the public in his address that there will be no quick restoration of ties.
On Tuesday (March 26, 2013), Erdogan revealed that his government rejected a previous Israeli offer of reconciliation because Israel failed to meet Turkey’s three demands. Foremost among these demands was for Israel to use the word “apologize,” rather than an expression of sorrow for the loss of life.
It is rather ironic that Erdogan demanded an apology from Israel while failing to apologize for his anti-Semitic remarks about Zionism. To mollify U.S. criticism of his hateful remarks, Erdogan declared, “Let no one misunderstand what I said. Everyone knows that my criticism of Israel focuses on some critical issues. It’s directed especially toward Israeli policies on Gaza.” In his interview with Politiken, a Danish newspaper, Erdogan added, “As long as Israel denies Palestinians the right to statehood, our criticisms will continue. On the other hand, we have recognized Israel’s existence within 1967 borders based on a two-state solution.”
Following the 2008 Turkish intellectuals petition apologizing for the Armenian Genocide committed by Turkey, PM Erdogan felt that Turkey had nothing to apologize for. He proclaimed, “I neither accept nor support this campaign. We did not commit a crime, therefore we do not need to apologize.” He added, “It will not have any benefit other than stirring up trouble, disturbing our peace and undoing the steps which have been taken.”
It is doubtful that Turkey, under the Islamist Erdogan, will consider ending its hostility towards Israel. Obama might have considered the value of Israeli-Turkish cooperation on Syria, when he pressed Netanyahu to call Erdogan. But, the reality is that Erdogan’s megalomaniacal ambitions to restore to Turkey the glory of the Ottoman Empire and to lead the Sunni-Muslim world precludes a good relationship with Israel.
Israelis recognize the danger of opening “Pandora’s box.” In fact, an Arab diplomat stated last Sunday that some Arab states are considering the possibility of demanding that Israel apologize for killings in the Palestinian Territories and in Lebanon, just as Israel apologized to Turkey over the Mavi Marmara. Most of all, however, Israelis believe that Erdogan needed to apologize to Netanyahu for his provocative actions against Israel, and his anti-Semitism.
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