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Turkey Goes to the Mattresses Over Apology

While Israel sits in the catbird seat

by
Marc Tracy
August 18, 2011
Turkish Prime Minister Erdogan last fall.(Yonhap News via Getty Images)
Turkish Prime Minister Erdogan last fall.(Yonhap News via Getty Images)

Despite Secretary of State Clinton’s personal entreaty, and in advance of next week’s long-postponed release of a U.N. report, Prime Minister Netanyahu will not issue an apology to Turkey over last year’s flotilla incident, which resulted in nine deaths. In response, Turkey pledged yesterday to opt for “Plan B,” a diplomatic offensive that will involve pressing the issue through international institutions as well as perhaps by a visit by Prime Minister Erdogan to Gaza. It would have been nice if there were some word that meant “I’m sorry” in Turkish and merely “My bad” in Hebrew, as negotiators had sought, but apparently there’s not.

I sense a bluff. Recall that the U.N. report is apparently shockingly friendly to Israel: assigning it some blame but also assigning Turkey plenty; praising Israel’s internal investigation while faulting Turkey’s for being biased; and demanding neither an apology nor compensation from Israel. Recall further that Israel had arranged for the report’s release to be postponed precisely so that it and Turkey could reach a formal rapprochement before its publication. Recall that Turkey could use Israel’s cooperation in dealing with its extremely restive neighbor Syria, which poses far more of a threat to its own stability than to Israel’s. And note finally the reports, un-denied by Turkey, that Turkish negotiators had issued an increasing cascade of demands: an apology; and compensation; and then the shelving of the report (which should probably have been the final quo, though one wonders if even that would be worth it to Israel); and then, finally, the lifting of the Gaza blockade, which in addition to being something that isn’t particularly Turkey’s business is something that the U.N. probe explicitly finds to be legal, according to advance reports. So “I’m sorry” doesn’t translate into Hebrew. Does “chutzpah” translate into Turkish?

The country that really wants this deal is the United States. But instead, Turkey and Israel will likely continue to have a prickly relationship, even as Turkey could use all the regional friends it can get given that it is sounding warnings that Syria is turning into Libya-in-the-Levant. This outcome is worse for Turkey.

Marc Tracy is a staff writer at The New Republic, and was previously a staff writer at Tablet. He tweets @marcatracy.

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