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Obama’s Grand Bargain? Israel Apologizes to Turkey, Promises Mavi Marmara Compensation

In a remarkable about-face after three years of adamant refusal, Bibi Netanyahu has apologized to Turkey’s premier for Israel’s 2010 massacre on the Mavi Marmara.  He’s also promised financial compensation to the families of the nine Turkish citizens murdered during the attack.  Reports also indicate an Israeli agreement to ease the Gaza blockade, though the provisions are uncertain.

This is such a strange and sudden development that it begs speculation about what caused it.  First, earlier refusals were grounded in Avigdor Lieberman’s rejection of an apology.  Given that Lieberman immediately attacked the apology, it seems he hasn’t changed his mind.  Contrition lies with Bibi.  Given that Pres. Obama left Israel today one can’t deny the critical role that he played in brokering the deal.

But given that Obama had tried and failed before, something more must’ve been offered to Bibi.  This is where I fear what transpired during this visit.  What could Obama offer Bibi that would move the latter from rejection to acceptance of a development that surely rankles the pride the any red-blooded Israeli nationalist.

Here is a perfect example of a tone-deaf Israeli journalist attempting to spin Netanyahu’s cave and turn it into a purely politically expedient act:

After three years in which relations between the two countries fell victim to internal politics and ego games disguised as national pride, unrest in Syria, Iran’s nuclear program and some U.S. pressure pushed the Israeli and Turkish PMs to make up.

A country which has still not given up on the disappearance and likely death of airman Ran Arad decades ago in Lebanon, and which obsessed for the five years of Gilad Shalit imprisonment, doesn’t have the right to minimize Turkish bitterness over the cold-blooded murder of nine of its citizens.  Anyone who can write what Barak Ravid wrote shows he has absolutely no understanding of the interests of Israel’s interlocutor, Turkey.  It’s really a shameful admission of journalistic ignorance.

Ravid dropped another howler into his piece in which he actually stated that Turkey’s leader would welcome a U.S. attack on Iran.   Considering that the two nations, until the Syrian civil war, were allies, makes Ravid’s claim close to to delusional.  Alas, this sort of wishful thinking is all too common among Israeli journalists and military strategists.

However, on the off-chance that this reconciliation between Israel and Turkey came with Erdogan’s acquiescence to an attack on Iran, then I’d take back everything I wrote in the paragraph above.  I find it impossible to believe that Erdogan would agree to such an attack on a former ally.

Given that Iran was at the top of the mutual Israeli-U.S. agenda on this trip.  And given that Bibi didn’t object when Obama told the world that Iran was at least a year away from the nuclear threshold, despite the fact that Bibi placed that date right around now when he broached the subject in his fall UN speech;  this leads to the sneaking suspicion that there was a Grand Bargain made that involved an American commitment to attack Iran with or without Israel in the coming year.

A deep irony in this development is that the Israeli apology involves its acceptance of the fact that its actions were egregious, unwarranted and illegal.  No nation apologies and pays money when it has done nothing wrong.  Thus three years of Israeli whitewashes, fake reports, and lobbying in the international community for exoneration have ended in Israeli capitulation.  There will be those who argue that despite its apology, Israel has admitted nothing.  To which I respond, whether Israel admits it violated international law or not everyone will know as a result of this that it did precisely what it has denied for three years.  It murdered nine Turks with no justifiable reason for doing so.

The rapprochement may also have involved developments in Syria.  It’s possible that Obama is preparing to intervene in the civil war there and wants two critical frontline states sharing borders with Syria to be on the same page with him.  Israel has in the past few days floated the dubious claims that Assad used chemical weapons.  If this claim were accepted, it would pressure the U.S. into acting much more forcefully.  Obama may be trying to get out in front of such pressures.

Though I’m concerned about what form western intervention in Syrian affairs might take, I’m marginally more concerned about how an attack on Iran might play out.  In terms of regional stability, a military overthrow of Assad (à la Hussein) would be less destabilizing than a U.S.-Israeli attack against Iran.  Though it must be said that depending on the response, each development might be equally toxic.  If Obama is contemplating either eventuality he’s playing with fire.  This fire could burn just as destructively as it did for George Bush when he invaded Iraq.

{ 18 comments… add one }
  • Tim Horgan March 22, 2013, 8:27 PM

    Another dog that did not bark in the night was the subject of Jonathan Pollard.

    It is good to see the US standing firm on this as there was persistent background noise for the release of The Traitor both before and during the visit.

  • Oui March 22, 2013, 11:54 PM

    Cleaning Up the Mess Hillary Left Behind
    From your NY Times article …

    American diplomats prodded Mr. Erdogan to step back from his recent comments comparing Zionism to fascism, which in turn made it easier for them to get Mr. Netanyahu to make a move. The worsening situation in Syria, officials said, was also a catalyst.

