Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman’s most recent efforts to improve damaged relations with Turkey ran into a brick wall once again, receiving only a dismissive response from Israel’s former ally. Lieberman stated Israel is ready “to solve any outstanding disputes” with Ankara but was ignored by Turkish officials despite the deteriorating Middle East environment. Meeting with Turkish journalists, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu also contributed this week to the diplomatic push to re-establish close ties with Israel’s one-time friend, telling the journalists Israel and Turkey “were ‘important and stable’ countries in an unstable region” and this regional instability makes reconciliation especially important.
“Turkey and Israel have relations that go a long way,” said Netanyahu. “We need to find ways to restore the relationship that we had, because I think it is important for each of our countries.”
But the appeals of both senior Israeli politicians fell on deaf ears in Ankara. As with past efforts to patch up relations between the two countries, the Turkish government of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan insists three outstanding issues must be settled before discussions regarding improvement can even begin.
The first condition is that Israel must apologize for the 2010 Mavi Marmara incident. The Mavi Marmara is a Turkish ship that tried to break the Israeli blockade of Gaza in 2010 but was boarded by Israeli naval commandos. Nine people on the ship died in the ensuing fight with the commandos. The second condition is that Israel must compensate the families of those who were killed, while the third concerns Turkey’s demand that Israel lift its blockade of Gaza.
“As long as Israel does not apologise, does not pay compensation and does not lift the embargo on Palestine, it is not possible for Turkish-Israeli ties to improve,” Erdogan said in 2011 when dashing last year’s efforts to renew friendly ties.
Israel has always said it would never apologize for enforcing its legal blockade of Gaza, which is necessary for its security. Also, the people on the Mavi Marmara were the ones who provoked the violence by ignoring Israeli warnings to stay away and then attacked the commandos with iron bars. Besides, Lieberman said in an Israel Radio interview last year that an apology would not make any difference in Israeli-Turkish relations due to the negative stance the Islamist Erdogan government has adopted towards Israel since it came to power in 2002.
“Whoever sees the positions expressed by Turkey [regarding Israel and the Palestinians] in the international community does not have any illusions that an apology will dramatically improve Israel’s ties with Turkey,” said Lieberman.
And an apology, according to Lieberman, may even be dangerous for Israel, since it may signal weakness in a region where weakness is not liked.
“It is forbidden to be weak, and an apology is first and foremost a message of weakness,” said Lieberman.
But it is Turkey’s last demand, that Israel lift its legal blockade of Gaza, which really stands out due to its hypocrisy. Almost unmentioned by the mainstream media during the 2010 Mavi Marmara incident was the fact that while Turkey was bitterly complaining about the Israeli embargo on Gaza, championing the Palestinian cause before the world, it was at the same time blockading landlocked Armenia, an embargo it has maintained since 1993. Turkey closed its border that year with Armenia, a former Soviet republic in the southern Caucasus Mountains, and has refused to reopen it since, a move that has seriously disrupted the development of the small Christian nation’s economy.
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