Flotilla sends Greece and Turkey into arms of Israel

By Anshel Pfeffer, July 7, 2011
Papandreou: new ally of Israel

Papandreou: new ally of Israel

Both Israel and Turkey are eager to put the last two and a half years behind them. All that is needed now, according to Turkish daily Hurriet, is "to find a word that sounds in Turkish like an apology but not in Hebrew".

This weekend could prove critical. The Palmer Commission, appointed by the United Nations Secretary General to investigate last year's Gaza Flotilla incident, and which has an Israeli and a Turkish representative, is to deliver its report. The report in its current form is expected to rule that Israel acted lawfully in its naval blockade of the Gaza Strip but that it acted with disproportionate force against the flotilla's activists, nine of whom, all Turkish citizens, were killed by Israeli naval commandos when they tried to violently resist the commandeering of the Mavi Marmara.

If the report is published in its current form, it will be much harder for either side to come to an agreement, but if American efforts are successful, an accord will be reached this week in New York between an Israeli team headed by Strategic Affairs Minister Moshe Yaalon and a senior Turkish diplomatic delegation.

A creative form of apology and perhaps damages paid to the families of those killed could pave the road between Jerusalem and Ankara, although on Wednesday the talks were already foundering.

Both countries have a clear interest in resuming the strategic relationship that was ruined following Prime Minister Reccep Tayip Erdogan's courtship of the Arab world - including Iran and Syria - and his championship of Palestinian rights during the Gaza operation two and a half years ago.

More than ever, as the relationship with Egypt appears increasingly shaky, Israel needs a major regional ally. Turkey, faced with an uncertain future on its sensitive southern border with Syria, also needs a more harmonious relationship with Israel as part of its realignment with the West, especially the United States.

Israel has also piled on the indirect pressure via Washington, but also through a closer capital: Athens. Last week, Israeli attack helicopters took part in a large exercise with the Greek army, and Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu publicly thanked his Greek counterpart George Papandreou for his assistance in preventing the sailing of the second Gaza flotilla in recent days.

As a senior IDF officer said this week, "we will make peace long before the Greeks and Turks resolve their differences" and Ankara cannot have failed to notice Israel's new best friend across the Aegean.

Mr Erdogan took the first step two weeks ago when his behind-the-scenes influence caused the Islamist movement IHH to pull out of this flotilla. After his electoral victory, he no longer has to play tough to the home crowd. Any kind of apology to the Turks will be a hard sell in Israel but, for now, Mr Netanyahu also has the necessary political capital to swing it.

Last updated: 1:09pm, July 7 2011