Government officials in Israel and Turkey are trying to work their way back to the warm relations the two countries formerly enjoyed barely two years ago.
Obstacles still remain, among them a demand by Turkey that Jerusalem apologize for the deaths of nine terror activists – eight of whom were Turkish citizens, and one American national in a clash with IDF commandos last May.
Prime Minister Tayyid Recep Erdogan publicly vowed that until Israel complies, and also compensates the families of the dead, Turkey’s ambassador will not return to Tel Aviv.
The clash in question began in May, when IDF commandos were attacked as they boarded a flotilla ship intent on breaking Israel’s maritime blockade of Gaza. Nine terror activists, members of the Turkish IHH organization, were killed during the clash on the Turkish-sponsored Mavi Marmara vessel, one of six in the flotilla.
Erdogan also called for Israel to end its blockade of Gaza, although he did not condition diplomatic ties on the issue.
Israel has refused to apologize for the incident. According to a report published in Friday’s New York Times, a Jerusalem source said officials are willing to pay compensation and even express sorrow over the incident – but they want it clear the commandos acted in self-defense, and they want an end to the United Nations probe and any other international lawfare actions that have resulted from the incident.
The cooling in relations with Ankara, formerly Israel’s closest Muslim ally in the region, actually began a year earlier however, when Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Recep Erdogan castigated the Jewish State over its counter terrorist war against the Hamas terrorist regime that rules Gaza.
The three-week Operation Cast Lead was conducted in the winter of 2008-2009 to silence years of ceaseless missile and mortar attacks against Negev communities. It ended on the day U.S. President Barack Obama was sworn into office but not soon enough to escape a venomous tongue-lashing from Turkey’s Muslim leader, who supported the Hamas terrorists in the campaign. Relations between Turkey and Israel have been in a steady deterioration since.
Simultaneously, Erdogan has also reached out to embrace Turkey’s Muslim neighbors, Iran, Syria and Lebanon’s Hizbullah terrorist organization – Israel’s fiercest enemies.
Turkey also chose to cancel two annual Anatolia Eagle joint military exercises with the U.S., Italy and Israel, rather than include the IAF in the drill. The four nations have flown together in the annual drill for at least a decade.
All that having been said, Turkey sent two firefighting aircraft when Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu appealed to the international community for help with a raging inferno that swept the Carmel mountain in the Haifa area a week ago.
Netanyahu did not miss the opportunity to thank Ankara for its gesture; he made a point of visiting the Turkish pilots personally and reminded them of the help Israel offered after the 1999 earthquake struck their country.
Turkish news coverage of the event showed Israel in a much warmer light than usual, providing an opening to try to renew ties, and a call from Israel’s prime minister to his Turkish counterpart – reportedly for the first time.