United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon on Monday welcomed a deal between Israel and Turkey to normalize relations after years of acrimony, calling it a “hopeful signal for the stability of the region.”
“I welcome today’s announcement of the normalization of relations between Israel and Turkey,” Ban told journalists as he met President Reuven Rivlin during a visit to Israel.
The statements echoed those of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who said the deal would help bring “stability” to the turbulent Middle East. His Turkish counterpart, Binali Yildirim, made a simultaneous announcement in Ankara.
The deal will restore full diplomatic relations between Jerusalem and Ankara in return for Turkish commitments to tackle terrorism and remove opposition to Israel in international forums and and Israeli promises to allow Turkish aid into the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip.
Once tight, already frayed relations between Israel and Turkey were significantly downgraded in 2010 after Israeli commandos staged a raid on a six-ship Turkish flotilla which was trying to breach Israel’s naval blockade of the Strip. The commandos were violently attacked by those on board the Turkish-flagged Mavi Marmara, and nine Turkish citizens, including one with American citizenship, were killed in the ensuing melee. A tenth died of his wounds years later. A number of Israeli soldiers were injured in the raid.
Under the deal Israel will also pay $20 million (18.14 million euros) in compensation for the deaths caused in the commando raid, Yildirim confirmed. In return for the compensation, Turkey agreed not to take legal action against IDF soldiers involved in the incident.
Criticizing Netanyahu for agreeing to compensation, opposition leader Isaac Herzog said the deal was “important,” but hedged his praise by saying Ankara “is the ally of Hamas.”
“Like in the [Gilad] Shalit incident and in Operation Protective Edge, Netanyahu is weak against Hamas because over the years he’s given in to the political threats of [Yisrael Beytenu party leader Avigdor] Liberman and has been dragged along unnecessarily at the expense of Israeli citizens’ security interests,” he said.
However, Zionist Union number two Tzipi Livni said she had to admit that she would have signed the same agreement if she had been in the government.
Yesh Atid party leader Yair Lapid said the deal with Turkey was “difficult to swallow, but states make agreements such as these.”
“There’s what we all feel and there’s the security and national interest, and they take precedence,” he said at a party meeting in the Knesset.
In recent weeks the families of two soldiers whose bodies are believed to held by Hamas, and two Israelis thought to be in the captivity of the terrorist group, have campaigned for their return to be part of the deal. While no such guarantee was part of the agreement, Netanyahu said that Turkey has promised to help return the soldiers and captives from Gaza.
He said Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan had personally sent a letter pledging to do all he could on the matter.
Avraham Abera Mengistu, 29, a Jew of Ethiopian descent, has been held by Hamas for nearly two years. According to his family, he suffers from a mental illness and stumbled across the border into the coastal territory by accident in 2014.
A second Israeli man, a resident of a Bedouin community in the Negev, is also thought to be held by Hamas in Gaza. His name has not been released for publication. He, too, apparently crossed the border of his own volition, and has been described as mentally disabled.
Lt. Hadar Goldin and Sgt. Oron Shaul were killed in separate incidents during Israel’s military offensive against Hamas in the summer of 2014. Though neither body was recovered, the army has classified both soldiers as “killed in action” based on forensic evidence. Hamas has claimed to be holding the remains of the two.
Reacting to Netanyahu’s announcement of the deal, Goldin’s family said in a statement that it “abandons Lt. Hadar Goldin and Sgt. Oron Shaul and doesn’t include the return of their bodies from Hamas captivity.”
“The prime minister’s declarations were hollow. He acted contrary to his promises to us,” the family, calling the accord “a bad and problematic deal.”
Responding to inquiries by Channel 10 whether Turkey will secure the return of the remains of Israeli soldiers killed in 2014 and held by Hamas in Gaza, Turkish Prime Minister Yildirim said Ankara “will decide according to the advancement of relations how to act going forward.”
Speaking from Rome, Netanyahu said the agreement would secure the “continuation of the maritime security blockade off the Gaza Strip coast.”
“This is a supreme security interest for us. I was not prepared to compromise on it,” he added. Israel says the blockade is necessary to keep out material that could be used for military purposes in the Strip, which is run by the terror group Hamas.
Netanyahu’s former National Security Council Maj. Gen. (res.) Yaakov Amidror said the normalization would have “very little” impact on Israel’s security arrangements in Gaza in the short term.
“In the future, it depends,” Amidror told reporters in the hours following the announcement of the agreement. “But the potential is huge.”
While Hamas maintains its overseas headquarters in Turkey and has ideological ties with Erdogan, the former head of Military Intelligence doubted this deal would change the terrorist organization’s opinion of Israel.
“I don’t see the Turks having a lot of influence over the military wing of Hamas in Gaza,” Amidror said.