Anatomy of Turkish-Israeli rapprochement: when apology replaces justice

Empowering Weak & Oppressed

Ahmet Aslan

Jumada' al-Akhirah 20, 1434 2013-05-01

News & Analysis

by Ahmet Aslan (News & Analysis, Crescent International Vol. 42, No. 3, Jumada' al-Akhirah, 1434)

Turkey’s embrace of Zionist Israel has a lot more to do with regional politics that the cryptic apology offered by Benjamin Netanyahu, with ass-like stubbornness.

The Muslim world witnessed another blunder in Turkey’s foreign policy. While visiting Israel at the end of March, US President Barack Obama phoned Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan to facilitate reconciliation between America’s two staunch allies. He then passed the phone to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu who expressed regret over the loss of life in the May 2010 Israeli attack on the Mavi Marmara, “apologized to the Turkish people for any error that may have led to the loss of life, and agreed to complete the agreement for compensation.”

In return Erdogan pointed to the importance of cooperation between the two countries, and told Netanyahu that he valued “the centuries-long strong friendship and cooperation between the Turkish and Jewish nations.”

Soon after this conversation the Turkish media was saturated with statements of government officials who considered Netanyahu’s apology a “great political victory.” Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu said in his statement, “We have got what we wanted; all of our demands have been met.” Other cabinet ministers also expressed joy about the apology. Even some non-governmental organizations (NGOs) joined in the chorus and became part of government propaganda. The statement of IHH chairman Bulent Yildirim, the organization that had organized the peace flotilla in May 2010, was quite strange and disappointing. At a press conference held at the IHH headquarters in Istanbul, Yildirim congratulated Erdogan and Davutoglu for their “victory” and called the apology a “political and diplomatic victory” as he believed “it is the first time in world history that Israel apologized to another country.”

One would have expected a more considerate response from the IHH chairman by analyzing carefully what Israel had apologized for but more importantly, the Zionists had murdered peace activists on the high seas in complete violation of international law. This went against all sense of justice and fairness considering that the IHH has responsibility toward people that were operating under its care.

Although it may be rare, it is not unusual for Israel to apologize. For example in 2008 Israel issued an official apology to then Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak over crude remarks by Avigdor Leiberman, who was a member of the Israeli cabinet. In 2005 Israel had issued a formal apology to New Zealand for attempts by two Israeli agents to fraudulently obtain passports. Israel has also apologized to Germany, Jordan and the US for various reasons. It even apologized to the British music band, the Beatles, in 2008 over cancellation of its performance in Israel in 1965. So Israel does apologize but is it enough? Since when does a simple apology replace justice and make up for the loss of innocent lives?

In response to the demands of the Turkish people who were outraged by the heinous Zionist attack on the Mavi Marmara killing nine unarmed Turkish peace activists, the Ankara government used very harsh language against Israel. Indeed, official reaction at the time was not limited to rhetoric; Turkey recalled its ambassador from Tel Aviv, downgraded diplomatic relations, ended military cooperation with the Zionist regime, and took some other diplomatic measures. However, the most significant reaction was to allow the trial in Turkish courts of Israeli officials who were involved in the planning and execution of the raid. This was aimed at bringing the perpetrators of the crime to justice. Perhaps it was the most sensible thing to do in the face of such a brazen and completely unjustified attack on innocent people.

There were, however, doubts about the sincerity of the government because of its lack of commitment to the measures that it promised to take against Israel. Despite Turkey’s suspension of military cooperation with Israel, Turkey has allowed the installation of NATO missile defence systems in order to protect the Zionist State against possible retaliation from Iran in the event of an Israeli attack. Further, Turkey has continued to purchase military equipment from BMC, a Turkish company that produces armored personnel carriers for the Turkish army. Although BMC is a Turkish company, its partner Hatehof Industries is Israeli, which has provided hundreds of armored personnel carriers for the Turkish military.

Further, despite political tensions, trade relations between Israel and Turkey have developed considerably, increasing by 30% and reaching an all-time high of $4 billion/year. More interestingly members of the main Turkish opposition party, the Republican People’s Party (CHP) have recently claimed that Erdogan’s son, Ahmet Burak Erdogan regarded by many as a controversial figure, has been doing business with Israel. The junior Erdogan owns MB Shipping Company that has two cargo vessels. One of them, Safran-1, has sailed between Turkish and Israeli ports several times, transferring goods back and forth.

