Strictly speaking, Israel does not owe Turkey an apology for the Mavi Marmara incident. If there is anyone who should apologize it is Turkey, for the provocation of a terror organization to which its government was a partner. But in the sphere of diplomacy and security, we always have to be right - but we have to be wise as well.
Diplomatic wisdom - certainly when it comes to Israel and the tough, complex, violent and cruel region in which we live - sometimes requires us, under certain circumstances, to compromise and to reach agreements that are not perfect and do not reflect absolute justice. This is what generations of Zionist leaders did, first and foremost among them Prime Minister David Ben Gurion, and, as I can personally attest, prime ministers Menachem Begin and Yitzhak Shamir as well.
Wisdom means knowing how to distinguish between a vital interest, on which there can be no compromise, and a less vital one.
Israel will soon be confronting some of the toughest challenges and battles it has ever known. Dramatic changes are taking place in the region and are not harbingers of good news. In the past, Israel had to deal with 22 regimes that were hostile to some degree but were also subject to constraints and moderating influences. In the future, we will be confronting 350 million citizens in Arab countries whose influence on the policy of their governments will only increase.
This is a change with tremendous implications, which are liable to be very serious. Israel is facing a Palestinian diplomatic onslaught, which is liable to be accompanied by mass demonstrations, serious security incidents and heavy international pressure.
The State of Israel has enough enemies, and has no need of another one. Turkey is a member of NATO and a key country in the region, and its influence and importance are likely to grow. Preventing a prolonged conflict and an undermining of Israel-Turkey relations is a vital interest of utmost importance for Israel; this was true in the past, and will be far more so in the future. Dignity and national pride are not negligible issues, but they have to be placed in proportion and weighed in the broader context.
According to what has been published, at issue is a limited Israeli apology, which will refer to the operational failures that caused the death of the Turkish citizens. And we cannot deny that operational failures - in intelligence and planning - did in fact exist. In exchange for the apology, Turkey is supposed to return its ambassador to Israel, and even to add a certain statement about Israel's right to self defense.
This is a deal that Israel can live with. The apology will be quickly forgotten, but a restoration of relations to a normal track - even if minimal - is an issue with long-term implications. And above all, it is clear that the maritime siege of Gaza remains in force, and Israel only recently proved its determination to implement it. In such an agreement, there are no winners and no losers.
Recep Tayyip Erdogan is no friend of Israel's, to put it mildly, and his heart is not in the right place. But in Turkish society, there are quite a few circles - and not only in the army - that want good relations with Israel. Discussions with such Turks make it clear that all the explanations, even if they are correct, won't help: The issue of the Marmara is troubling the citizens of Turkey, and Erdogan is using it against us. We have to take this weapon away from him.
The prime minister sometimes has to make difficult, unpopular and unpleasant decisions. If Benjamin Netanyahu supports the agreement, he will encounter harsh criticism within the coalition, but there will be many citizens who appreciate his judgment and his political courage.
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