Netanyahu: Syrian chaos necessitated my apology to Turkey

PM says Jerusalem and Ankara must be able to talk about regional challenges, adds Obama visit gave him the impetus to phone Erdogan

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

US President Barack Obama and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at a welcoming ceremony for the president at Ben Gurion Airport, March 20, 2013. (photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem/Pool/Flash90)
US President Barack Obama and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at a welcoming ceremony for the president at Ben Gurion Airport, March 20, 2013. (photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem/Pool/Flash90)

The deepening crisis in Syria was a major factor in the decision to end the three-year rift between Israel and Turkey, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Saturday.

His comments came hours after Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan said the official Israeli apology for the deaths of nine Turks aboard the Gaza-bound Mavi Marmara vessel in 2010 had addressed all of Turkey’s demands. Erdogan appeared to backtrack on some understandings with Netanyahu — over a cancellation of legal action against IDF officers regarding the Marmara incident and a return of ambassadors.

“After a three-year rift in Israeli-Turkish relations, I decided it was time to rehabilitate them,” Netanyahu wrote on his official Facebook page on Saturday evening. “The changing reality around us compels us to reexamine our relations with the countries of the region all the time. In the last three years, Israel has made various attempts to end the rift with Turkey. The fact that the crisis in Syria is escalating from moment to moment was a major consideration for me,” he added.

“Syria is falling apart, and the immense and advanced weapons caches inside it are beginning to fall into the hands of various forces,” wrote Netanyahu. He warned that the greatest danger posed by Syria was the possibility that its chemical weapons stores would fall into the hands of terrorist organizations.

“The reality in Syria, which includes, among other things, global jihad forces establishing themselves on our border in the Golan Heights, poses great challenges to our defense establishment,” the prime minister wrote. He said the Israeli government was following developments in Syria as they unfolded.

“We are prepared to respond accordingly,” Netanyahu wrote.

“It is important that Turkey and Israel, which share borders with Syria, be able to communicate with each other,” he said. He added that it would be beneficial if Turkey and Israel could also communicate about other regional challenges.

Netanyahu said the visit of US President Barack Obama and US Secretary of State John Kerry had given him an impetus to phone Erdogan in order to “bring an end to the crisis and restore relations” between the two states, which fell out diplomatically following the 2010 IDF raid on the Mavi Marmara, a vessel aiming to break the Israeli blockade on Hamas-controlled Gaza. Nine Turkish citizens were killed by IDF naval commandos who sought to commandeer the vessel and were attacked by Turkish activists with clubs and iron bars.

Kerry helped prepare for the phone call, which took place at Ben-Gurion Airport minutes before Obama’s departure Friday. Obama spoke first to Erdogan, then handed the phone to Netanyahu, who apologized for “operational errors” that led to loss of life on the Marmara.

The visits by Obama and Kerry had “created a political opportunity to end the crisis,” concluded Netanyahu.

Obama left Israel for Jordan on Friday afternoon. After a short stay in Jordan, he made his way back to Washington on Saturday afternoon. Kerry, meanwhile, remained in the region and met with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas on Saturday evening. He then returned to Jerusalem ahead of a meeting with Netanyahu.

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