Turkey: Apologize for flotilla deaths or we'll sever ties
The Turkish foreign minister has warned Israel that ties with its decades-long ally could be in jeopardy unless the country apologizes for the May flotilla raid that cost the lives of eight Turkish citizens.
In an article published Sunday, Ahmet Davutoglu told the Turkish daily Hurriyet: "Israelis have three options: They will either apologize or acknowledge an international-impartial inquiry and its conclusion. Otherwise, our diplomatic ties will be cut off."
The Turkish foreign minister said that during his secret meeting last week in Brussels with Industry, Trade and Labor Minister Benjamin Ben-Eliezer, "We showed them an exit road. If they apologize as a result of their own investigation's conclusion, that would be fine for us. But of course we first have to see it."
Following the flotilla incident, Turkey recalled its ambassador to Tel Aviv, canceled joint military operations and prohibited Israeli military planes from flying in Turkish airspace.
In response to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's comments that Israel has no intention of either apologizing or paying compensation to the families of those killed or injured, Davutoglu said, "Then ties will never be repaired. They are aware of our demands. If they do not want to apologize, then they should accept an international investigation." He added that Turkey would not wait for Israel's decision indefinitely.
Turkey is currently awaiting the creation of a United Nations-backed fact-finding commission to examine the circumstances of the raid. "We'll arrange our road map according to development there," Davutoglu said.
"We also want to give a chance to the countries who value mending ties between Turkey and Israel," he said, referring to the United States. Netanyahu is set to meet with U.S. President Barack Obama today, and Davutoglu said the meeting would be important in determining the future of Turkish-Israeli ties.
Preparing for the possibility that Israel will not meet Turkey's expectations, he said, Ankara has drafted a road map that includes measures to be taken against the country. The ban on military overflights, he said, was one of those measures.
"Turkey's airspace is fully closed to Israeli military planes. The ban is not implemented case-by-case. It's a blanket ban," Davutoglu said, adding that the decision was made one week after the incident and with the participation of the Turkish military. He said the ban could be expanded to include civilian planes as well.
Subject vs. object
Davutoglu played down concerns in the West that Turkey is distancing itself from its erstwhile allies Israel and the United States in favor of closer ties with the Arab and Muslim worlds.
"The purpose is clear," he said. "The purpose of such claims is to establish psychological pressure on Turkey. Suppressing its foreign policy and confining it to a more defensive position. While we are trying to be the subject, they are trying to keep us as an object in international relations."
"We do not have to convince anybody about our diplomatic initiatives. If we are doing something, it's for Turkey's interests," he added.
Meanwhile, Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman confirmed yesterday that Israel has no intention of apologizing for the raid.
"We don't have any intention of apologizing. We think the opposite is true," he told reporters during a visit to Latvia.
Lieberman said Israel has concerns about Turkey's foreign policy, including Ankara's decision to vote against a new round of UN sanctions against Iran due to its nuclear program. Non-permanent members Turkey and Brazil, which had agreed with Iran to a nuclear fuel swap deal, were the only countries in the 15-member council to vote against the resolution.
"We really see some dramatic changes in their policy. But it's their right, it's their decision," Lieberman said.