Two years after the tragic Mavi Marmara incident, in which nine Turks were killed by Israeli commandos who stormed a ship attempting to break Israel's blockade on Gaza, Turkish-Israel relations remain frozen. Ankara maintains that only an Israeli apology, compensation to the families of the victims of the lifting of the Gaza blockade will allow it to restore relations. Israel, on the other hand, is ready to express its "regret" about the incident and pay some compensation, but is most certainly not ready to apologize or to consider changing its Gaza policy in order to appease Turkey.
Still, some recent reports would indicate that, at least on the Israeli side, there is a desire to break out of the impasse (or at least create the impression that such a desire exists). Although it's been clear for some time that Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak and some top military leaders believe apologizing to Turkey would make strategic sense, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has so far balked at doing this. But as veteran Israeli journalist David Horovitz writes in The Times of Israel, the news website he edits, this may be changing. Writes Horovitz:
As US Defense Secretary Leon Panetta arrived in Israel on Tuesday night, the Iranian nuclear drive was, as ever, high on the agenda for his talks with Israeli leaders. So too, unsurprisingly, was the bloodshed in Syria, and concerns over President Bashar Assad’s chemical weapons falling into the hands of Hezbollah, Al-Qaeda, or other terror groups.
But a third subject — extremely relevant to those first two familiar hot-button issues — was also the source of intensified focus: the unresolved crisis in Israel’s relations with Turkey.
On her visit here two weeks ago, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is understood to have urged Israel’s leaders to do what is necessary, however unpalatable, to heal the rift with Ankara. Panetta was bringing a similar message. And in the prime minister’s circle, there is growing awareness these days of how important it is to try to fix the relationship.
Horovitz's article comes in the wake of a recent meeting between Netanyahu and a group of Turkish journalists who had been invited on an official visit to Israel -- in itself a kind of Israeli effort at rapprochement -- in which the PM told the group that the two countries "need to find ways to restore the relationship that we had."
To make matters even more interesting, Ha'aretz the other day reported that the British government is now trying to mediate between Turkey and Israel, with Prime Minister David Cameron having offered to act as a go between for Netanyahu and Turkish leader Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who recently visited London. From Ha'aretz's story:
A senior Israeli official said that in recent weeks, Britain has delivered messages between Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Turkey's Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, but that no formula has yet been found to bridge gaps between the sides regarding an apology for the Israel Defense Forces killing of nine Turkish activists on the Gaza-bound flotilla in May 2010.
Since that crisis erupted, British diplomats, together with counterparts from the United States and Germany, have made efforts to restore positive relations between Israel and Turkey, or at least prevent relations between the two states from going into a tailspin, the source said.
In recent months, as civil unrest has escalated in Syria, British officials have tried to revive diplomatic mediation between Israel and Turkey - an effort being coordinated with the U.S. government. Like the Americans, the British believe the crisis in Syria creates common interests between Israel and Turkey. Improvement in relations between Israel and Turkey, officials in London and Washington insist, will help stabilize affairs in the region.
Ankara, for its part, immediately denied Ha'aretz's claim, with a Turkish diplomatic source telling Today's Zaman that "Israel already knows what it needs to do, and that is to apologize to Turkey. Mediation by another country is not required for that."