Liberman calls Turkey apology a ‘serious mistake’

Former FM says Netanyahu’s Obama-brokered reconciliation with Erdogan hurts Israel’s public image, bolsters radicals

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

Yisrael Beytenu head Avigdor Liberman holds a press conference at the Knesset on Monday (Photo credit: Miriam Alster/Flash90)
Yisrael Beytenu head Avigdor Liberman holds a press conference at the Knesset on Monday (Photo credit: Miriam Alster/Flash90)

Former foreign minister Avigdor Liberman slammed Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Friday for his decision to apologize to his Turkish counterpart for the “operational errors” made by Israel during the 2010 raid that led to Turkish fatalities on the Turkish-registered, Gaza-bound ship Mavi Marmara.

“Israel’s apology for the soldiers activity against a terrorist organization is a serious mistake,” said Liberman, who served as Israel’s top diplomat during the height of the crisis with Turkey, and who is also Netanyahu’s No. 2 in their joint Knesset Likud-Beytenu faction.

“Anyone who watched the photos taken on the ship Mavi Marmara understands beyond any doubt that the IDF soldiers acted in self-defense against the activists of the IHH organization, recognized in European countries, including Germany and the Netherlands, as a terrorist organization,” stated Liberman.

Footage taken from Mavi Marmara security cameras, showing the activists onboard as they prepare to attack incoming IDF soldiers on May 31, 2010 (photo credit: IDF Spokesperson/Flash90)
Footage taken from Mavi Marmara security cameras, showing the activists onboard as they prepare to attack incoming IDF soldiers on May 31, 2010 (photo credit: IDF Spokesperson/Flash90)

Nine Turkish citizens were killed by IDF naval commandos who had come under attack as they sought to commandeer the vessel that was attempting to bypass Israel’s blockade of Gaza. The May 2010 incident led to the freezing of ties between the two former allies, a relationship said to be on the path to normalization following a phone call between the countries’ prime ministers on Friday.

The dramatic reconciliation was brokered by US President Barack Obama shortly before he left Israel on Friday. Netanyahu and Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan spoke by telephone and agreed to end three years of dire relations.

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 said he accepted the Israeli apology and said his government would end legal prosecution of Israeli officers and officials involved in the incident.

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,” the statement said.

Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu said that before accepting the apology, Erdogan consulted with Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas.

Davutoglu added that all of Turkey’s fundamental demands had been met with Israel’s apology, Reuters reported.

“Such an apology harms the motivation of soldiers and their willingness to go out on missions in the future and bolsters the radical elements in the region,” Liberman said. As foreign minister until resigning to battle a breach of trust charge in December, Liberman was publicly opposed to any talk of an Israeli apology.

Erdogan has become an increasingly bitter critic of Israel in recent years, repeatedly denouncing its policies on the Palestinians, and expressing support for the Gaza-based terror organization Hamas.

On Wednesday, Erdogan clarified a statement he made in February in which he called Zionism a “crime against humanity” on par with anti-Semitism and fascism,” saying he was misunderstood and signaling that a reconciliation might be near.

Speaking to a Danish newspaper, Erdogan said that he knew his remarks caused “some debate” but that “no one should misunderstand what I said.” He said “everyone should know” that his comments were directed at “Israeli policies,” especially as regards to “Gaza and the settlements.”

Liberman, unmoved by the phone call and by Obama’s apparent pressure for a headling of ties, said that “Erdogan’s tirades against Israel at every opportunity, from the attack on the President [Peres] in 2009 at [a public panel at the World Economic Forum’s] Davos conference, up to his words few weeks ago — that Zionism is racism and crime against humanity — and his refusal to apologize for this statement explicitly while simultaneously accepting an apology from Israel, harms the dignity and status of Israel in the region and in the world.”

Justice Minister Tzipi Livni, on the other hand, welcomed the attempt at mending ties.

“Reconciliation is a very important step and correct at this time, especially with what is happening in Syria,” Livni said, adding that “Israel, Turkey and the United States have shared security interests.”

The defense establishment also welcomed news of the agreement, though military sources likened Israel’s apology to a half-sincere one given to an aunt when apologizing for not attending the Passover Seder.

IDF chief of General Staff Benny Gantz was reportedly fully briefed on Netanyahu’s plan to apologize to Erdogan. Channel 10 said Netanyahu had also informed his senior Cabinet ministers on his plan ahead of the phone call.

Labor Party Chairman Yachimovich said that the prime minister made the right choice by reconciling with Erdogan.

“Turkey is a regional power and relations with the country are very important to Israel,” Yachimovich said. “Even if the apology to the Turks was done with a heavy heart, it is good that it has been done.”

The Labor party leader went on to explain that “it is better to forgive and do what is wise and beneficial for the state,” rather than focus on Israel’s honor.

“We hope that reconciliation with the Turks after three years of disconnect is the first step towards a new political re-entrenchment that will strengthen our diplomatic and strategic position,” she said.

The reconciliation took place shortly before Obama completed his three-day visit to Israel, in a call from a trailer on the runway at Ben-Gurion Airport. Initially Obama spoke to Erdogan, reports said, and then he handed the phone to Netanyahu.

The move was planned and coordinated by US Secretary of State John Kerry ahead of Obama’s visit, Channel 2 reported.

The US had indicated for some time that it saw an imperative for Israel and Turkey to heal the rift between them, especially given the regional challenges posed by Iran’s nuclear drive and the raging civil war in Syria.

“The timing was good for that conversation to take place,” Obama said later Friday in a speech in Jordan.

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