Israel Has Been Given a Chance to Improve Its Image

The tragic Carmel fire has given Israel a window of opportunity to exercise diplomatic wisdom, rehabilitate its image and address its mistakes.

Natural disasters that inflict many casualties and cause tremendous damage typically draw international assistance and sympathy. This was the case not only in Haiti, New Orleans and Chile, but even in Iran, after the country was struck by a powerful earthquake. Such disasters have succeeded in bridging generations of enmity, as did, for example, the 1999 earthquake in Turkey, which brought about a dramatic change in that country's relations with Greece.

With the fire in the Carmel region, Israel, too, has joined the list of countries hit by disaster. Although its international image is at a low ebb, Israel has discovered in recent days that even its adversaries and harshest critics are ready to lend assistance at times like these, mindful of the help that Israel extended other nations hit by disasters. The assistance that came from Jordan, the willingness of the Palestinian Authority to offer support, the Egyptian president's words of encouragement and sympathy, and especially the firefighting aircraft sent by Turkey and the condolences conveyed by the country's prime minister, bring back long-forgotten memories of times when Israel was sympathized around the world and have create a feeling of once again of belonging to an international community - a community from which it has found itself increasingly excluded.

In addition to confronting a major disaster and mourning the victims, Israel now has a window of opportunity to exercise diplomatic wisdom and make the most of this tragic event to rehabilitate its image and address its mistakes.

The gratitude that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu expressed to his Turkish counterpart and his comment that the Turkish aid provides an opening to improve relations between the two countries are encouraging and a step in the right direction. But these statements need to be accompanied by concrete measures: an expression of regret over the killing of Turkish civilians in the Gaza-bound flotilla incident and compensation for their families. The issue of responsibility in the incident is being investigated in any event, and the handling of the case prompted criticism within Israel as well.

An Israeli expression of regret will not absolve the Turkish flotilla activists of responsibility, and the payment of compensation will not require Israel to take on greater responsibility than it already has. The price of Israel's prestige does not equal the diplomatic damage caused by the breach between the two countries.

This is also an opportunity to ask the Turks to renew their mediation efforts between Israel and Syria. In that way, Israel would show that a nation that requests aid from the international community understands that it must also be attentive to international diplomatic expectations.