Navy commandos disappointed by apology to Turkey

‘I don’t feel we did anything wrong,’ says one soldier who took part in the flotilla raid; another blames government for abandoning fighters

Adiv Sterman is a breaking news editor at The Times of Israel.

Footage taken from a security camera aboard the Mavi Marmara, showing the activists preparing to resist IDF soldiers about to board the ship. (IDF Spokesperson/Flash90)
Footage taken from a security camera aboard the Mavi Marmara, showing the activists preparing to resist IDF soldiers about to board the ship. (IDF Spokesperson/Flash90)

Israeli naval commandos who took part in the May 2010 raid on the Gaza-bound ship Mavi Marmara expressed frustration with by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s apology on Friday to his Turkish counterpart for the “operational errors” that occurred during the incident.

“I don’t feel we did anything wrong,” one of the commandos, who for security reasons requested to identify only by the initial “N”, told the Hebrew daily Maariv on Sunday. “We did the right thing, I’m not ashamed of it, and we have nothing to apologize for.”

Nine Turkish citizens were killed after they attacked the commandos, who sought to commandeer the vessel that was attempting to bypass Israel’s maritime blockade of Gaza. The incident led to a freezing of ties between the two former allies, a relationship which was said to be on the path to normalization following a phone call between Netanyahu and Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan.

Despite N’s firm belief that his actions were justified, he was reluctant to criticize Netanyahu directly, stating that, from a diplomatic standpoint, reconciliation may actually make sense. “Although on the personal level there is no need to apologize, on a national scale it might have been a good idea,” he said.

“S,” another IDF commando who participated in the flotilla raid, voiced similar internal conflict. “On the one hand, something here seems very unfair and not right; when your’e in combat, you fight, and we’ve done nothing wrong,” he told Maariv .

“On the other hand, maybe it really is finally time to end this saga. The most important thing now is for the navy seal unit to disappear from the media headlines,” he said. “Let us do what we do best — return to silence.”

Other commandos were less inclined to accept the prime minister’s decision.

“What bothers us most,” a disappointed soldier told a Yedioth Ahronoth reporter, “is reconciliation with the Turks while some of us back here have not yet received the compensation and disability benefits we deserve as a result of the incident.”

Soldiers who participated in the raid still suffered from post-traumatic stress, and the government had not done enough to rehabilitate them, he claimed.

“Some of our friends are still deeply affected by the events on the flotilla, and not everyone has succeeded in recovering from it,” he said. “We fought aboard the [Mavi] Marmara in terrible conditions, and with this reconciliation agreement it seems that we’ve been given a cold shoulder.”

Friday’s dramatic reconciliation was facilitated by US President Barack Obama shortly before he left Israel for Jordan. Obama phoned Erdogan from Ben-Gurion Airport Friday, just before leaving Israel, and gave the phone to Netanyahu.

In the call, Netanyahu apologized to the Turkish people “for any operational errors that could have led to loss of life” in the Mavi Marmara incident, “and agreed to complete the agreement on compensation,” his office later said in a statement. Erdogan reportedly accepted the Israeli apology and said his government would end legal proceedings against Israeli officers and officials involved in the incident. (He later appeared to backtracked on some of the understandings.)

Erdogan “expressed that it was saddening that relations, which are of vital strategic importance for peace and the stability of the region, have been soured in recent years,” a statement said.

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