Top diplomat claims Netanyahu regrets apology to Turkey

Former Israeli ambassador to United States Michael Oren claims in new book that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu regretted apology to Turkey over Mavi Marmara attack

Photo by: AA
Photo by: AA

Updated Jul 28, 2015

Michael Oren, the former Israeli ambassador to the United States, has claimed in his new book “Ally: My Journey Across the American-Israeli Divide” that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was regretful following his apology to Turkey’s then Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan over the Mavi Marmara raid by Israeli Defense Forces (IDF).

The book has been released in a sensitive time as it is revealed that Turkish and Israeli high-ranking officials met in Rome last Monday in order to resume talks about a reconciliation agreement.

Turkish Foreign Ministry spokesman Tanju Bilgic confirmed Israeli media outlet Haaretz’s claims of a secret meeting between Israeli Foreign Ministry Director General Dore Gold and Turkish Foreign Ministry Undersecretary Feridun Sinirlioglu.

Bilgic stated that there have previously been talks between Israel and Turkey for the sake of normalising relations and Israel has already known the Turkish stance which is as clear as possible concerning ties.

The book seems to focus on chiefly criticising the administration of US President Barack Obama over its policy of Israel.

Turkish Daily Sabah has reported that the book claims President Barack Obama was always against the Israeli naval blockade of Gaza Strip, so his policy encouraged the Gaza Freedom Flotilla to set sail for the Mediterranean Sea in order to break the blockade which was strengthened in 2007 when Hamas took over.

The flotilla was set up by an international coalition called the Free Gaza Movement which included the Turkish Foundation for Human Rights and Freedoms and the Humanitarian Relief Foundation (IHH).

The Israel-Turkey bilateral relations reached a freezing point after the IDF attacked on the Mavi Marmara, one of the six civilian ships of the flotilla, owned by the Turkish NGO IHH in international waters in the Mediterranean Sea on May 31, 2010.

Nine Turkish citizens were killed when Israeli commandos boarded the Mavi Marmara in a bungled raid, and a 10th activist later died from heavy wounds.

The book stated that Obama persuaded Netanyahu to apologise to Erdogan during his visit to Israel in March 2013 after the relations of the two countries had worsened following the incidents.

“In a poignant conversation with the prime minister, Secretary of State Clinton stressed that maintaining Erdogan's goodwill represented a strategic US interest,” Oren wrote in his book.

“Turkey's cooperation was vital for America's deployments in Iraq and Afghanistan as well as for the efforts to curb Iranian nuclearization and achieve Israeli-Palestinian peace. The apology, Hillary made clear, was also a matter of personal importance to Obama,” Oren added.

Finally, the apology ceremony had been held in a prefab trailer which was installed next to Obama’s presidential plane Air Force One.

“They [Obama and Netanyahu] sat across from each other with a small table and a telephone between them. Obama spoke extemporaneously through a translator and greeted Erdogan as "my friend, Recep."

Netanyahu, by contrast, read from a script of which we all had copies and followed closely,” the book stated.

Erdogan replied Netanyahu’s apology saying that his words on Zionism were misinterpreted and he has no bitterness against Israel. Therefore, he accepted the apology.

“Obama and Netanyahu hung up the phone and everyone present sprang to their feet and started cheering. There were high-fives and even hugs,” Oren, one of the witnesses of the ceremony, told in his book.

However, Netanyahu was quickly filled with remorse when he was watching Erdogan on TV in the same evening, announcing that he will force Israel to lift the blockage.

Oren quoted Netanyahu commenting that, “I think we made a mistake.”

Although Netanyahu allegedly regretted the apology to Erdogan, the relations seemed to be warming up in February 2014 with talk of a reconciliation agreement to pay reparations to the victims of the Marmara incident following the apology.  

The recent Haaretz report said, “Aside from the amount of reparations, the two countries agreed that the Turkish parliament would pass a law cancelling the lawsuits filed against Israel Defense Forces officers and soldiers that participated in the Marmara raid. Also, a framework for normalising the relations was compiled.”   

The Israeli team recommended Netanyahu to accept the deal, but he did not make a decision and a few weeks later Obama asked Erdogan to accept the deal in order to end the confrontation with Israel, the report added.   

The draft agreement was ready to be signed by Netanyahu, who did not sign it, “prolonging the conflict,” according to a senior Israeli official quoted by the Haaretz report.

Then, Erdogan told Obama that, “The ball is in Netanyahu’s court,” the same official added.

Several months later Israeli-Turkish ties took another hit following the Israeli Operation Protective Edge in Gaza which continued for seven weeks and killed thousands, starting on July 8, 2014.

However, the relations have apparently survived following this latest crisis. Haaretz’s report stated that Netanyahu’s special envoy to Turkey Joseph Ciechanover “has handled ties with Erdogan’s government for five years, and kept lines of communication open with Sinirlioglu.”

Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said, "One of our three demands [an official apology by Netanyahu] has been met. The other two demands – compensation to the families of victims [who were killed by Israeli Defense Forces in international waters] and removal of the blockade on Gaza – should be met in order to normalise relations," following the Rome meeting between Sinirlioglu and Gold, Turkish daily Sabah reported.

TRTWorld and agencies