Lieberman and Ya'alon - Tomer Appelbaum
Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman and Strategic Affairs Minister Moshe Ya'alon. Photo by Tomer Appelbaum
Text size

"Honor is a strategic asset," so went the explanation Strategic Affairs Minister Moshe Ya'alon gave as to why Israel must not apologize to Turkey. More than anything, Ya'alon fears that an Israeli apology will cause the Turkish prime minister to declare before the entire Middle East that Turkey brought Israel to its knees.

Honor is indeed a strategic asset, but it is also an asset that can be offset by stupidity. Turkey is currently deep into a conflict with Syria, which shrugged off Prime Minister Tayyip Recep Erdogan's warnings, as well as with Iran which sees Turkey as the "subcontractor" of American-Zionist policies and currently stands at a crossroad regarding its Middle East policies.

If strategic aspects worry Ya'alon, then an important opportunity has now risen to renew Israeli-Turkish ties – especially when the United States sees Turkey as a vital ally in deciding its policy toward Syria, and when the Israeli-Turkish conflict harms U.S. interests, at least according to the U.S. Secretary of State.

Israel's firm response relies, among other things, on the contents of the report composed by the UN investigation committee into the events of the Gaza flotilla – a report which places most of the responsibility on the Turkish government and lessens the blame on Israel. However this report cannot repair the damage caused to the relations between not only the two governments but between the two nations. Israel may be able to show the world that her operation against the flotilla was legally justified, but such "justice" could pronounce Israel's strategic ties with Turkey as dead.

Turkey's demand for an apology or compensation is not stipulated in the report. Moreover, Netanyahu's response could have waited until the publication of the report, rely on its public findings, and then – out of desire to repair the ties between the two countries – Israel could have at least expressed deep sorrow, and, without taking responsibility, pay compensation to the families of those killed. It is hard to understand what caused Netanyahu – who in the past agreed to some wording of an apology – to hurry and announce the rejection of the Turkish demand for an apology, except his surrender to Ya'alon and Lieberman.

Turkey made it clear that it aspires to normalize its ties with Israel and that it is just waiting for the apology in order to return to the same relations it had with Israel before the flotilla scandal. Now it is hard to believe that Turkey will agree to appoint a new ambassador in Israel or to receive a new Israeli ambassador. When the Turkey-Israel relationship test is faced with the questions of "who needs who more" and "who has more honor", the massive strategic important of Israeli-Turkish cooperation dissipates.