Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan applied the brakes to the process of reconciliation with Israel when he learned Wednesday, July 6, that the UN inquiry commission into last year's Turkish-led flotilla had ruled Israel's naval blockade on Gaza legal. Eight Turks and a Turkish-American were killed in a clash with Israeli commandos who boarded the Mavi Marmora.
Law commissioner Sir Geoffrey Palmer which heads the inquiry panel has not released its findings. But this ruling means that Israel was within its rights in boarding the vessel because the expedition which the Erdogan government organized and financed had acted illegally in trying to break the blockade. Ankara therefore has no call to demand an Israeli apology for the incident.
Israel's Deputy Prime Minister, the Minister for Strategic Affairs Moshe Yaalon, headed a delegation to UN Headquarters in New York this to thrash out the issue. But the discussions between the Israeli and Turkish delegations broke down when it became apparent that the Turkish side demanded that the Palmer report be rewritten to clear its prime minister of a faulty policy decision.
To distract from this embarrassment, Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmed Davutoglu Wednesday once again demanded an Israeli apology for the incident "as a must to reestablish relations." By this device he moved the question of the Turkish flotilla's legality into the province of Ankara's future ties with Jerusalem, making their improvement contingent on Israel's assumption of guilt.
But this is not going to happen. Earlier Wednesday, Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman pledged to a Knesset panel that the government would not apologize to Turkey because it had no reason to bow to humiliation or allow Israeli soldiers to be wrongfully accused.
The Turkish prime minister also fears that resuming security and intelligence ties with the Jewish state will get in the way of the key roles he aspires to in helping Bashar Assad shore up his rule against dissent in Syria and consolidating rebel rule against Muammar Qaddafi in Libya.
A Western official source told debkafile's sources that Erdogan was disappointed in his hopes that the rift-healing with Israel would go forward discreetly. Instead it was trumpeted by Israel and used by its politicians to promote their individual agendas. At the same time, debkafile's sources report the conviction of Middle East observers that the Turkish prime minister will get back to restoring ties with Israel after the Palmer Report storm blows over and it is safely tucked away in UN archives. This is because US President Barack Obama needs Erdogan to have good relations with Israel for him to fill the tasks to be assigned him in Middle East conflicts. Washington will therefore urge Erdogan to put the Palmer Report behind him and move on.
A hint of this eventuality came from the US ambassador to Turkey Francis J. Ricciardone who said Wednesday: "We believe that the two countries will work together again…