A lot of people seem to think the Israeli “apology” was a win for Israel. Barry Rubin:
Now, a compromise has been reached, apparently with some help from President Barack Obama. The agreement, which includes restoring normal bilateral relations, has been portrayed as some sort of Israeli surrender.
That is simply not true. The agreement is much closer to Israel’s position. There is no change on Israel’s strategic policy toward the Gaza Strip at all. While the word “apology” appears in Netanyahu’s statement, it is notably directed at the Turkish people, not the government and is of the sorry-if-your feelings-were-hurt variety.
Moreover, Israel denied that it killed the Turkish citizens intentionally, a situation quite different from what Erdogan wanted, and offered to pay only humanitarian assistance to families.
Should Israel have expressed regret when it should instead receive an apology from the Turkish government for helping to send terrorists to create a confrontation? On purely moral grounds, no. Yet as I pointed out Israel did not abandon its long-standing position on the issue. It does not want an antagonism with the Turkish people nor one that will continue long after Erdogan and his regime are long out of office. Perhaps this was undertaken to make Obama happy and in exchange for U.S. benefits. But what has happened is far more complex than onlookers seem to be realizing.
Israeli officials have been ready a long time ago, trying incessantly to reach an agreement on an apology over the May 2010 flotilla incident. But the Turks refused to accept the Israeli formula, and Israel – pressured by then-Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman and Minister for Strategic Affairs Moshe Yaalon – refused to relax the wordings of Attorney Joseph Ciechanover, Israel’s representative on the UN’s panel of inquiry into the flotilla affair.
The Turks also demanded that Israel lift the naval blockade over Gaza and pay damages to the victims’ families, but the main thing was an unequivocal Turkish demand for a significant apology, despite the fact that the UN’s Palmer Commission ruled explicitly that Israel’s actions were legal, although it did use unreasonable force which led to the death of nine Turkish nationals. Indeed, those citizens used extreme violence against IDF soldiers and injured them, but they did not use firearms, and thus Israel was rebuked for using unreasonable force.
In any event, Turkey did not receive international legal backing. The Turks refused to accept the wordings of the Israeli apology, which were in fact an indirect apology for operational mistakes and willingness to establish a fund to compensate the families of the killed civilians, as long as the Turkish government is the one that pays them.
For Ankara, the Syrian crisis has been a major headache. Turkey has suffered a loss in trade, been forced to rely on NATO for Patriot missiles to defend against border threats, and accepted just under half a million Syrian refugees. Ankara’s demands for Assad to step down have fallen on deaf ears, and its requests for NATO intervention in the form of a no-fly zone and heavy arms for the Syrian rebels have also been brushed aside.
All this has been unfortunate for Turkey’s leaders, but it was the recent introduction of Syrian chemical weapons into the equation that really changed Turkey’s calculus; now more than ever, the country needs better intelligence and allies to bring an end to the civil war or at least prevent it from spilling over. Turkey cannot afford to have chemical weapons used anywhere near its border with Syria, and the longer the fighting goes on, the greater the chances of a chemical weapons strike gone awry. Israel simply has better intelligence on regional developments than Turkey does, and Turkey can use that help to monitor Assad’s weapons stores and troop movements on both sides. In addition, whereas the United States and other NATO countries have been reluctant to support the Syrian rebels in any meaningful way, Israel has a greater incentive to make sure that the moderate Sunni groups prevail over the more radical jihadist elements of the opposition. As the situation in Syria heats up, Turkey and Israel will be thankful that they can talk to each other and coordinate.
To recap: Turkey wanted Israel to apologize, pay the families of the Turks that were killed, and lift the blockade of Gaza. Israel said, “We’re sorry if we made any mistakes,” will pay into a humanitarian fund, not the families’ pockets, and said they will look into lifting the blockade if events warrant it. In other words, the apology is a non-apology and is pretty much what Israel wanted all along. Of course Israel should never have apologized for being attacked. But this is not a perfect world, and the imperfect world expects Israel to shoulder all the burdens, all of the time. Erdogan is already trying to weasel out of his end of the deal, and I doubt you’ll see a lot of pushback from Obama or Kerry over it. But the fact of the matter is that Israel got what it wanted, and Turkey did not.
It’s a non-apology apology, and an Netanyahu win.