22 July ’11
I’d like to add to Michael’s excellent reasons for why Israel shouldn’t apologize to Turkey about last year’s raid on a Turkish-sponsored flotilla to Gaza. As Michael noted, apologizing won’t restore the strategic alliance, because Turkey has made a strategic foreign-policy choice that precludes alliance with Israel. But apologizing wouldn’t merely be ineffective, it would be downright harmful – to both of Israel’s stated goals.
First, Israel wants to improve relations with Turkey. But by proving that Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s bullying tactics work – that Ankara can actively undermine every Israeli interest while promoting vicious anti-Israel sentiment at home, and Israel will still come crawling –apologizing will ensure more of the same.
Erdogan openly supports Hamas, which he insists isn’t a terrorist organization; his government actively backed last year’s flotilla, and he now plans a state visit to Gaza. He worked to block UN sanctions on Iran, then undermined them by boosting Turkey’s gasoline exports to Tehran. He reportedly promised arms to Hezbollah. He insisted that NATO’s planned missile-defense system not give Israel information on Iran. He deemed Israel’s 2009 war with Hamas in Gaza worse than the genocide in Darfur.
He also foments anti-Israel sentiment at home. An Israeli theater was forced to cancel an appearance in Turkey after Ankara said it wouldn’t stop radical Islamists from disrupting the performance. Israel cyclists were barred from an international bike race in Turkey because Syria and Iraq said their teams wouldn’t participate if Israel did. A Turkish-Israeli concert for religious tolerance was canceled after IHH, the viciously anti-Israel group behind the flotilla, insisted. As Turkish columnist Burak Bekdil noted, these and many similar incidents aren’t coincidental; they reflect “the systematic injection of Islamist sentiments about Israel into the minds of younger, ordinary Turks, especially in the past two and a half years” of Erdogan’s reign.
By apologizing, Israel would essentially say that none of the above precludes Turkey from being a valued ally. And if so, not only would Erdogan have no incentive to change his behavior, neither would any of his successors.
Yet Israel also has a second goal: sparing its soldiers facing legal action over the nine Turks killed in the raid. Its attorney general is thus reportedly pushing for an apology, bizarrely claiming this would preclude civil or criminal suits.
In reality, however, an Israeli admission of culpability – the only kind of apology Turkey would accept (it repeatedly rejected Israel’s offer to express mere “regret”) – would make legal action more likely. Absent such an admission, Israel has a strong case: A UN report due out later this month reportedly concluded that Israel’s blockade of Gaza was legal, that it had the right to intercept the flotilla and that its soldiers opened fire in self-defense, though it also found they used excessive force. But once Israel admits culpability, it has no case. And even if Ankara promises not to pursue legal action itself, it can’t stop flotilla passengers or their relatives from doing so –which, since most belonged to IHH, they presumably would.
In short, apologizing would undermine Israel’s own interests twice over. It’s high time for Jerusalem to recognize that the clock on Turkey can’t be turned back.