In his speech delivered at the Grand National Assembly, an assistant to the chairman of the opposition party CHP slammed the Turkish Prime Minister for hypocrisy. If the shipping story is true, it would be a major embarrassment for Erdogan as there is no excuse for his son to trade with Israel at a time when relations were so tense especially given the Zionist crimes against innocent Turkish civilians. However, there was a media blackout of this news and all major media outlets ignored the story. Erdogan too did not make any comment about the allegation, preferring to hush the matter.

And now Erdogan and his government want to stop the only avenue left to bring the perpetrators of the Mavi Marmara killings to justice. Bulent Arinc, a senior figure in the ruling AKP and Deputy Prime Minister, who was appointed by Erdogan to manage negotiations with Israel, indicated soon after his new assignment that the Turkish government wanted the trial of the Israeli officials to be stopped. In an interview with the official TV channel, TRT, Arinc said, “…if the compensation money is to be given to the families [of the Mavi Marmara victims] they need to withdraw the court cases otherwise they may not get any money… They cannot say that we want to get the compensation and also go ahead with the court case. Even if one family continues with the case the other families may not get any compensation.”

The statement came a week before the scheduled visit on April 7 of the Israeli delegation to start negotiations with Turkey. The statement thus reflected the perspective of the Turkish government rather than the demand of the Israelis. The families of the victims reacted harshly to the government position. In response to Arinc’s statement the Mavi Marmara activists held a press conference. The spokespersons stressed that their priority was ending the on-going embargo against the Gaza Strip and they would not accept the apology until the embargo ended completely. They also said “…no one can buy the blood of the martyrs with money… It is not acceptable to withdraw the court cases in return for compensation.”

After this press conference the visit of the Israeli delegation was postponed. According to media reports, the government is trying to convince the families of the Mavi Marmara victims to withdraw the court cases after which the delegation will visit Turkey to talk about compensation.

Turkey seems to be eager to reconcile with Israel and this is why they are pressing hard to reach a deal. Ankara has been desperate to find allies in the region after upsetting Iran, Iraq and Syria. Due to meddling in the internal affairs of Iraq, reckless support of the rebels in Syria and hostile acts against Iran, Turkey has upset all its neighbors. Ankara is worried that Bashar al-Asad, who has secured the support of the Syrian people, China, Russia, Iran and Iraq, might survive the civil war. This would leave Turkey completely isolated on its eastern front. The only place Turkey can turn to is its old friend Israel and this is one of the reasons why Erdogan is so eager to make peace with Israel. Similarly, in the face of ongoing uncertainty in Syria and the fall of the Mubarak regime in Egypt, Israel is in need of a reliable partner in the region. The US also has an interest in rapprochement between the two countries as they have both served America’s interests, so Obama initiated the reconciliation.

In this regard, US Secretary State John Kerry during his visit to Turkey last month said, “Turkey and Israel are crucial allies of the United States. We are hopeful that the agreement (between the two countries) for normalizing the relations will open the door for stronger cooperation.”

There is another dimension to the rapprochement that is perhaps most appealing for both countries. Israel has discovered huge gas resources in its self-claimed Exclusive Economic Zones in the Levant Basin. Tel Aviv wants to export the gas to Europe and the most convenient route is through Turkey. Ankara would also benefit since it will have an opportunity to purchase cheaper gas from Israel. This is why right after the apology Michael Lotem, Special Envoy of the Israeli Energy Ministry visited Ankara to negotiate with Turkish officials. During his visit he told the media that both countries will benefit if gas is transported through Turkey, “For me the best option is Turkey. We need to use energy as a tool in resolving regional problems. The region needs this.”

Meanwhile Turkey’s Energy and Natural Resources Minister Taner Yildiz echoed Lotem’s words stating, “Turkey is the cheapest option for the gas to be transported,” making it clear that Ankara is happy to work with Israel on this. In response to a question he said, “…the motivation behind Israel’s apology is not the energy projects but the result might be cooperation in the energy sector.”

The real meaning of rapprochement between Turkey and Israel was best expressed in the words of Namik Tan, Turkey’s Ambassador to the US. On his Twitter account, Tan wrote, “Deep rooted, strong and historic friendship between the two peoples brought the apology and opened the door for Israel and Turkey to move forward… We have always said: only true friends apologize to each other.”

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