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Israel apologizes to Turkey: A diplomatic coup for Obama
The sudden and unexpected reconciliation could ease Israel's growing isolation in the region
 
President Obama is flanked by Israeli President Shimon Peres (left) and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu before his departure from the Holy Land.
President Obama is flanked by Israeli President Shimon Peres (left) and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu before his departure from the Holy Land. Lior Mizrahi/Getty Images

On the last day of President Obama's visit to Israel, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu apologized to Turkey for a commando raid in 2010 that killed nine people aboard a Turkish ship trying to break a sea blockade of the Gaza Strip. Turkish Prime Minister Recep Erdogan accepted the apology, a significant step toward reconciling the two countries after years of estrangement.

The ship, the Mavi Marmara, had led a flotilla that was trying to provide aid to Gazans, but was blocked by the Israeli military. The ensuing raid killed eight Turkish citizens and an American of Turkish origin, leading to a highly public fallout between Israel and one of its strongest Muslim allies. 

The U.S., an ally of both countries, had been keen to heal the rift, which had isolated Israel further amidst widespread instability in the region stemming from the Arab Spring and the Syrian civil war. Furthermore, the U.S. wants the two countries to coordinate their responses to the Syrian conflict and Iran's suspected attempts to develop a nuclear weapon.

Obama helped facilitate the apology, huddling with Netanyahu in a "makeshift trailer set up on the tarmac of Israel's Ben Gurion airport" to place a telephone call to Erdogan, according to Josh Rogin at Foreign Policy.

According to a statement from his office, Netanyahu "expressed his apologies to the Turkish people for any error that could have led to loss of life and agreed to complete an agreement to provide compensation to the families of the victims." Netanyahu also reportedly assured Erdogan that the economic blockade around Gaza had been eased since the flotilla raid.

Erdogan's office responded that the Turkish leader told Netanyahu that he "valued [the] centuries-long strong friendship and cooperation between the Turkish and Jewish nations." As part of the discussion, Netanyahu reportedly said he appreciated Erdogan's recent attempt to distance himself from his incendiary assertion that Zionism was a "crime against humanity."

After a visit that produced no tangible progress in reviving the Arab-Israeli peace talks, the sudden reconciliation between Israel and Turkey is something of a coup for the Obama administration. The White House welcomed the detente, saying "we attach great importance to the restoration of positive relations."

However, it's widely agreed that restoring basic diplomatic relations is just a small step. Erdogan in recent years has become an increasingly vocal champion of the Palestinian cause, making him something of a hero in the Muslim world — a cachet that he may not be willing to relinquish by deepening ties with Israel. "No one is claiming that this resolves every potential difference between Israel and Turkey," an unnamed Obama aide told The Guardian.

The big loser is the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. "As Syria is entering into its third year of uprising, Ankara and Tel-Aviv will have to coordinate policy and may need to work together to contain potential risks to both countries," Suat Kiniklioglu, a former member of Erdogan's party, told CNN.

 
Ryu Spaeth is deputy editor at TheWeek.com.

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