Israel, Turkey Begin To Heal Wounds From 2010 Gaza Flotilla Raid

Turkey Israel Flags

As President Obama was preparing to leave Israel yesterday, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was calling his counterpart in Turkey for the first time since relations between the two nations turned sour after an Israeli raid on a ship headed to Gaza that had originated in Turkey:

JERUSALEM — Under persistent prodding from President Obama, Israel and Turkey resolved a bitter three-year dispute on Friday with a diplomatic thaw that will help a fragile region confront Syria’s civil war, while handing the president a solid accomplishment as he closed out his visit to the Middle East.

The breakthrough took place in the most improbable of surroundings: a trailer parked on the tarmac of Ben-Gurion International Airport. Moments before Mr. Obama left for Jordan, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu telephoned the Turkish prime minister, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, and apologized for deadly errors in Israel’s 2010 raid on a Turkish ship that was trying to bring aid to Palestinians in Gaza.

After years of angrily demanding an apology, Mr. Erdogan accepted Mr. Netanyahu’s gesture, and both sides agreed to dispatch envoys to each other’s nations, having recalled them in 2011.

The president’s involvement, a senior American official said, was crucial to both leaders, which is why Mr. Netanyahu scheduled the call before Mr. Obama’s departure from Israel. Mr. Erdogan insisted on speaking to Mr. Obama first before the president handed the phone over to Mr. Netanyahu. In the end, the call produced a win-win for all sides.

Mr. Obama achieved reconciliation between two of the United States’ most important allies, while Turkey and Israel won good will with the White House, important for two nations that have made ties to the United States central to their foreign policies. Turkey and Israel, along with Jordan, have also been three pillars of stability for the United States as it confronts a civil war in Syria that threatens to spill beyond its borders and destabilize the broader region.

“Both of us agreed the moment was ripe,” Mr. Obama said of Mr. Netanyahu at a news conference later in Amman, Jordan. He cautioned that the détente was a “work in progress” and that Turkey and Israel would continue to have significant disagreements as they mended fences. American officials say both countries are still “working the issue” of dropping criminal charges against four current and former top Israeli military officials that Turkey had indicted in the flotilla raid, and of determining Israel’s compensation to Turkey.

Mr. Obama reiterated his support for Jordan, too, announcing after a meeting with King Abdullah II that the United States would provide an additional $200 million in aid to help Jordan with the burden of caring for 460,000 Syrian refugees who have flooded into the country.

Israel and Turkey have a host of shared economic and security interests, and both are concerned about the unraveling situation in Syria. Turkey also could play a strategic role in Washington and Jerusalem’s efforts to stop Iran from developing a nuclear weapon, as well as in resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

It was the Palestinian issue that opened the rift between the two, when Israeli commandos raided the Turkish ship, the Mavi Marmara, as it was trying to break Israel’s blockade of Gaza to deliver supplies. Nine people were killed in clashes on board, prompting an international outcry, several investigations and a rebuke by the United Nations.

“The prime minister made it clear that the tragic results regarding the Mavi Marmara were unintentional and that Israel expresses regret over injuries and loss of life,” a statement issued by Mr. Netanyahu’s office said.

Mr. Erdogan’s office, in turn, said he had accepted the apology “on behalf of the Turkish people,” and that in his conversation with Mr. Netanyahu he had emphasized their nations’ shared history and prior eras of friendship and cooperation.

The call’s timing came as a surprise after a visit by Mr. Obama that was intensely symbolic and, publicly at least, tightly focused on Iran, Syria and the peace process. Mr. Obama used his trip to convince the Israeli public that he was a strong supporter and ally — credibility he then hoped to use to persuade the Israelis that it was safe, and wise, to earnestly embrace negotiations with Palestinians. Public reaction suggested that Mr. Obama did win the public trust, but it was not at all clear that he would achieve the second goal and prompt any significant movement in the long-stalled peace process.

On the right, the reaction to this news of two nations that had been allies for many years prior to 2010 was greeted not with appreciated, but with, of course, attacks on President Obama. Apparently, the meme now is that President Obama forced Netanyahu to apologize to Turkey. Now,say what you will about the Prime Minister of Israel, but easily intimidated is not one of the phrases I’d use to describe him. The image of Obama “forcing” his Israeli counterpart to do something he didn’t want to do is utterly absurd. What’s more likely, of course, is that Obama persuaded Netanyahu that beginning to heal the rift with Turkey was in his nation’s interests and, as Walter Russell Mead notes, this is a good thing:

This is most welcome news. Any progress on narrowing the rift between Israel and Turkey is very important if there is to be any hope of stabilizing the Middle East. Israel and Turkey, despite differences, have a lot of interests in common: Syria and Iran in particular draw them together. They have come close to resolving the flotilla issue before, and by all accounts the gaps between them were not all that wide. Nevertheless, to the extent President Obama helped to directly facilitate this diplomatic opening, he is to be applauded.

