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Naval commandos who stormed the Gaza bound flotilla, who are not allowed to be identified in photos
Photo by Rhonda Spivak

Editor's Special Report: A Flotilla Story That's Been Buried : Why Israel Wants to Make up with Turkey

by Rhonda Spivak, Jerusalem, February 8, 2014, posted Feb 24, 2014

There's a story that  I read in the Hebrew edition of a newspaper affiliated with the Jerusalem Post that is  right of centre and given out free at the central bus station  in Jerusalem, which in my view ought to have been a front page story in every major Israeli publication, but wasn't.


It's a story that I almost missed as it was buried on page 16 of this newspaper ---a report that Israel has offered Turkey $20 million in compensation to the families of those killed and wounded during Israel's 2010 raid on a Gaza-bound flotilla. Israel's relations with Turkey plummeted after it tried to enforce a legal blockade against Gaza and its commandos stormed the Mavi Marmara, which was filled with violent passengers armed with clubs, iron rods, and knives.  Israel said Turkey was breaking a blockade and that Israeli troops opened fire on the passengers in self-defence. Ankara demanded a formal apology and compensation for the families of nine killed and several others wounded. Negotiations began early last year after Israel extended a formal apology to Turkey.

Given that the flotilla story made world international headlines for months on end and that for the past number of years Israel has consistently refused to apologize to Turkey one must ask why this story of a reported offer of a payment of $20 million has been buried in Israel.


Here's my take.  Any Israeli newspapers that are right of centre or support Netanyahu do not want to embarrass the Israeli government by running this story in a place of prominence. Israelis won't like this payment one bit. It's not going to be popular amongst the Israeli public--especially as it will likely strengthen Turkey's Erdogan, whom Israelis hate.


The report I read suggested that  Erdogan would  be interested in accepting this payment as it will  give him a political boost at home, especially as  his popularity has nosedived given  claims of  his government's corruption.  


The real question to be asked is why is Israel making the payment ?


And the answer in my view has to do with events in Syria and Iran.


Israel is genuinely worried that Jihadi elements are going to bring down Assad and take over Syria, meaning that Syria is poised to become a permanent launching ground for Al-Queda--which will result in terrorist attacks against Israel, and potentially also cause severe instability in Jordan, threatening the stability of the Middle East. In fact, recent media reports here suggest that Israel for the first time is seriously considering getting involved in the Syrian conflict, in a way that supports Assad--they would rather Assad than the Jihadis.  Israel has an interest in being able to cooperate with Turkey, vis-a-vis Syria to ensure Syria doesn't become a Jihadi haven. Israel no doubt understands that Obama's failure to strengthen the relatively secular opposition to Assad when he had a chance to do so is a foreign policy nightmare. It appears that even Secretary of State John Kerry has let the cat out of the bag and  made "off the record" statements he had to have known would be reported that will cast further controversy over the US Administration’s Syria policy, long regarded by many as a failure. Kerry's comments will generate discord within the Obama Administration’s senior ranks. On this point, see Itamar Rabinovich's column in the Times of Israel . (As  an aside  two years ago I interviewed Rabinovich, a former Israeli negotiator with Syria, who said at the time he was certain Assad would fall. That's not so clear now.  Rabinovich also suggested in the interview that after Assad fell, Israel could potentially make a peace agreement with Syria and give up the Golan Heights. I thought  Rabinovich was delusional when he said it then and  the events of the last two years  have only reinforced my view. Don't expect Israel to be giving back the Golan to Syria anytime soon--in fact, media reports here indicate that Israel will be investing money in upgrading the infrastructure in the Druze villages in the Golan, which  I believe shows Israel's resolve to hold onto the Golan and have the Druze population want to remain in Israel). 


Aside from the issue of Syria, Israel's willingness to pay off Turkey (notwithstanding that Israel's own Turkey commission found that the Israeli army did not violate  international law in the flotilla incident) is occurring  in the context of Iran's nuclear drive. In the event that Israel were to decide to use a military option against Iran, it may well wish to flyover Turkey and for that, its relations with Turkey need to be properly restored (although there are reports also that behind the scenes  Saudi Arabia has agreed to let Israeli planes use Saudi airspace  in any possible future attack against Iran).


Finally, it's interesting to note that just as Israel seems willing to make a payment to Turkey to resolve the flotilla issue, Israeli media reported  in December 2013, that for the  first time in 5 years Israeli airlines will  resume flights to Turkey, .


Turkey lost a lot of Israeli tourist dollars following the flotilla episode and no doubt the resumption of flights to Turkey is another sweetener in the deal.  December is the same month that talks over Israeli compensation to Turkey between the two countries were revived as Israeli negotiators traveled to Istanbul and Turkey lowered its demands for compensation.

Apparently Turkey demanded $30 million in Israeli compensation, which was still double the $15 million that Israel was initially prepared to pay. However, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu decided to up the offer to $20 million. 

A report in Haaretz has said that the money would not be paid directly to the wounded or the families of the dead, but would instead be "deposited in a humanitarian fund and distributed to the victims in accordance with defined criteria." 


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Rhonda Spivak, Editor

Publisher: Spivak's Jewish Review Ltd.

Opinions expressed in letters to the editor or articles by contributing writers are not necessarily endorsed by Winnipeg Jewish Review.