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At last minute Bibi bows to Obama and says sorry for Mavi Marmara

This posting has these items:
1) Wall Street Journal Israeli Apology Resets Alliance With Turkey;
2) Ofir Gendelman: PM Netanyahu Speaks with Turkish PM Erdogan;
3) Foreign Policy: Inside Bibi’s apology to Turkey;
4) BBC: Mavi Marmara: US extracts last-minute Israeli apology;
5) Useful links;


Prime Minister Erdogan at a UN conference in Vienna when he is reported to have said ‘Islamophobia should be considered a crime against humanity “just like Zionism, like anti-Semitism and fascism.”’ Only his remark about Zionism was widely reported, and widely condemned.


Israeli Apology Resets Alliance With Turkey

Netanyahu’s Contrition on 2010 Raid Offers U.S. Renewed Leverage in Mideast

By Charles Levinson in Tel Aviv, Joe Parkinson in Istanbul and Colleen McCain Nelson in Amman, Jordan, Wall Street Journal
March 22, 2013

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu apologized to Turkey’s leader for a deadly 2010 raid on a Turkish ship, a leap toward improved ties between two U.S. allies that could strengthen Washington’s hand in the Syrian crisis and in the push for Israeli-Palestinian peace.

The apology, in a diplomatic victory for President Barack Obama, paves the way for the restoration of normal relations between the two regional powers.

During a joint news conference with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, President Barack Obama affirms the U.S.’s commitment to Israel’s security in the face of many challenges.

Relations broke apart after Israeli naval commandoes killed nine activists, eight of them Turkish and one Turkish-American, during the bungled raid on the Mavi Marmara as it tried to breach Israel’s naval blockade of Gaza in May 2010.


President Obama in head-to-head talks with Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan

Mr. Netanyahu offered his apology during a phone call to Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan in the final moments of Mr. Obama’s three-day visit to Israel. It was a surprise outcome from a Mideast trip that was expected to yield few tangible accomplishments.

In his 30-minute phone call with Mr. Erdogan, Mr. Netanyahu apologized, pledged to pay compensation to the victims’ families and to continue to ease restrictions on the movement of civilian goods into Gaza, according to a statement released by Mr. Netanyahu’s office.

“In light of Israel’s investigation into the incident, which pointed to a number of operational mistakes, the prime minister expressed Israel’s apology to the Turkish people for any mistakes that might have led to the loss of life or injury,” the statement said.

The two leaders agreed to normalize ties between the two countries, including the dispatch of ambassadors, according to Turkish and Israeli officials. Turkey agreed to cancel legal actions taken against Israeli soldiers in Turkish courts, according to the officials.

The rapprochement between the two countries could boost Ankara’s bid to topple Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, if it results in the pooling of Israel’s technology and intelligence capabilities with Turkey’s robust military presence on the Syrian border, analysts said.

It also marks the latest sign that Turkey’s policy is diverging from Iran. Ankara had courted Tehran as part of a policy to embrace neighbors and project regional power, but the two governments are now at odds over Syria and Iraq.

The Turkish incident was a subject of talks between Mr. Netanyahu and Mr. Obama during the president’s trip to Israel this week, officials said.

In addition, any hopes of securing a Mideast peace deal will depend in part on the willingness of Turkey to lend material and political support to the Palestinians and entice Israel into making concessions.

“When the triangle between the U.S., Israel and Turkey is working together, it is something that no one can ignore,” said Alon Liel, a former Israeli envoy to Turkey who has been briefed on Israel-Turkey reconciliation talks. “These are the main military and economic powers in the region and the only stable countries.”

The final negotiations to seal the apology took place during Mr. Obama’s visit to Israel, the president said Friday. “During my visit it appeared the timing was good for that conversation to take place,” Mr. Obama said at a news conference in Amman. “I discussed it with Mr. Netanyahu and both of us agreed the moment was right.”

Turkey and Israel were long close allies, participating in joint military exercises together, sharing intelligence, and exchanging weapons systems.

Relations between Ankara and Jerusalem started to wither in January 2009 after a public spat between Mr. Erdogan and Israeli President Shimon Peres during a panel at the Davos World Economic Forum in Switzerland. Mr. Erdogan stormed offstage in protest against Israel’s December 2008 assault on the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip. Mr. Erdogan had been in the middle of trying to broker a peace deal between Israel and Syria.

Ties worsened on May 31, 2010, when Israeli naval commandos staged the deadly raid on the Mavi Marmara in international waters. In response, Turkey expelled Israel’s ambassador in Ankara and suspended military ties.

