I was appalled to learn a week ago that the Israeli prime minister had apologized to his Turkish counterpart for his government's actions during the Mavi Marmara incident, seeing this as feeding the Turkish government's inflated sense of grandeur and power.
That prediction was borne out in spades.
The municipality of Turkey's capital city, Ankara, put up billboards on city streets reveling in the Israeli apology. They are not subtle, showing a sad-looking Netanyahu beneath a larger, buoyant Erdoğan, separated by the Mavi Marmara itself. Addressing Erdoğan, they read: "Israel apologized to Turkey. Dear Prime Minister, we are grateful that you let our country experience this pride."
Ankara municipality's gloating billboards.
Erdoğan himself claims not only that the apology has changed the balance of power in the Arab-Israeli conflict but that it obligates Israel to work with Ankara in its diplomacy with the Palestinians. He told parliament: "The point we have arrived at as a result of our consultations with all our brothers in Palestine and peripheral countries is increasing our responsibility with regard to solving the Palestinian question and thus is bringing about a new equation." Erdoğan also claimed that Israel agreed to cooperate with Turkey on talks with the Palestinians. Hürriyet Daily News goes on to paraphrase Erdoğan: "He said all his regional interlocutors, including Khaled Mashaal of the Hamas, admit that a new era has begun in the Middle East what they all call after Turkish victory on Israeli apology."
No less notable is Erdoğan's petty put-down of the Israeli side:
Erdoğan said his conversation with Netanyahu took place under the witness of Obama but he wanted first to talk with the US President as he missed his voice. "I talked to him and we have reviewed the text and confirmed the [apology] process. we have therefore accomplished this process under Obama's witness," Erdoğan said, adding this phone conversation has also been recorded alongside with written statements issued from all three sides.
Ryan Mauro sums up Turkish actions over the past week:
Erdoğan is extending his time in the spotlight by demanding that Israel pay $1 million to each of the nine casualties' families, ten times the amount Israel has offered. He isn't yet dropping his case against the Israeli generals involved in the raid, nor is he fully restoring diplomatic ties with Israel. And he's announced that he will visit the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip in what is a thinly-concealed victory lap.
Indeed, the Turkish gloating has been so conspicuous and extended that it may have prompted to a healthy sense of reality. So long as the Mavi Marmara incident hung over their relations with Ankara, Israelis and others could believe that an apology would magically undo the past decade. The illusion could persist that the Turks, however unreasonably, just needed to put this unpleasantness aside and things would revert to the good old days.
Now that Israelis humiliated themselves and Erdoğan is rampaging ahead, some are awakening to the fact that this apology only made matters worse. Naftali Bennett, Israel's minister of economy and trade, slammed the Turkish response: "Since the apology was made public, it appears Erdoğan is doing everything he can to make Israel regret it, while conducting a personal and vitriolic campaign at the expense of Israel-Turkey relations. Let there be no doubt — no nation is doing Israel a favor by renewing ties with it. It should also be clear to Erdoğan that if Israel encounters in the future any terrorism directed against us, our response will be no less severe."
Boaz Bismuth of Israel Hayom colorfully notes that Israelis "didn't expect to feel that only several days after Israel's apology, Erdoğan would already be making us feel that we had eaten a frog along with our matzah this year."
Perhaps after all the apology was a good thing. For a relatively inexpensive price – some words – Israelis and others have gained a better insight into the Turkish leadership's mentality. It's not that they suffer from hurt pride but that they are Islamist ideologues with an ambitious agenda. If the misguided apology makes this evident to more observers, it has its compensations and possibly could turn out to be a net plus. (March 29, 2013)
Apr. 1, 2013 update: Arad Nir of Israel's Channel 2 News asks "Did Erdoğan Really Accept Netanyahu's Apology?" and replies:
Erdoğan's statements in the past few days have provoked a sense of discomfort in large parts of the Israeli public. … as if to emphasize that nothing has really changed yet, Erdoğan keeps using the same rhetoric. Thus, notwithstanding the apology, Erdoğan still insists on referring to the killing of civilians on the Mavi Marmara as no less than "massacre." …
The overwhelming majority of the Israeli public accepted with understanding Netanyahu's reconciliation move vis-à-vis Turkey. However, since that phone call, which was supposed to put an end to the crisis between the two countries, Israel is closely watching Erdoğan's statements on the issue.
The media here is more attentive than ever to the underlying nuances revealed in his public statements. And it tries to decipher whether the Turkish Prime Minister is really interested in true reconciliation or rather aims to go on humiliating the state of Israel and its leadership and "bring us down to our knees," as those opposing the apology have argued all along.
Apr. 3, 2013 update: Mehmet Tunç, a Mavi Marmara passenger eligible for compensation by Israel, has announced that he will not touch even "one Turkish lira" of the money he receives but instead plans to donate it all to Hamas and Islamic Jihad.
Apr. 8, 2013 update: Another Mavi Marmara passenger eligible for compensation by Israel, Musa Çoğaş, says he plans to keep pursuing Israel in court: "We will not discuss compensation or give up on the trials until the blockade over Gaza is removed."