And, as Allahpundit notes,it’s not hard to figure out what might be motivating the Israelis and the Turks to move beyond the flotilla incident:

The real significance of this, I think, is that it signals deepening worry among Syria’s neighbors about spillover from the war. Whether that’s related to the (probably apocryphal) claims of chemical weapons being used a few days ago or to some other form of escalation that the world doesn’t know about yet is unclear, but evidently Bibi and Erdogan have reached the point where containing the Syrian black hole is more important than holding old grudges. That’s more bad news for Iran, as naturally it prefers its enemies in Tel Aviv and its enemies among anti-Assad Islamists to remain divided.

In the long run, Israel and Turkey have more in common than that which divides them. So, this is a positive development.

FILED UNDER: Middle East, Quick Takes, World Politics, ,
Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug holds a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010. Before joining OTB, he wrote at Below The BeltwayThe Liberty Papers, and United Liberty Follow Doug on Twitter | Facebook

Comments

  1. michael reynolds says:

    It’s a minor but important diplomatic accomplishment for Mr. Obama.

  2. OzarkHillbilly says:

    On the right, the reaction to this news of two nations that had been allies for many years prior to 2010 was greeted not with appreciated, but with, of course, attacks on President Obama.

    I am shocked, SHOCKED I tell you.

  3. 11B40 says:

    Greetings:

    Was this the same Turkey(s) that pulled in their welcome mat when our 4th Infantry Division wanted to go a-knocking on some of Saddam Hussein’s many palace doors ??? Hell, I don’t know about you guys, but I would hate to lose an Islamo-ally like that. In fact, I’d want to give them a bunch of Patriot missile batteries to protect themselves against their Islamo-brothers in Syria. Yeah, that’s what I would want to do. And, don’t going bring up that bit written in that Korany thingy aboutdhimmis having to feel themselves subdued. That’s just a bunch of Zionist claptrap. Religion of Peace, baby, that’s who loves you.

  4. anjin-San says:

    A win for all parties. Naturally, conservatives are curious.

    @11B40

    Turkey was too smart to get involved in our disastrous war in Iraq. You fault them for that?

  5. michael reynolds says:

    @11B40:

    Of course you realize that numerous Christian countries also refused involvement. So why the specific attack on Muslims? Are Muslims the only ones who refuse to go down every rabbit hole with us?

    Without the aid of Muslims we have zero chance of stopping Islamist terror. Jordan, for example, just helped us out with the apprehension of OBL’s brother-in-law. Any human intel will obviously come from Muslims, don’t you think? So maybe it would be stupid to practice religious bigotry against people we need? Because doing so would actually help the AQ cause? See that?

    And you may also be interested to know that Turkey stood with us in Korea losing 721 dead and 2000 wounded. As a NATO ally they accepted US strategic missiles on their territory — something our “Christian” allies often refused. And since the Turks have a professional and capable military they can be of use in peacekeeping missions in Muslim countries.

    But more importantly, you might want to click over to Google maps and look up Turkey. See how they share borders with Iran, Iraq and Syria? See how they sit astride the Bosphorus which keeps then-Soviet and now-Russian naval forces out of the Med? See how if you needed to rush weapons to Israel or Saudi Arabia it might be really useful to have an air base in Turkey, say at Incirlik where we just happen to have such a base. Also useful for force projection into Ukraine, Georgia, etc, should the need arise.

  6. 11B40 says:

    @michael reynolds:

    Greetings, michael reynolds:

    Para 1: Iraq was a Islamo-problem and was contiguous to Turkey, so there was the potential benefit of getting rid of a neighbor-invading Islamo-dictator for the cost of letting a bunch of kuffars past through to clean up the mess. Somehow, that wasn’t
    enough of a deal.

    Para 2: Certainly, Muslims can and are helpful to some degree in the ongoing hostilities, but, until we decide to do something to constrain, undermine, or eradicate Islam, we’re just kicking the ideological can down the camel path, or, even worse, granting it
    ideological sanctuary. Those are, as Fouad Ajami has pointed out, the lands of “I against my brother; my brother and I against our cousin; and, my cousin, my brother, and I against the stranger” so I don’t think we will totally run out of help.

