THE DANGERS OF AN ISRAELI APOLOGY TO TURKEY
Recently, there have been renewed rumors of a possible deal to help
heal the rift that developed between Israel and Turkey following the
deaths of eight Turkish citizens on the ship Mavi Marmara as it sailed
toward Gaza in May 2010.
The broad outlines of the deal suggest that Israel would offer a
limited apology for “operational errors,” and would pay compensation
to the families of those who died. In return, Turkey would recognize
the legality of Israel’s naval blockade of Gaza, and would agree not
to seek legal action against Israeli soldiers who were involved.
The Mavi Marmara set sail from Turkey as part of a flotilla whose
primary aim was to break Israel’s naval blockade of Gaza. Israel had
imposed the blockade to prevent the importation of weapons and dual-use
material that ultimately could be used by the Hamas government against
The Israeli Navy interdicted the flotilla and boarded the ships after
they refused to turn back. As is clear from the video of the events
that followed, the navy commandos – who were armed only with paintball
guns and side-arms – were attacked as they boarded the Mavi Marmara
by a group of passengers wielding iron bars, knives, and possibly guns.
Several commandos were wounded in the ensuing battle, and nine
members of the Turkish group IHH – which claims to be a humanitarian
organization but has long supported radical Islamic groups, including
Hamas – were killed. The boarding of all other ships was peaceful. It
appears that the confrontation had been prepared for, and instigated
by, the members of the IHH.
The UN then established a commission headed by former New Zealand
Prime Minister Geoffrey Palmer, and that included representatives
of both Israel and Turkey, to investigate what happened. The Palmer
Commission’s report was scheduled to be issued during the last week
in July, but has been delayed until late August as the two countries
seek to reach a compromise agreement.
The problem with the proposed deal between Israel and Turkey is that
an Israeli apology could very well exacerbate the rift between the
two countries, at the same time causing a worldwide public relations
nightmare for Israel.
While the apology would refer specifically to “operational errors,”
the world will not recognize such diplomatic nuances. Instead, Israel
will be seen as accepting full responsibility for the deaths of the
IHH “activists.” The media and UN will be flooded with self-righteous
statements of “I told you so,” along with renewed allegations of a
“brutal response” by Israeli commandos to “peaceful resistance.”
An apology will also have far reaching negative ramifications for
the Jewish state. It will appear to contradict Israel’s repeated
assertion that its actions were a necessary response to unprovoked
attacks by mercenaries bent on “martyrdom.” Israel will find it
much more difficult to explain any military action as necessary and
justifiable self-defense. From then on, the world will see such claims
as self-serving and ultimately unreliable.
Just as problematic, the Israeli government would be abandoning
thousands of supporters who relied on Israel’s veracity and defended
its actions in the face of withering external criticism. These
supporters will be left swinging in the air – much like the Navy
commandos who fast-roped from helicopters into the waiting clubs of
the armed IHH mercenaries.
For years, Israel has criticized the PA and Hamas for providing
financial benefits to terrorists’ families. Such payments honor
murderers and serve as incentives for others to follow in their
footsteps. Just this past week, for example, it was revealed that the
PA pays more than $5 million per month, funded by the United States and
Europe, in “salaries” to all Palestinians and Israeli-Arabs currently
imprisoned in Israel for crimes of terror; How will Israeli Prime
Minister Benjamin Netanyahu distinguish the Palestinian payments to
terrorists from the “compensation” he is considering paying to the
families of those who died on the ship? These payments could be seen
as whitewash the IHH actions and benefit the families of would-be
Finally, an Israeli apology, no matter how limited, will call
into question Israel’s fundamental claim that the Gaza blockade is
necessary. Many more flotillas will then be planned, and “open season”
on IDF personnel who try to stop them.
What would Israel receive in return for an apology? Turkey’s acceptance
of the blockade’s legality would be at best a hollow victory. Most
of the world will not even be aware of this concession.
No responsible legal authority questions Israel’s right to impose a
blockade on its hostile neighbor. The Palmer Commission’s draft report
indicates that neither an apology nor compensation is required from
Israel for its legal actions.
Although Turkey may keep its promise not to pursue state legal action
against Israeli commandos, there is no guarantee that it will prevent
private Turkish citizens or organizations from filing their own
The most recent pronouncements by Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip
Erdogan suggest how little he is really interested in returning to
the previous warm relations between the countries. He has demanded
nothing short of a full lifting of the blockade, and, threatened that
Turkey will become a full-fledged opponent unless Israel complies with
its demand for an apology, and has even demanded an apology from the
Armenians for having been slaughtered by the Turks early in the last
century. Rather than trying to resolve the countries’ differences,
Erdogan seems bent on exacerbating them.
Offering a limited apology for deadly events that were precipitated
by Turkish IHH passengers will provide, at best, only short-term
benefits for the Israel/Turkey relationship if at all. At the same
time, it could do grievous long-term harm to Israel, its supporters,
and the Israel Defense For
By Efraim Cohen Hudson New York