Amidror: We initiated apology to Turkey, not the US

National security adviser confirms Syria at heart of decision to end rift, says Erdogan now likely to stop verbally attacking Israel

Yifa Yaakov is a breaking news editor at The Times of Israel.

Israel initiated the process of apologizing to Turkey, not the US, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s National Security Adviser Yaakov Amidror said Saturday night.

“I’m astounded” to see that Friday’s apology phone call by Netanyahu to Turkey’s Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan is being reported as a consequence of American pressure Amidror said. “There was no American pressure. We went to the Americans” to have them help broker the call and the understandings designed to heal Israel-Turkey ties, he said, speaking a short while before he attended a meeting with US Secretary of State John Kerry and Netanyahu, on Palestinian-Israel negotiations, Saturday night.

Amidror confirmed that the decision to end the three-year rift with Turkey had been motivated by concerns over the deepening crisis in Syria.

On Friday, Netanyahu phoned Erdogan to offer a formal apology for the deaths of nine Turkish citizens in the Israeli raid on the Mavi Marmara, a ship that aimed to break the naval blockade on the Gaza Strip in May 201. The two agreed to end three years of frozen relations. Obama made the call at Ben-Gurion Airport minutes before leaving Israel, then handed the phone to Netanyahu.

On Saturday, Netanyahu said Obama had provided the impetus for the move, and said a major factor in the decision to mend ties with Ankara was the deepening crisis in Syria, which could spill over into both Israel and Turkey. Speaking to Channel 2, Amidror confirmed that the Syrian issue had influenced the decision to a great extent.

“The Middle East has changed,” Amidror said, when asked why Netanyahu had not previously issued the apology Erdogan always demanded. “Between [Israel] and Turkey lies a country which is falling apart, with [an arsenal of] chemical weapons, which has apparently used chemical weapons.”

Amidror said that it is likely that the more Israel and Turkey are coordinated, the easier it will be for them to handle the Syria crisis when it explodes.

Asked about the negotiation process vis-à-vis Ankara, Amidror said that the talks had gone on for a long time, adding that the American presence in the region in recent days had facilitated the agreement.

“It is possible that if the Turks had not made mistakes along the way, [reconciliation] would have come together even earlier,” said Amidror.

Asked whether Erdogan would continue to attack the state and its policies in speeches, he replied: “I wouldn’t say that he’ll continue to attack Israel as before. After all, if he hadn’t wanted relations to improve, he could have rejected the [Israeli] offer, which also requires that he take certain steps, such as canceling legal proceedings [against IDF officers over the Marmara incident] and sending an ambassador [to Israel].” Therefore, he said, the assumption that Erdogan won’t change his ways at all “is very shaky.”

He added that he believed that Turkey would also stop trying to block Israel from working more closely with NATO.

In the call to Erdogan, Netanyahu apologized to the Turkish people “for any errors that could have led to loss of life” in the May 2010 Mavi Marmara incident, “and agreed to complete the agreement on compensation,” his office later said in a statement.

On Saturday, Erdogan said he had accepted the Israeli apology, which had complied with Ankara’s demands. However, he backtracked on some of his understandings with Netanyahu –- for example, that Turkey would drop the charges against four Israeli generals and that the two countries would exchange ambassadors once more. Time would tell how such matters would play out, he indicated.

Referring to Erdogan’s stated plan to visit Gaza next month, Amidror said “Israel has nothing to be ashamed of” there, and that Erdogan would have to explain to the international community why he wanted good relations with “the terrorist organization” — Hamas — which controls the Strip.

As for an Erdogan visit to Israel, Amidror said it was premature to discuss that.

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