Statement From Netanyahu’s Office
Israel long refused to issue the public apology Turkey demanded to restore ties, and numerous efforts to patch up relations fell short.

Last year, Turkish and Israeli representatives met in Geneva and hashed out a formula to end their squabble, according to Israeli officials. But before Mr. Netanyahu put the agreement to a cabinet vote, Turkey put four former Israeli military commanders on trial in absentia for the killings. Mr. Netanyahu never put the proposal to the vote.

U.S., Turkish and Israeli officials said the reconciliation on Friday was the product of weeks of feverish U.S. diplomacy.

“We knew there wasn’t going to be a major breakthrough in the Palestinian issue” during Mr. Obama’s visit to Israel, a senior U.S. official said. “But we felt this was one potentially achievable goal in this time frame.”

Statement From Erdogan’s Office
For several weeks, U.S. diplomats shuttled between the Israelis and the Turks with different formulas about what the leaders would say to each other.

An early goodwill gesture came in February when Israel supplied advanced electronic warfare systems to the Turkish Air Force, the first military equipment transfer between the two countries since the botched raid.

Mr. Obama broached the issue with Mr. Netanyahu during their bilateral meeting on Wednesday in Jerusalem, including at dinner that night. Both sides were pleased with the tone of the talks. “That just really seemed to give the prime minister the confidence to step up and do a hard thing,” the senior U.S. official said. After the dinner, U.S. diplomats felt confident that Mr. Netanyahu would make the apology.

At several points during the day on Thursday, the sides tinkered with the final language in Mr. Netanyahu’s statement, prompting some U.S. officials to question whether the agreement would be executed as planned.

“In the end, once they had both made the strategic decision that this is worth doing, worth taking on whatever political costs come with it, then it’s just a question of finding just the right nuanced language to execute it,” the U.S. official said.

A final agreement with Mr. Netanyahu was reached late on Thursday.

On Friday, on the tarmac of Israel’s Ben Gurion Airport, just before Mr. Obama boarded Air Force One to leave for Jordan, Mr. Netanyahu ducked into a trailer. There he placed the call to Mr. Erdogan, with Mr. Obama present. It was the first call between the two leaders since Mr. Netanyahu came to power in 2009.

Joshua Mitnick, Emre Peker and Adam Entous contributed to this article.



PM Netanyahu Speaks with Turkish PM Erdogan

By ‎Ofir Gendelman, Facebook
March 22, 2013

Prime Minister Netanyahu spoke today with Prime Minister Erdogan from Turkey.

PM Netanyahu told him he had just had good conversations with President Obama about regional cooperation and the importance of Israel-Turkey relations. He regretted the recent deterioration of relations between Israel and Turkey and expressed his commitment to overcoming their differences in order to advance peace and stability in the region.

PM Netanyahu said he had seen PM Erdogan’s recent interview in a Danish newspaper and appreciated his words. He made clear that the tragic outcome of the Mavi Marmara incident was not intended by Israel and that Israel regrets the loss of human life and injury.

In light of Israel’s investigation into the incident which pointed to a number of operational mistakes, the Prime Minister expressed Israel’s apology to the Turkish people for any mistakes that might have led to the loss of life or injury and agreed to conclude an agreement on compensation/nonliability.
Prime Minister Netanyahu also noted that Israel had substantially lifted the restrictions on the entry of civilian goods into the Palestinian territories, including Gaza , and that this would continue as long as calm prevailed.

The two leaders agreed to continue to work to improve the humanitarian situation in the Palestinian territories.

Ofir Gendelman is a diplomat who has been Prime Minister Netanyahu’s spokesperson to the Arab media since April 2010



Inside Bibi’s apology to Turkey

By Josh Rogin, Foreign Policy
March 22, 2013

In a makeshift trailer set up on the tarmac at Israel’s Ben Gurion airport, President Barack Obama and Israeli Prime Minister Bibi Netayahu called Turkish Prime Minister Racep Erdogan and Netanyahu apologized for the nine deaths that resulted from the boarding by Israeli soldiers of a Turkish ship, the Mavi Marmara.

Netanyahu’s office issued a press release late Friday following the 30-minute call, which took place just before Obama boarded Air Force One for his flight to Jordan. Israel-Turkey diplomatic relations have been severed ever since the 2010 incident, in which the Mavi Marmara led a flotilla bound for Gaza meant to break the Israeli naval blockade. After repeated warnings, Israeli soldiers forcibly boarded the ship and were met by passengers wielding homemade weapons. In addition to the nine passenger deaths, more than a dozen other passengers and several Israeli soldiers were injured in the clash.

