President Shimon Peres on Sunday urged Turkey to restore normalized relations with Israel, citing mutual interest and common history as two of several factors that require the mending of ties between the former allies.
Strained ties between Israel and Turkey crumbled utterly in May 2010 after Israel commandos boarded a Turkish ship attempting to run Israel’s naval blockade on the Gaza Strip. Nine Turkish activists were killed by IDF fire aboard the Mavi Marmara. Turkey demanded a formal apology for the incident, as well as compensation for the families of the victims, and for the Gaza blockade to be lifted. On Friday, Netanyahu apologized for “operational errors” that may have led to loss of life in the incident, and offered compensation.
“I can think of a thousand reasons why Turkey and Israel should be friends,” Peres said in a special interview at the President’s Residence with CNN Turk. “I cannot find one reason why they shouldn’t be friends.”
The president spoke of the mutual strategic concerns shared by Israel and Turkey — the civil war in Syria, and more importantly, Iran’s unsanctioned nuclear program.
Peres warned that Iran’s nuclear program is a regional and global threat, adding that the world cannot accept a nuclear Iran, lest it “fall under the spell of Iranian terror.”
His impression of Turkey, however, was drastically different. “Turkey and Iran are day and night,” he said.
Peres emphasized historical ties and good relations with Turkey. He spoke of the two peoples’ shared history, saying that as far back as the 15th century, Turkey was a safe haven for Jews who were forced to leave Spain after it expelled the Jewish community in 1492.
Peres granted the Turkish television interview two days after Netanyahu, in a dramatic US-brokered phone call to Turkey’s Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, apologized “for any errors that could have led to loss of life” in the Mavi Marmara incident, and “agreed to complete the agreement on compensation.”
Erdogan accepted Netanyahu’s apology and the two agreed to return their respective ambassadors and pledged to overcome differences. In an apparent backtrack, however, the Turkish premier said Sunday that normalized relations with Jerusalem would only happen if Israel implemented its side of an ostensible new bargain with Turkey that he said included lifting the blockade.
Peres did not directly relate to the reports about Erdogan’s mixed messages.
“Both countries wanted to put an end to this misunderstanding and return to the good relations that existed between Turkey and ourselves for many good years,” the president said, adding that he hoped to travel to Ankara and shake hands with the Turkish leader soon.