Apologizing to Turkey is in Israel's interest
In the past year, and with greater intensity in recent weeks, people of goodwill from Israel and Turkey have been trying to rehabilitate relations between the two countries.
The Middle Eastern kaleidoscope has once again made a 180-degree turn, revealing a new picture. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's letter to Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan congratulating him for his party's sweeping victory in the elections is only one aspect.
In the past year, and with greater intensity in recent weeks, people of goodwill from Israel and Turkey have been trying to rehabilitate relations between the two countries. The events in Syria have helped them out, significantly cooling relations between Turkey and Syria and sparking a reappraisal in the Turkish Foreign Ministry and Erdogan's office of Turkey's policy in the region.
Turkey took another significant step when it "recommended" to the IHH, the Turkish humanitarian relief organization, that it cancel its participation in the new aid flotilla to Gaza, mainly to prevent the flotilla from diverting attention from events in Syria. Erdogan has stopped calling Syrian President Bashar Assad "my good friend," and he describes the brutal suppression of demonstrators in Syria as "barbarity." And even if he is not demanding Assad's ouster, he believes that the Syrian regime is finished. "Syria is turning into a threat not only against Turkey," a senior Turkish official told Haaretz. "If Syria decides to attack the Kurdish minority too, we might have a serious problem."
Iran, which has developed extensive economic ties with Turkey in the past two years, is also described in the Turkish media as an active partner in the killing of Syrians, and Turkey is quickly discovering that its desire to implement a policy of "zero problems" with its neighbors has failed. If Turkey wanted to establish a strategic axis with Iran, Iraq and Syria, an axis that could promote a new Middle Eastern policy, it is discovering that these partners are a disappointment. The Iraqi government is on the verge of disintegrating, a political battle in Iran is being waged between the president and his opponents, including Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, Syria has crudely rejected Erdogan's attempts to end the crisis, and on Thursday the Turkish flag was lowered on the Syrian side of the border, from which Syrian citizens are fleeing to Turkey.
All Ankara has left of the great plans for a better Middle East is a bit of the internal Palestinian conflict. On Wednesday Turkey hosted Hamas leader Khaled Meshal and the next day Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, but there is no certainty Turkey will bridge the gap between the groups and help establish a new Palestinian government. Plenty of people in the Israeli Foreign Ministry and Prime Minister's Office are rubbing their hands with glee in light of Turkey's situation. I heard a senior Foreign Ministry official say that "Erdogan may have won the elections, but he has crashed in the world." A real reason for rejoicing.
But Turkey is not a burst bubble. If conducting foreign policy is a test of success, then its failure is no greater than that of the United States, which has been unable to solve crises in the Middle East and is now about to leave chaos behind in Afghanistan as well. Israel, which is being battered against one rock after another on the slope of its deteriorating global status, is certainly the last to judge other countries on how they conduct foreign policy. Turkey at least takes initiatives.
And if not for Israel's unsuccessful policy in Gaza, and its tragic handling of the last flotilla to Gaza, Israel could at least have boasted of good relations with Turkey, even when Turkey is conducting relations with Iran. Turkey, it should be recalled, did not let any country pressure it to sever its relations with Israel. Even now it knows how to read the kaleidoscope and is placing itself on the right side.
This is exactly the right time to initiate a move - not put out feelers - vis-a-vis Turkey, and to pick up the shards. It would not be disastrous for Israel to apologize for killing Turkish citizens. An apology is not an admission of blame - all the more so when even in Israel there are differences of opinion on the wisdom of that military operation.
In about two weeks the joint UN commission for investigating the events of the Mavi Marmara flotilla will publish its report. Turkish representative Ozdem Sanberk and Israeli Yosef Ciechanover are making every effort to put out a fair and flexible report that will enable the two countries to reconnect. It's not necessary to wait for that report. It's possible and advisable to anticipate it with a public Israeli declaration. The blame can be discussed later.