Apr. 10, 2013 update: Tulin Daloğlu writes after spending nearly a week in Israel, in an article titled "Long Way to Normalcy for Turkey and Israel":
there is a sense of hurt feelings among Israelis from the Turkish leadership's verbal assaults. Moreover, Israelis emphasize that to them, the activists in the flotilla were not peaceful, and had vigorously attacked the Israeli commandos. There is intense suspicion about the intentions of the Turkish government, and many, in government and on the street, wonder whether they will ever be able to again trust Turkey.
Apr. 13, 2013 update: Ankara has nixed the revival of NATO's Mediterranean Dialogue group that brings Israel and six Arab countries to the sidelines of the NATO foreign ministers meeting on April 23.
Apr. 14, 2013 update: (1) Erdoğan says no Turkish ambassador to Israel until what he calls the blockade on Gaza has been lifted. (2) He also announced plans to visit Hamas in Gaza in late May. (3) Efraim Inbar went public with evidence that Ankara nixed participation by the NATO Defense College in a conference next month at Inbar's Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies at Bar-Ilan University.
Apr. 15, 2013 update: (1) "Turkey has become the first country with an ambassador to Palestine after its envoy in Ramallah, Şakir Özkan Torunlar, presented his letter of credence to President Mahmoud Abbas on Sunday," reports Today's Zaman.
(2) A Turkish diplomatic source told Hürriyet Daily News that in compensation talks over the Mavi Marmara, "Israel should perfectly know that this is not a process of bargaining. Compensation talks should not be turned into horse trading or dirty bargaining."
Apr. 17, 2013 update: Ankara has backtracked. Here is the Turkish deputy prime minister and head of the Turkish delegation to the talks with Israel, Bülent Arınç: "Turkey is talking about full normalization and a return of ties to the way they were before. I expect the talks to succeed. Normalization between Israel and Turkey will increase the chances of regional peace." Reports also indicate that Arınç has worked on the Mavi Marmara families to encourage them to accept compensation rather than go to court.
Apr. 18, 2013 update: Barry Rubin goes a step further than me, seeing in Erdoğan's behavior not just a lesson for Israelis but also for Americans: "What Israel's conciliatory behavior actually did was to expose the Turkish regime's bad faith, showing that it is impossible to deal with it, an experience comprehended now in Washington for the first time."
May 8, 2013 update: Bülent Yıldırım, chairman of the Al-Qaeda-linked Foundation for Human Rights and Freedoms and Humanitarian Relief (İHH) that carried out the Mavi Marmara operation and an ally of Prime Minister Erdoğan, has demanded that the Turkish government demand $1 billion from Israel in compensation for the 2010 raid.
And Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu added that "Neither the apology, nor compensation, nor the lifting of the blockade could be equal in value to our martyrs' blood."
May 14, 2013 update: Ankara will take Israel to the International Criminal Court – precisely one of those things the Israelis apologized in order to avoid.
July 3, 2013 update: It looks like my expectation that Turkish misbehavior has soured Israelis on further concessions is confirmed. According to a poll commissioned by the Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies, 71 percent of Israelis believe the apology to Turkey was a mistake.
As to the cause of the deterioration in Turkish-Israeli relations, 55 percent blame Turkey's global and regional ambitions, 24 percent blame Turkish domestic politics, and 8 percent anti-Semitism.
August 29, 2013 update: The untoward apology is a gift that, as Erdoğan & Co. become every more conspiratorially anti-Zionist and even antisemitic, keeps on giving. Here's one bitter reconsideration by Hagai Segal, "Sorry for apologizing." He starts by calling the gesture "a huge mistake. The Israeli government knelt before Ankara and asked forgiveness for a sin it did not commit, and in exchange it received mainly spits in the face." Segal recalls the mistaken prediction of Israel's then-National Security Advisor Yaakov Amidror "I do not believe Erdoğan will continue to attack Israel as he did before."
As for lessons learned, Segal rightly suggests "sometimes it is more important to be right than to be wise. The Israeli instinct to sacrifice values and assets for the sake of good relations with the neighbors is leading it from one failure to another. Netanyahu and Amidror relinquished our honor for the sake of peace, but in the end we were left with neither honor nor peace."
Oct. 6, 2013 update: Abdullah Gül, the president of Turkey, complained to the Israeli newspaper Yedioth Aharonoth that "Israel apologized too late" for the Mavi Marmara episode; also, some of Turkey's expectations "were not yet met."
Nov. 29, 2013 update: To rub in the Turkish disdain, Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu let it be known that there have been no further telephone calls between the Israeli and Turkish prime ministers since the former apologized to the latter in March 2013 for the Mavi Marmara incident. Comment: This avoidance helpfully drives home the futility of trying to appease Ankara.
Feb. 7, 2015 update: Admittedly, it's election time in Israel and Foreign Minister & Yisrael Beiteinu leader Avigdor Liberman is running against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, but still in matters that Lieberman commented that the Turkish foreign minister's having pulled out of a security conference due the presence of an Israeli minister "proves once again what a great mistake it was to apologize to Turkey" over the Mavi Marmara episode.