I was appalled to learn a week ago that the Israeli prime minister had apologized to his Turkish counterpart for his government’s actions during the Mavi Marmara incident, seeing this as feeding the Turkish government’s inflated sense of grandeur and power.
That prediction was borne out well.
The municipal government of Turkey’s capital city, Ankara, put up billboards on city streets reveling in the Israeli apology. They are not subtle, showing a sad-looking Netanyahu beneath a larger, buoyant Erdogan, separated by the Mavi Marmara itself. Addressing Erdogan, they read: “Israel apologized to Turkey. Dear Prime Minister, we are grateful that you let our country experience this pride.”
Erdogan himself claims not only that the apology has changed the balance of power in the Arab-Israeli conflict but that it obligates Israel to work with Ankara in its diplomacy with the Palestinians. He told the Turkish parliament: “The point we have arrived at as a result of our consultations with all our brothers in Palestine and peripheral countries is increasing our responsibility with regard to solving the Palestinian question and thus is bringing about a new equation,” and went onto claim that Israel agreed to cooperate with Turkey on talks with the Palestinians. Hürriyet Daily News paraphrases Erdogan: “He said all his regional interlocutors, including Khaled Mashaal of the Hamas, admit that a new era has begun in the Middle East what they all call after Turkish victory on Israeli apology.”
No less notable is Erdogan’s petty put down of the Israeli side:
Erdoğan said his conversation with Netanyahu took place under the witness of Obama but he wanted first to talk with the US President as he missed his voice. “I talked to him and we have reviewed the text and confirmed the [apology] process. we have therefore accomplished this process under Obama’s witness,” Erdoğan said, adding this phone conversation has also been recorded alongside with written statements issued from all three sides.
Ryan Mauro sums up Turkish actions over the past week:
Erdoğan is extending his time in the spotlight by demanding that Israel pay $1 million to each of the nine casualties’ families, ten times the amount Israel has offered. He isn’t yet dropping his case against the Israeli generals involved in the raid, nor is he fully restoring diplomatic ties with Israel. And he’s announced that he will visit the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip in what is a thinly-concealed victory lap.
Indeed, the Turkish gloating has been so conspicuous and extended that it may have prompted to a healthy sense of reality. So long as the Mavi Marmara incident hung over their relations with Ankara, Israelis and others could believe that an apology for the incident would magically undo the past decade. The illusion could persist that the Turks, however unreasonably, just needed to put this Mavi Marmara unpleasantness aside and things would revert to the good old days.
Now that Israelis humiliated themselves and Erdogan is rampaging on, some are awakening to the fact that this apology only made matters worse. Naftali Bennett, Israel’s minister of economy and trade, slammed the Turkish response: “Since the apology was made public, it appears Erdogan is doing everything he can to make Israel regret it, while conducting a personal and vitriolic campaign at the expense of Israel-Turkey relations. Let there be no doubt — no nation is doing Israel a favor by renewing ties with it. It should also be clear to Erdoğan that if Israel encounters in the future any terrorism directed against us, our response will be no less severe.”
Boaz Bismuth of Israel Hayom colorfully notes that Israelis “didn’t expect to feel that only several days after Israel’s apology, Erdoğan would already be making us feel that we had eaten a frog along with our matzah this year.”
Perhaps, after all, the apology was a good thing. For a relatively inexpensive price — some words — Israelis and others have gained a better insight into the Turkish leadership’s mentality. They don’t suffer from mere injured pride; they are Islamist ideologues with an ambitious agenda. If the misguided apology makes this evident to more observers, the results possibly could make this into a net plus.