    In addition to the apology, the two leaders also discussed further easing the restrictions on imports to Gaza, which had been the goal of the Mavi Marmara.

    Izzet Sahin, a leader of the I.H.H., an Istanbul-based charity that led the Mavi Marmara flotilla, said the apology, compensation and discussion of import restrictions amounted to “an important statement,” but added, “We have to see the implementation before we honor our dead.”

    Avigdor Lieberman, the former foreign minister who many saw as an obstacle to an Israeli apology, on Friday called it a “grave mistake” that would undermine his nation’s military.

    I did underestimate the importance of this political move as is illustrated by these tidbits. Undermining his coalition partner Lieberman will offer some domestic fireworks soon. The bold move on the tarpac of the airport before Obama left Israel, Erdogan wanted to talk to Obama first before he handed the phone to Natanyahu. Some excellent work done by John Kerry who has to work through the mess left behind by Hillary Clinton.

    During the press briefing of Obama with King Abdullah in Jordan, the President was at a loss for words when asked by a reporter about Syria. Never before did I hear such an incoherent answer by Obama on an incredible important foreign policy issue. I assume Obama is well informed on Syria, he was highly embarassed and could only put forward the US was the single largest donor in humanitarian aid for the million refugees.

    I believe the importance to improved relations between Turkey and Israel is the imminent danger coming out of Syria. In neighboring Lebanon, PM Mataki has resigned and urges a National Dialogue and a “Salvation Cabinet”. The US is losing its influenece on the outcome of the Syria sectarian violence to Qatar and Saudi Arabia. A “Texan” Ghassan Hitto named as future PM by Qatar to block US influence after Assad falls. Obama needs to fight off its presumed “allies” to avoid an outcome where Islamist take control of the opposition in Syria.

    I used the term “Grand Bargain” between Obama and Netanyahu late in 2011 when it became clear the Israeli Air Force could not go alone on a bombing raid on Iran and inflict sufficient damage to the hidden nuclear facilities in underground bunkers. The heavy bunker-buster bombs can only be launched from US B-2 or B-52 planes. Obama’s warning to Netanyahu not to cross him obviously led to bad blood between the two tough-minded personalities. Obama’s call to Netanyahu on election night must have been just a few words: “Hey bud, you’re stuck with me another four years.” I coined Obama’s visit as “The Trip to Israel President Romney Expected to Make”. Speaking in Jerusalem to a student body over the heads of Israel’s PM and the Knesset was a bit of revenge. Nice.

  • Joel March 23, 2013, 1:13 AM

    [comment deleted–off topic. We’re not rehashing the Mavi Marmara massacre here.]

    • Joel March 24, 2013, 12:33 AM

      I first said that the apology was an ‘exercise in diplomacy’.
      By way of explanation, I than digressed and referred to Mavi Marmara and the Palmer Commission.

      How is my calling the apology an ‘exercise in diplomacy’ off topic?

  • mary March 23, 2013, 1:25 AM

    Furkan Dogan was also an American citizen. He was shot through the head at point blank range as he already lay wounded on the deck of the Mavi Marmara. Did Obama demand an apology also? Probably not.

    This was nothing, this whole apology charade. There was never a serious rift between Israel and Turkey. Trade carried on, and military exercises, and a whole lot of talking about what to do about Iran and Syria.

    It was a shame, really, that after three years of those murdered Turks (and one American) being vilified as terrorists, al Qaeda operatives and Islamic jihadists, the best that could be done for them was a phoned-in “apology” from the airport. It just confirms this was just a piece of political theater.

    • pabelmont March 23, 2013, 2:22 PM

      Turkey has put several (former) Israeli higher-ups on trial over the Mavi Marmara attack. I suppose these prosecutions will now be dropped (unless Turkey’s prosecutorial services are not directed by the folks who made the compromise to accept the apology and compensation). There was REAL bad blood, or the appearance of it, between Turkey and Israel. Perhaps business interests intervened as so often — ‘don’t punish Israel, we have too much bilateral trade and need it not to be interrupted.’ (That’s what’ll make SANCTIONS hard to put into BDS.)

      • mary March 24, 2013, 2:47 AM

        There was never any real “bad blood.” There was, as you say, the appearance of it. And as for those prosecutions, be serious. How do you think they will turn out?

        You are right about BDS, which is why we know it is nothing more than an irritant to Israel. The US would never go along with sanctions.

  • Siusaidh March 23, 2013, 9:21 AM

    Preliminary to openly attacking Syria to install Muslim Brothers. Then on to Teheran.

