In an effort for a concrete achievement of Obama's visit to Israel, the US administration was quick to credit Obama with brokering Netanyahu's apology to Turkey over the Mavi Marmara crisis. While there was US assistance, the initiative came from Israel.
During his three day visit to Israel, the West Bank and Jordan last week, President Obama held meetings with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Palestinian Authority President Abbas and King Abdullah II of Jordan. He reaffirmed to Israelis that there was an unbreakable bond with Israel and told Palestinians that the US supports a two state solution, but through negotiations between the two parties not through the UN.
Prior to President Obama's departure to Jordan, Isarael's Prime MInister Benjamin Netanyahu, from a trailer at Ben Gurion Airport, made a phone call to Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, apologizing for any errors that may have led to loss of life. The reference was to the flotilla incident, in which Israeli Special Forces boarded the Mavi Marmara, which was attempting to break the Israeli blockade of Gaza.
The media and US administration were quick to credit President Obama with brokering the apology. While the US provided some assistance, the Jerusalem Post reports that Netanyahu's primary consideration was the worsening situation in Syria.
“The fact that the crisis in Syria is getting worse by the minute was the central consideration in my eyes,” Netanyahu said on his Facebook page of his apology Friday afternoon in a phone conversation with Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan for “any errors that could have led to loss of life.”
According to the Mondo Weiss two administration officials, as reported by a White House pool reporter, said that Netanyahu and Obama had discussed the issue during the week and that Netanyahu and Erdogan were on the phone for about thirty minutes and at some point the president got on the phone.
Two senior admin officials came back to address the issue of the phone call between [Israeli PM Benjamin] Netanyahu and [Turkish PM Recep] Erdogan. Transcript is forthcoming, here are highlights: Netanyahu apologized for the Mavi Mara flotilla incident and acknowledged "operational mistakes," said one official. Erdogan accepted the apology, according to this official. The other sao [senior administration official] called this a "first step" toward normalization of relations between the two countries. They said this had been the subject of talks between Obama and Netanyahu in Jerusalem this week. The call took place in the trailer at the aiport just before Obama took off. The leaders talked for about 30 minutes. At some point, Obama got on the phone.
On Saturday Erdogan said that Israel's apology met Turkey's' conditions and signaled Turkey's increasing clout.
Israel's National Security Council head, Yaakov Amidror, denied that there was any US pressure on Israel to make an apology.
"This was our idea, and we brought it to the Americans. They helped us put it together with Turkey,” he said. “There have been contacts between us and the Turks for a long time. If the Turks would not have made mistakes during the process, it could have happened earlier, but there is no doubt that the US presence, and US assistance, helped in bringing this to a conclusion.”
Tension between Turkey and Israel have been high and Erdogan went as far as calling Zionism a crime against humanity at the UN last month. In a Danish newspaper Erdogan said that he had been misunderstood. While Israel and Turkey will work on reestablishing normal relations, Israel will not get a free ride from Turkey. Turkey is obviously convinced of a greater role in the Middle East as is apparent by Erdogan's statement, which he said that Turkey is elevating its position in which it will have a say, initiative and power as it had in the past.
“We are at the beginning of a process of elevating Turkey to a position so that it will again have a say, initiative and power, as it did in the past.”
Netanyahu said that he wanted the relationship at a level in order for the two countries to cooperate more in regards to Syria.
“What we wanted is to get to a situation where the relationship will be upgraded so that we can cooperate more regarding Syria, and will give Israel more freedom of action in the Middle East and elsewhere.”
A normalization of relations is also important to permit Israel to upgrade its ties with NATO, a move that Turkey, a NATO member, has continuously vetoed. Erdogan made clear that the dispatch of a Turkish ambassador to Israel would not happen immediately.
Whether or not there was direct involvement by President Obama to broker the apology is not clear, but there was certainly involvement by American officials, probably the State Department. Normalization of relations is in everyone's interest, including the US as relevant decisions regarding Syria are made. None of them will be easy, but both Turkey and Israel will play a major role.
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