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Israel reacts to reconciliation with Turkey over 2010 Gaza flotilla incident

Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. Credit: World Economic Forum.
Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. Credit: World Economic Forum.

The Israeli defense establishment lauded the reconciliation between Israel and Turkey, saying that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu made the “responsible decision” on the matter.

The reconciliation between Jerusalem and Ankara was brokered by U.S. President Barack Obama on Friday, ending a three-year diplomatic crisis brought upon by the 2010 altercation on the Mavi Marmara, which attempted to breach Israel’s maritime blockade on the Gaza Strip. The vessel was seized by the Israeli Navy, and nine Turkish citizens who attacked Israeli soldiers were killed during the operation.

Jerusalem sources told Israel Hayom on Sunday that Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon, Israel Defense Forces Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Benny Gantz and former foreign minister and current Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee chairman Avigdor Lieberman were briefed on the decision prior to Netanyahu’s Friday conversation with Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan.

After initially accepting Netanyahu’s apology and telling the Israeli leader that he would begin working towards full restoration of ties, Erdogan in a subsequent public address called on more concessions from Israel before full relations could be restored. The Turkish leader said “there will be no normalization” without financial compensation for the flotilla incident from Israel as well as the lifting of Israel’s Gaza blockade, the Associated Pressreported.

“Normalization will happen the moment there is an implementation. But if there is no implementation, then I am sorry,” Erdogan said.

Turkey is a key member of NATO and as such, during the three-year crisis, it has been able to block Israeli participation in multilateral military exercises held in the Middle East and Europe.

“Netanyahu made a responsible decision. The deal reached with Turkey [over compensation to the victims’ families] does not conflict with Israel’s position on the matter over the past three years,” Ya’alon said. “The recent regional developments and the American involvement facilitated a resolution to this crisis. This is an interest Israel and Turkey share.”

The IDF Spokesperson’s Unit said that the move “was made with the full support and blessing of the chief of staff, in light of the importance of defense relations with Turkey and given that [the agreement] provides legal protection for the soldiers and officers who participated in the operation.”

National Security Adviser Maj. Gen. (res.) Yaakov Amidror said. “We are facing a situation where the area between us and Turkey is occupied by a county that is falling apart—a country that has chemical weapons, which as far as we know it has already used. The better the cooperation is between us and Turkey

, the easier it would be to deal with this volatile situation.”

Amidror stressed that there was “no pressure from the Americans.”

“This was our idea, we took it to them and they helped,” he said.

Israel also downplayed reports suggesting that as part of the reconciliation deal, it agreed to mitigate the Gaza blockade. “We did not agree to allow goods into Gaza no matter what. Israel will not forfeit the ability to react to terror threats because of its renewed ties with Turkey,” Amidror told Army Radio.

A Jerusalem source told Israel Hayom, “If the calm in Gaza continues we will continue to ease the situation for the Strip’s residents. If the rocket fire resumes, we will consider how to respond.”

Ehud Barak, who served as the defense minister at the time of the Marmara raid, was unavailable for comment.

Political arena welcomes move

Netanyahu’s decision to apologize to Turkey and effectively end the three-year diplomatic crisis between the two nations was welcomed by the Likud and the Center-Left bloc.

Justice Minister Tzipi Livni (Hatnuah) praised the reconciliation, saying, “I told Netanyahu that this was a very important step and the right thing to do, especially now, with everything that is happening in Syria. Israel, Turkey and the United States share security interests.”

Labor Chairwoman Shelly Yachimovich also welcomed the move, saying, “Netanyahu did the right thing by reconciling with Erdoğan. Turkey is a regional power and the relationship with it is very important. Even if the apology was heavy-hearted, it was the right thing to do.”

Meretz Chairwoman Zehava Gal-On congratulated Netanyahu on normalizing relations with Turkey. saying she “appreciated the fact that he apologized.”

‘Sending soldiers the wrong message’

MK Yoni Chetboun (Habayit Hayehudi) slammed Netanyahu’s move, saying, “Israel doesn’t have the privilege of apologizing for its troops when they clearly followed military ethics and the purity of arms.

“This apology is stabbing IDF soldiers in the back and it sends a grave message to Israeli soldiers—‘we won’t back you up.’ As an officer and a commander, I can attest to the fact that knowing that you have the government’s backing is crucial for soldiers in the field.”

A soldier who took part in the 2010 raid off the coast of Gaza told Israel Hayom that he found Netanyahu’s apology to Turkey “offensive.”

“I was hurt by the prime minister’s apology and I’m sure many of my comrades were as well,” he said. “I don’t want to go into whether apologizing was the right thing to do politically, but to say that there were operational failures is like spitting in the face of every soldier that was sent on that mission.

“We did everything we could to avoid hurting innocent people. What we encountered [on the Mavi Marmara] wasn’t just violence—it was terror. I hope that point is made clear, because otherwise it would hurt motivation to serve in the navy.”

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