  • Daniel March 23, 2013, 10:48 AM

    I am curious to see what effects this American-brokered, Turkish-Israeli détente will mean for the people and plight of Gaza. For years we have been told, falsely, that the siege will be significantly eased or lifted. Will this diplomatic breakthrough finally achieve it?

    According to several sources including Haaretz and Hurriyet, Ankara reportedly concludes that with the apology-agreement, “all of Turkey’s demands have been met”. One of those demands has always been that the Gaza blockade be lifted; this has been explicitly repeated since 2010.

    In this Hurriyet piece, Davutoğlu said: “Turkey’s basic demands have been met; we got what we wanted … [w]hen Kerry visited Turkey we talked about these matters very openly. We voiced our three demands [apology, compensation and lifting of the Gaza blockade] if Turkey’s contribution to the peace process in the Middle East and the normalization of ties with Israel was wanted.”

    (Link: http://www.hurriyetdailynews.com/with-israels-apology-turkeys-demands-have-been-met-foreign-minister-davutoglu.aspx?pageID=238&nID=43498&NewsCatID=352 )

    And Ynetnews writes: “Turkey’s official news agency Anatolia quoted Erdogan as saying that the process of removing the embargoes on Gaza has started, adding that the entry of civilian goods into Palestinian territories should expand to include all border gates.”

    (Link: http://www.ynetnews.com/articles/0,7340,L-4360185,00.html )

    We’ll have to wait and see, but what do you think, Mr Silverstein? Should we expect such a victory?

  • Yonatan March 23, 2013, 12:29 PM

    Israel agreed to release a load of Palestinian prisoners in exchange for the release of Shalit. It uses military order 1651 to cancel any prisoner’s amnesty based on secret charges and evidence. Another 15 have been rearrested earlier this month.


    Israel’s word is worthless.

    • yankel March 23, 2013, 2:30 PM

      There’s nothing new about Bibi’s proud disregard promises and commitments, but the US interest of maintaining reasonably good working relations between their strongest – and most reliable – allies in the region might give these particular commitment a better prospect.

  • yankel March 23, 2013, 2:21 PM

    A couple of points.

    1. Obama’s avenues to gain access to Syria’s post-Assad rulers BEFORE they come to power, all pass through Turkish territory. , To a degree, the credibility of his threats against Iran lies there just as well.

    2. Considering which superpower’s centuries-old interest is to drive all possible wedges between Turkey and “the West”, one understands Lieberman’s consistent resistance to removing any such wedge.

  • Asim March 23, 2013, 6:39 PM


    My first post on your excellent blog/website……anyway your thoughts mirrored mine when I read your prescient take on the terms of the “grand bargain”…..a US attack on Iran (WHY?)!! Only this one was important enough for Bibi to come forward with the apology that came too late. This chills me to the bone. The consequences to societies around the world of an all out Israel/US attack on Iran (AGAIN WHY?)is bound to be close to catastrophic. Alas, we as a society are so close to the going over the “moral cliff”…anybody not outraged, is not paying attention!!
    Will cooler heads prevail? I hope!!
    AIPAC strkes again

  • shachalnur March 24, 2013, 10:23 PM

    Erdogan is already backpaddling.
    Turkey is in a nasty situation.
    A US/Israel attack on Iran is not good for Turkey.
    US backing israel on Iran in exchange for Nethanyahu apologizing to Turkey?
    US is not gonna do anything ,exept pushing the Middle East into a big conflict.
    Renewed Israei-Turkish “friendship” is neccesary for Israel and Turkey,US has nothing to do with that.
    The upcoming conflict can only be stopped by the local players and Russia.
    US is dropping everybody,except the NATO-Alqaida-rebels,who will set the Middle East on fire.

    • mary March 25, 2013, 2:09 AM

      Good points. Of course the kiss-and-makeup between Israel an Turkey is just a show for the masses. Whether Iran is attacked or not will not depend on Bibi saying he’s sorry Israel “made errors” (what a sorry excuse for an apology that was). The mutual target is Syria, which will become a proxy war with Iran. Of course, every extremist religious nutjob, both Sunni and Shia, will show up for it, and everyone knows it. The idiots Obama and Netanyahu, along with idiots Khamanei and Assad, and also possibly Erdogan, will destroy this whole region. As if they haven’t already caused enough suffering! When will the world ever understand that you don’t get peace by going to war? It’s the same as a doctor cutting off a patient’s head to cure his headache.

  • lydda March 25, 2013, 12:18 PM

    [You’ve lost your comment privileges due to the rankest most ignorant form of anti-Semitism-big comment rule violation]

    • shachalnur March 25, 2013, 7:45 PM

      [off topic–deleted]

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