Israeli and Turkish representatives have just held two meetings for the purported objective of patching up Turkey's quarrel with Israel. All that has come out of Ankara so far, however, is a fresh torrent of anti-Israel abuse from Turkish leaders and harsher terms for settling the feud over the Israeli commando raid of May 31 which killed 9 Turkish activists leading a flotilla to break the Gaza blockade, debkafile's Middle East sources report.
Last week, Turkish foreign minister Ahmed Davutoglu called the incident "the Turkish 9/11. I repeat it! I don't mean numbers… but psychological shock in Turkey. Our citizens were killed by a foreign army," he charged amid rumors that Ankara's consignment of two planes to help Israel fight the Carmel fire last week marked a relaxation in its animosity towards Israel.
Sunday, Dec. 5, Turkish Prime Minister Tayyep Erdogan said, "Some say we should turn a new page… An apology must be offered first, compensation must be paid first. If a hand is extended, we will not leave it in the air." That part of his speech to an audience in the Turkish town of Sivas might have left room for diplomacy were it not for his next words: "No one should expect us to keep silent and forfeit law and justice as long as the blood spilled in the Mediterranean is not cleared." Turning to Israel, he said: "Clean the blood!"
Erdogan spoke shortly after Turkish Foreign Ministry undersecretary Feridun Sinirlioglu met with the Yosef Ciechanover, Israel's representative at the panel UN Secretary Ban ki-Moon set up for inquiring into the Marmora incident.
Israel's Infrastructure Minister Binyamin Ben Eliezer was responsible for the peacemaking initiative. He insisted on Jerusalem taking the first step to ease the crisis. He turned out to have miscalculated. Instead of meeting Israel halfway, Ankara took the opportunity to up the ante.
Sinirlioglu informed Ciechanover Sunday that it was not enough for Israel to offer an apology and compensation: Before the hatchet can be buried, he said, the Israeli commandos who boarded the Turkish blockade-busting vessel must be court-martialed and the blockade on the Gaza Strip phased out.
Ciechanover turned these demands down. As a compromise, he proposed the two governments issue a joint statement marking the end of their controversy, with Israel accepting a special arrangement for partially indemnifying the families of the dead activitists.
The Netanyahu government has refused both steps until now on the grounds that Turks killed on the Marmora far from being peace activists were armed and violent. But now he was willing to make the gesture in the interests of restoring good relations with the Erdogan government.
The two officials arranged to meet again Monday, Dec. 6, to hand over their governments' replies.
However, reports of the imminent end of the dispute are still premature. When asked about progress, Tuesday Dec. 7, there was no comment from the Prime Ministers' Office in Jerusalem.
debkafile's sources in Ankara report that the decision to help Israel extinguish a calamitous fire was widely misunderstood in Israel as a crack in Ankara's hostile face.
In fact, it was a piece of PR opportunism for presenting the Erdogan government as a positive member of the international community and showing Israel up as the bully of the Middle East.
Ben-Eliezer, for his part, initiated Israel's advances to Turkey to support a maneuver he had going within his Labor party, which is a member of the government coalition. His claim of inside knowledge from influential connections in Ankara is debatable given the fact that he spends most of his weekends in Greece. In the event, Defense Minister Ehud Barak, who is Labor party leader, was persuaded to send Ciechanover to meet a Turkish official to appease Ben Eliezer, who leads a party revolt against his leadership. Netanyahu went along with the move to public demonstrate his receptiveness to any opportunity for mending the rupture with Ankara. The prime minister was also needs to prevent a split in Labor that would break up his government coalition.
Ankara is fully aware of the wheels within wheels in Israeli politics, but as long as its government is prepared for engage in dialogue from a position of domestic weakness, the Erdogan government is not averse to playing along on this side track while pursuing his deepening ties with Tehran and Damascus.