Obama and Netanyahu had spoken about the need to repair Israel-Turkey relations in their bilateral meetings and Netanyahu made the first step in the Friday phone call. Netanyahu told Erdogan that he regretted the deterioration of relations between the two countries. Netanyahu also said he had seen Erdogan’s recent comments in a Dutch newspaper, where Erdogan said his claim that Zionism was a “crime against humanity” was misinterpreted.

“[Netanyahu] made clear that the tragic outcome of the Mavi Marmara incident was not intended by Israel and that Israel regrets the loss of human life and injury,” Netanyahu’s office said in the release. “In light of Israel’s investigation into the incident which pointed to a number of operational mistakes, the Prime Minister expressed Israel’s apology to the Turkish people for any mistakes that might have led to the loss of life or injury and agreed to conclude an agreement on compensation/nonliability.”

Netanyahu also told Erdogan that Israel has substantially lifted restrictions on what goods were allowed to enter Gaza and the two leaders agreed to continue to work on how to improve humanitarian conditions for residents of the Palestinian territories, the release stated.

Israeli and Turkish officials said after the call that diplomatic relations had been restored and each country would return its ambassador to the other. Obama released a statement after the call praising the development between the two leaders.

“The United States deeply values our close partnerships with both Turkey and Israel, and we attach great importance to the restoration of positive relations between them in order to advance regional peace and security,” Obama said. “I am hopeful that today’s exchange between the two leaders will enable them to engage in deeper cooperation on this and a range of other challenges and opportunities.”

A senior Obama administration official briefed reporters about the circumstances surrounding the call on the place en route to the president’s stop in Amman, Jordan, and said that the White House has been trying to work with both Israel and Turkey to get them to mend fences for a long time.

“It’s been difficult, but that’s why this call that took place today was important, because it was a sign that both of them — the two prime ministers said that to each other — value their own relationship between Turkey and Israel,” the official said.

Netanyahu initiated the call, brought up the flotilla incident, and apologized, the official said, and Erdogan said he appreciated the remarks and accepted the apology on behalf of Turkey. Erdogan also said “that he cherished the longstanding relationship between Turkey and Israel, between Jewish people and Turkey, and that he also wanted to have a better relationship,” the official said.

Obama got on the line toward the end of the call, greeted Erdogan, and suggested they talk more in the near future. But Obama’s participation in the call was minimal. Asked if Obama facilitated the call, the official said, “The timing of the call speaks for itself.”

The White House doesn’t want to take took much credit for the breakthrough, but the senior administration official said the warming of Israel-Turkey relations has been an administration goal for a long time.

“I think it would be accurate to say the president has been making this point to both leaders for going on a couple years now. So I think it’s well known by both Turkey and Israel the importance we place on seeing these two close friends of ours have normalized relations,” the official said.

But did Obama actually press Netanyahu to make the call?, one reporter asked. The official would say only that the two leaders had been discussing the issue over the last couple of days.

“I think [Obama] discussed the importance of Turkey and Israel working to repair their relationship, and the two of them in their discussions agreed on that, and Prime Minister Netanyahu placed a call,” the official responded.

As for why the call took place in a trailer on the tarmac at the airport, the official explained that it was the only time the three leaders could get together on the phone.

The administration is presenting the call as a small but significant sign that Israel-Turkey relations are headed in the right direction. “We believe that the call today is an important step towards the normalization of that relationship,” the official said.

UPDATE: Friday afternoon in Jordan, Obama explained the circumstances surrounding the apology call. Here’s what he said:

With respect to the conversation that took place between Prime Minister Netanyahu and Prime Minister Erdogan, I have long said that it is in both the interests of Israel and Turkey to restore normal relations between two counties that have historically had good ties. It broke down several years ago as a consequence of the flotilla incident. For, you know, the last two years I’ve spoken to both Prime Minister Netanyahu and Prime Minister Erdogan about why this rupture has to be mended, but they don’t have to agree on everything in order for them to come together around a whole range of common interests and common concerns.

During my visit it appeared that the timing was good for that conversation to take place. I discussed it with Prime Minister Netanyahu, and both of us agreed that the moment was right. And fortunately, they were able to begin the process of rebuilding normal relations between two very important countries in the region.

You know, this is a work in progress. It’s just beginning. As I said, there are obviously going to still be some significant disagreements between Turkey and Israel not just on the Palestinian question but on a range of different issues. But they also have a whole range of shared interests and they both happen to be extraordinarily strong partners and friends of ours, and so it’s in the interest of the United States that they begin this process of getting their relationship back in order. And I’m very glad to see that it’s happening.