    Para 3: That was a much different Turkey back in the Korean War days. The Islamist Turks were not in control and, as they have and had been, the Kemalists were much more concerned about being in NATO and keeping the Soviets in line.

    Para 4: So, the guys who wouldn’t let the 4th Infantry pass through having control of our air base is a good thing ??? However interesting their geography is, their ideology will have more effect on their decision making and that includes that world famous Muslim gratitude that’s like a Missouri-Warhol River: a verbal mile wide; an actual inch deep,and flowing for about 15 minutes.

    As to your comparisons with “Christian” nations, my understanding is that they don’t subscribe to an ideology bent on taking over the Dar-al-Harb world, now do they ???

  7. michael reynolds says:

    @11B40:

    Well, I tried giving you the benefit of the doubt. You’re just another brainwashed little hater. I won’t waste any more time on your education.

  8. Socraticsilence says:

    @11B40:

    Doubt, Turkey was too worried about a contained Saddam invading, Hussein was always a rational actor and invading a NATO member would have been the definition of an irrational act.

  9. Socraticsilence says:

    From a real politik standpoint why on earth would a more powerful Kurdish minority and a more powerful Iran on there borders?

  10. de stijl says:

    @11B40:

    Para 1:

    Para 2 :

    Thanks for the headings on the paragraphs! Line breaks and spacing and several millenia of convention are too subtle for me.

  11. @Socraticsilence: And Turkey didn’t want a stronghold for the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), an internationally recognized terrorist group, in northern Iraq, which is exactly what they got. In short, the United States invasion of Iraq helped increase international terrorism in the world. And Blackwater selling arms to the PKK didn’t help matters.

  12. anjin-san says:

    Obama’s performance in Israel was really pretty spectacular. Romney could not shine his shoes.

    This report on his trip is worth watching.

  13. anjin-san says:

    Religion of Peace

    Well, in this case, Turkey chose to stay out of the war. Are you really unable to see the logical fallacy that you are pushing?

  14. michael reynolds says:

    @anjin-san:

    Yes, he is.

  15. 11B40 says:

    @de stijl:

    Greetings, de stijl:

    Your decoding was almost successful, in an “Everyone gets a trophy.” kind of way. My fifth paragraph was the double-secret hint as it didn’t include the bolded heading. As I’m sure you will realize directly, those carefully bolded headings were actually a reference to those of “michael reynolds’ ” reply to my initial comment.

    Nevertheless, thanks for the exclamation point. Nobody has enough exclamation points in his life.

  16. anjin-san says:

    @ 11B40

    So you feel you’ve framed your call for genocide in a clever manner, and you are giving yourself a cookie?

  17. anjin-san says:

    Interesting how Fox is telling us that Obama is throwing Israel under the bus, but when he goes to Israel, he is more or less a rock star. I guess reality really does have a liberal bias.

    “A SPEECH is just a speech,” one particularly blasé Israeli peacenik remarked in the wake of Barack Obama’s address to Israeli students in Jerusalem on March 21st.

    Her hard-nosed observation was incontrovertible. But so was the fact—as this writer ascertained in unscientific polling—that the American president’s elegant, empathetic rhetoric brought tears, literally, to the eyes of many other Israelis who yearn for an end to the conflict with the Palestinians.

    Just a speech, yes. But a corker of a speech.

    http://www.economist.com/blogs/pomegranate/2013/03/barack-obama-israel

  18. 11B40 says:

    Greetings:

    One of Mr. Reuters’ employees has an update from Turkey’s favorite Prime Minister. Behold.

    http://www.reuters.com/article/2013/03/23/us-turkey-israel-erdogan-idUSBRE92M07W20130323

  19. anjin-san says:

    @ 11B40

    Behold.

    In other words, the President of Turkey has to spin events for domestic consumption just like the leader of every other country in the world.

    Get yourself another cookie.

  20. grumpy realist says:

    @11B40: Given your statement about Islam, is it any wonder that believers in Islam aren’t suspicious of people like you? You’re creating at least as much hostility against the US as anyone over in Saudi Arabia.

  21. Nikki says:

    As to your comparisons with “Christian” nations, my understanding is that they don’t subscribe to an ideology bent on taking over the Dar-al-Harb world, now do they ???

    Yes, they do. It’s called missionary outreach. When was the last time you actually read the Bible?