MK Zeev Elkin
MK Zeev Elkin Flash 90

Deputy Foreign Minister Ze'ev Elkin confirmed Tuesday morning that the apology to Turkey over the Mavi Marmara incident is connected to the concern that Iran might obtain a nuclear weapon.

MK Elkin told Voice of Israel public radio that restoration of the ties with Ankara is one of the subjects at the top of the government's current agenda.

Elkin said that in the course of the coming fortnight, the two sides will discuss compensation for the families of the Turkish citizens killed aboard the Marmara, and other matters. He estimated that it will not be possible to return to the warm relations Israel and Turkey had in the past, but explained that this was not because of the Marmara incident. Rather, he said, it was because of Turkish Prime Minister Recep Erdogan's "geopolitical ambitions."

However, Elkin added, making amends with Turkey serves the Israeli interest because of the crisis in Syria, because of the Iranian nuclear issue, and because of the importance of cooperation between Israel and NATO.

This seems to be the first time that Israel gave official and open confirmation that the apology to the Turks over the Marmara is connected to the concern over Iran's nuclear weapons program. Netanyahu has said that the apology was made because of concern over the situation in Syria "and other matters in the region," without specifying what the matters are.

Turkey has a common border with Iran.

According to a report by defense analyst Anthony Cordesman, quoted by the Brookings Institution's Noah Shachtman in Wired Magazine last year, while a U.S. strike on Iran's nuclear weapons program would be launched primarily from aircraft carriers in the Persian Gulf, an Israeli strike would require using a quarter of the Israel Air Force’s fighters. "The jets will have to hug the Syrian-Turkish border before flying over both Iraq and Iran. And that is not exactly friendly territory," wrote Shachtman.

“The number of aircraft required, refueling along the way and getting to the targets without being detected or intercepted would be complex and high risk and would lack any assurances that the overall mission will have a high success rate,” Cordesman assessed.

Cooperation with Turkey would, of course, make this mission much easier for Israel. Turkey could agree to turn a blind eye as Israeli jets fly over its territory, for instance.

MK Elkin of Likud / Yisrael Beytenu is serving as de facto foreign minister, while former foreign minister Avigdor Lieberman awaits the results of legal proceedings against him, in which he has been charged with corruption. Lieberman and Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu have agreed that Lieberman will return to the position of foreign minister if the results of the trial permit it.