Mavi Marmara: US extracts last-minute Israeli apology

By Kevin Connolly, BBC Middle East correspondent
March 22, 2013

It lacked the glamour and polish you associate with major diplomatic developments.

Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu made his phone call of apology to his Turkish counterpart Recep Tayyip Erdogan from a trailer on the tarmac at Ben Gurion airport in Tel Aviv.

Air Force One stood idling while the call was placed. Barack Obama sat in the trailer with Mr Netanyahu and is understood to have intervened in the call at one point.

There is a danger that the last-minute nature of the deal – the president was about to take off for Jordan – might suggest that considerable American influence had to be brought to bear before the Israeli prime minister agreed to make the apology.

But make it he did, and long period of crisis in relations between Israel and Turkey looks as though it may now be coming to an end.

The Middle East has been growing increasingly fluid and unstable in recent years, and Syria’s descent into civil war is making things worse.

In these turbulent times the United States cannot really afford to have two of its key strategic allies at loggerheads. And some kind of deal to kiss and make up is in the interests of both the Turks and the Israelis.

Israel is short of friends in and around the Middle East – and Turkey was for many years its closest ally in the Muslim world. There were strong military and trade links – plenty of ways in which the relationship was good for both partners.

And while Mr Erdogan’s Islamist instincts have prompted him to seek a role as a protector of Palestinian interests and a regional power-broker over the course of the Arab Spring, the diplomatic ties with Israel made Turkey unique; a diplomatic player with money and muscle who could talk to just about anyone.

Window of opportunity
On a more pragmatic note, the Americans have picked their moment rather well.

In Mr Netanyahu’s last government his foreign minister (and electoral partner) Avigdor Lieberman was a firm opponent of issuing an apology. He argued that the Israeli commandos who stormed the Mavi Marmara and killed nine Turkish activists had met violent opposition and were entitled to use force.

But Mr Lieberman, although he was returned to parliament after the recent elections here, is not currently serving as foreign minister because Israeli law says he cannot be in the cabinet while fighting corruption charges.

If he wins his court case he might be back, but for now a window of opportunity presented itself.

The underlying political realities in both countries will remain pretty much as they were.

Many Turks believe the activists on the Mavi Marmara back in 2010 were doing the right thing when they set sail to try to break Israel’s naval blockade of Gaza.
And many Israelis certainly still think that their forces were entitled to open fire in the operation to seize the ship.But public opinion does not always – perhaps does not often – feed through directly into diplomacy.

And all this is not to say of course that all will immediately be sweetness and light.

Turks have not forgotten the moment earlier in 2010 when an Israeli official set out to humiliate the Turkish ambassador by making him sit uncomfortably on a low sofa during a formal diplomatic meeting.

It was a moment so absurd that it recalled a scene in the Charlie Chaplin film The Great Dictator – but it also hinted that not all was well even before the Mavi Marmara incident.

Mr Erdogan did not help the relationship either when he was quoted as listing Zionism, the founding ideal of the Jewish state among “crimes against humanity”. His argument that that remark was somehow “misunderstood” would have struck most Israelis as unconvincing.

The two countries will now once again exchange ambassadors and the long process will begin of restoring the trust at government level that would ideally underpin the diplomatic relationship.

It will not be easy – but you can bet the US will be standing in the wings prodding its two allies into carrying on down the difficult path on which they have now re-embarked.


Useful links
Here are some of the many links to the repercussions of the IDF attack on the Mavi Marmara in 2010, during which they killed nine people. These include the UN-appointed Palmer panel of inquiry, the Israeli Turkel commission of inquiry, the fracturing of Israel’s only working relationship in the region and the importance of Turkey’s role among Muslim countries.
Erdogan’s good relationship with Muslim Brotherhood leaders, The Brotherhood’s Big Brother
Turkish PM stands behind his controversial remarks on Zionism
Turkey caught in conflicting alliances
Turkel report confirms IDF can kill and injure with impunity
Now Turkish PM renews plan to visit Gaza as unifier
The know-nothing hear-nothing Palmer panel
IDF boarded Mavi Marmara ‘with intention to kill’. Sorrow, not sorry, required;
Attack on flotilla unleashed by ignoring all formal procedures
Turkish court indicts IDF Generals for Mavi Marmara killings
What the Palmer Panel didn’t know about the laws of sea and land
Israel loses only ally in Muslim Mediterranean
Kerry to express dismay at Erdogan’s statement on Zionism at meeting with Turkish PM, U.S. official says

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