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Much has been written about the eleventh-hour agreement between Israel and Turkey designed to mend fences and return to normal relations. According to the initial reports, in the final hours of his Middle East trip President Obama was able to persuade Prime Minister Netanyahu to offer, and Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan to accept, an apology for the deaths of several Turks at the hands of Israeli commandos in the Mavi Marmara incident when they and others tried to run the Israeli blockade of Gaza.
Not surprisingly, however, the brokered deal seems to be unraveling and it is an object lesson about what Israel should expect when it makes concessions.
Mr. Erdogan purportedly said, in a phone call with President Obama and Prime Minister Netanyahu, that if Israel apologized and paid restitution to the families of those who died he would resume normal relations with Israel and abandon efforts to have IDF officers in charge of the commando raid prosecuted.
When we first heard of the apology we were skeptical, inasmuch as Mr. Erdogan, even before the raid, had embarked on a pattern of anti-Israel rhetoric widely believed to have been inspired by his desire for Turkey to take a leadership role in the Muslim world and thereby regain its lost prominence. So it was hard to believe that all this could be washed away with an “I’m sorry” from Mr. Netanyahu.
Indeed, Mr. Erdogan crowed that the apology demonstrated Turkey’s growing power and influence and its ability to push Israel into going along with Turkish demands. (Oddly, Secretary of State John Kerry announced the other day that he was assured by the Turkish foreign minister that the Turkish government would avoid any “triumphalism” – i.e. boastful displays.)
In fact, it seems Mr. Erdogan is now saying not so fast – it’s too early to exchange ambassadors and stop all legal action against IDF officers until the restitution is actually paid and the embargo on Gaza is lifted – a new condition, it seems.
And there the matter now stands, despite the central involvement of the president of the United States.
To be sure, there are good and substantial geopolitical reasons for cooperation between Israel and Turkey. Both would benefit from a sharing of intelligence information on Iran and Syria – both of which share borders with Turkey – as well as the movement of weapons of mass destruction and support for insurgencies. But who really knows the Turkish calculus?
However this may turn out in the short run, Israel needs to reset its gullibility alarm as it contemplates further agreements.
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