Turkish envoy to US tweets of friendship with Israel

Former deputy FM Ayalon calls Liberman’s comments criticizing Israel’s apology to Turkey ‘impractical and irrelevant’

By Yoel Goldman and Adiv Sterman March 23, 2013 – Times of Israel

Turkey’s ambassador to the US had some kind words to share over Twitter after the announcement Friday of Israel’s apology for a 2010 raid that led to nine Turkish fatalities on a Gaza-bound ship.

The incident had led to the freezing of ties between the two allies for nearly three years. But the relationship appeared on the path to normalization following a phone call between Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his counterpart Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Friday.

Tan’s reaction to the move was in stark contrast to that of former foreign minister Avigdor Liberman, who slammed Netanyahu on Friday for his decision to apologize for the “operational errors” made by Israel during the raid on the Turkish-registered Mavi Marmara.

“Israel’s apology for the soldiers activity against a terrorist organization is a serious mistake,” said Liberman, who served as Israel’s top diplomat during the height of the crisis with Turkey, and who is also Netanyahu’s No. 2 in their joint Knesset Likud-Beytenu faction.

“Anyone who watched the photos taken on the ship Mavi Marmara understands beyond any doubt that the IDF soldiers acted in self-defense against the activists of the IHH organization, recognized in European countries, including Germany and the Netherlands, as a terrorist organization,” stated Liberman.

“Such an apology harms the motivation of soldiers and their willingness to go out on missions in the future and bolsters the radical elements in the region,” he added. As foreign minister until resigning to battle a breach of trust charge in December, Liberman was publicly opposed to any talk of an Israeli apology.

The Yisrael Beytenu chief’s comments were harshly criticized by his former deputy at the Foreign Ministry, Danny Ayalon, who said Liberman ran the risk of becoming irrelevant.

“Liberman’s objections are impractical and irrelevant,” Maariv quoted Ayalon as saying. “Another statement like this will make him irrelevant in the international arena, as well,” he added, noting that the prime minister has the backing of IDF Chief of Staff Benny Gantz and newly-appointed Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon, thereby, according to Ayalon, rendering Liberman politically irrelevant at home.

Meretz party chief Zehava Gal-On joined in Ayalon’s criticism of Liberman’s comments, saying that the former FM is continuing in his attempts to harm Israel’s international relations.

“The only ‘serious mistake’ was safeguarding the Foreign Ministry portfolio for a man who in recent years caused Israel’s diplomatic ties to deteriorate to such a low point,” she said, using Liberman’s words.

Representatives of IHH said Saturday that the apology would not put an end to the group’s legal proceedings against the Israeli government for punitive damages, nor would it prevent IHH from going forward in its petition to the International Criminal Court. An IHH representative told Al Hayat that the group would only stop its legal actions when Israel lifts the blockade on Gaza.

Israel’s apology was brokered by US President Barack Obama, while on an historic trip to Israel this week. In the call, Netanyahu apologized to the Turkish people “for any operational errors that could have led to loss of life” in the Mavi Marmara incident, “and agreed to complete the agreement on compensation,” his office later said in a statement. Erdogan reportedly said he accepted the Israeli apology and said his government would end legal prosecution of Israeli officers and officials involved in the incident.

Erdogan “expressed that it was saddening that relations, which are of vital strategic importance for peace and the stability of the region, have been soured in recent years,” the statement said.

Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu said that before accepting the apology, Erdogan consulted with Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas.

Davutoglu added that all of Turkey’s fundamental demands had been met with Israel’s apology, Reuters reported. He also stated that the normalization of ties had nothing to do with Syria.

Erdogan has become an increasingly bitter critic of Israel in recent years, repeatedly denouncing its policies on the Palestinians, and expressing support for the Gaza-based terror organization Hamas.

On Wednesday, Erdogan clarified a statement he made in February in which he called Zionism a “crime against humanity” on par with anti-Semitism and fascism,” saying he was misunderstood and signaling that a reconciliation might be near.

Speaking to a Danish newspaper, Erdogan said that he knew his remarks caused “some debate” but that “no one should misunderstand what I said.” He said “everyone should know” that his comments were directed at “Israeli policies,” especially as regards to “Gaza and the settlements.”

Liberman, unmoved by the phone call and by Obama’s apparent pressure for a headling of ties, said that “Erdogan’s tirades against Israel at every opportunity, from the attack on the President [Peres] in 2009 at [a public panel at the World Economic Forum’s] Davos conference, up to his words few weeks ago — that Zionism is racism and crime against humanity — and his refusal to apologize for this statement explicitly while simultaneously accepting an apology from Israel, harms the dignity and status of Israel in the region and in the world.”

Justice Minister Tzipi Livni, on the other hand, welcomed the attempt at mending ties.

“Reconciliation is a very important step and correct at this time, especially with what is happening in Syria,” Livni said, adding that “Israel, Turkey and the United States have shared security interests.”

The defense establishment also welcomed news of the agreement, though military sources likened Israel’s apology to a half-sincere one given to an aunt when apologizing for not attending the Passover Seder.

IDF chief of General Staff Benny Gantz was reportedly fully briefed on Netanyahu’s plan to apologize to Erdogan. Channel 10 said Netanyahu had also informed his senior Cabinet ministers on his plan ahead of the phone call.

Labor Party Chairman Yachimovich said that the prime minister made the right choice by reconciling with Erdogan.

“Turkey is a regional power and relations with the country are very important to Israel,” Yachimovich said. “Even if the apology to the Turks was done with a heavy heart, it is good that it has been done.”

The Labor party leader went on to explain that “it is better to forgive and do what is wise and beneficial for the state,” rather than focus on Israel’s honor.

“We hope that reconciliation with the Turks after three years of disconnect is the first step towards a new political re-entrenchment that will strengthen our diplomatic and strategic position,” she said.

The reconciliation took place shortly before Obama completed his three-day visit to Israel, in a call from a trailer on the runway at Ben-Gurion Airport. Initially Obama spoke to Erdogan, reports said, and then he handed the phone to Netanyahu.

The move was planned and coordinated by US Secretary of State John Kerry ahead of Obama’s visit, Channel 2 reported.

The US had indicated for some time that it saw an imperative for Israel and Turkey to heal the rift between them, especially given the regional challenges posed by Iran’s nuclear drive and the raging civil war in Syria.

“The timing was good for that conversation to take place,” Obama said later Friday in a speech in Jordan.