Recently, there have been renewed rumors of a possible deal to help heal the rift that developed between Israel and Turkey following the deaths of eight Turkish citizens on the ship Mavi Marmara as it sailed toward Gaza in May 2010. The broad outlines of the deal suggest that Israel would offer a limited apology for "operational errors," and would pay compensation to the families of those who died. In return, Turkey would recognize the legality of Israel's naval blockade of Gaza, and would agree not to seek legal action against Israeli soldiers who were involved.
A quick review for those who may not recall what happened: The Mavi Marmara set sail from Turkey as part of a flotilla whose primary aim was to break Israel's naval blockade of Gaza. Israel had imposed the blockade to prevent the importation of weapons and dual-use material that ultimately could be used by the Hamas government against Israeli civilians. The Israeli Navy interdicted the flotilla and boarded the ships after they refused to turn back. As is clear from the video of the events that followed, the navy commandos -- who were armed only with paintball guns and side-arms -- were attacked as they boarded the Mavi Marmara by a group of passengers wielding iron bars, knives, and possibly guns. Several commandos were wounded in the ensuing battle, and nine members of the Turkish group IHH -- which claims to be a humanitarian organization but has long supported radical Islamic groups, including Hamas -- were killed. The boarding of all other ships was peaceful. It appears that the confrontation had been prepared for, and instigated by, the members of the IHH.
The UN then established a commission headed by former New Zealand Prime Minister Geoffrey Palmer, and that included representatives of both Israel and Turkey, to investigate what happened. The Palmer Commission's report was scheduled to be issued during the last week in July, but has been delayed until late August as the two countries seek to reach a compromise agreement.
The problem with the proposed deal between Israel and Turkey is that an Israeli apology could very well exacerbate the rift between the two countries, at the same time causing a worldwide public relations nightmare for Israel.
While the apology would refer specifically to "operational errors," the world will not recognize such diplomatic nuances. Instead, Israel will be seen as accepting full responsibility for the deaths of the IHH "activists." The media and UN will be flooded with self-righteous statements of "I told you so," along with renewed allegations of a "brutal response" by Israeli commandos to "peaceful resistance."
An apology will also have far reaching negative ramifications for the Jewish state. It will appear to contradict Israel's repeated assertion that its actions were a necessary response to unprovoked attacks by mercenaries bent on "martyrdom." Israel will find it much more difficult to explain any military action as necessary and justifiable self-defense. From then on, the world will see such claims as self-serving and ultimately unreliable.
Just as problematic, the Israeli government would be abandoning thousands of supporters who relied on Israel's veracity and defended its actions in the face of withering external criticism. These supporters will be left swinging in the air -- much like the Navy commandos who fast-roped from helicopters into the waiting clubs of the armed IHH mercenaries.
For years, Israel has criticized the PA and Hamas for providing financial benefits to terrorists' families. Such payments honor murderers and serve as incentives for others to follow in their footsteps. Just this past week, for example, it was revealed that the PA pays more than $5 million per month, funded by the United States and Europe, in "salaries" to all Palestinians and Israeli-Arabs currently imprisoned in Israel for crimes of terror; How will Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu distinguish the Palestinian payments to terrorists from the "compensation" he is considering paying to the families of those who died on the ship? These payments could be seen as whitewash the IHH actions and benefit the families of would-be murderers.
Finally, an Israeli apology, no matter how limited, will call into question Israel's fundamental claim that the Gaza blockade is necessary. Many more flotillas will then be planned, and "open season" on IDF personnel who try to stop them.
What would Israel receive in return for an apology? Turkey's acceptance of the blockade's legality would be at best a hollow victory. Most of the world will not even be aware of this concession. No responsible legal authority questions Israel's right to impose a blockade on its hostile neighbor. The Palmer Commission's draft report indicates that neither an apology nor compensation is required from Israel for its legal actions.
Although Turkey may keep its promise not to pursue state legal action against Israeli commandos, there is no guarantee that it will prevent private Turkish citizens or organizations from filing their own law suits.
The most recent pronouncements by Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan suggest how little he is really interested in returning to the previous warm relations between the countries. He has demanded nothing short of a full lifting of the blockade, and, threatened that Turkey will become a full-fledged opponent unless Israel complies with its demand for an apology, and has even demanded an apology from the Armenians for having been slaughtered by the Turks early in the last century. Rather than trying to resolve the countries' differences, Erdogan seems bent on exacerbating them.
Offering a limited apology for deadly events that were precipitated by Turkish IHH passengers will provide, at best, only short-term benefits for the Israel/Turkey relationship if at all. At the same time, it could do grievous long-term harm to Israel, its supporters, and the Israel Defense Force.