Analysing the deal to normalise Turkish-Israeli relations

Jun 29, 2016

Analysing the deal to normalise Turkish-Israeli relations

Update from AIJAC

June 29, 2016

Update 06/16 #05

Today’s Update looks at the significance of the deal announced between Israel and Turkey to re-establish full diplomatic relations which have been in the doldrums since the deaths of Turkish citizens in the Mavi Marmara naval incident in 2010 when a flotilla tried to breach Israel’s naval blockade of Gaza and Israeli commandos enforcing it were violently attacked.
Israeli PM Binyamin Netanyahu called the deal an important strategic achievement (his press conference statement on the deal can be read here) that will contribute to both Israeli and regional security. It will also benefit Israel economically, with Turkey seeking to purchase Israeli gas, he said.

The most contentious aspect of the deal from Israel’s perspective is Israel agreeing to pay US $20 million in compensation for the Turkish citizens killed on the Mavi Marmara – a move that Israeli critics have condemned as rewarding terrorists. In return, Turkey will end any legal threats made against Israeli military personnel involved in the interception. Significantly Turkey dropped its long-term demand that Israel lifts the blockade of Gaza. But Turkish President Erdogan’s pronouncements and behaviour against Israel since 2008 have ensured that there are voices in Israel, including from within the cabinet, arguing against  ratifying the agreement.

Meanwhile, the devastating suicide bombing attack on Turkey’s airport in Istanbul overnight, which has left dozens dead and many more injured, and is being attributed to ISIS, has quickly overtaken the deal in the media spotlight. But the attack highlights the significant deterioration in the geopolitical environment for Turkey since the two sides fell out. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has also been mending fences with Russia, apologising for shooting down one of its warplanes near the Syrian border in 2015.

First up, Steven A. Cook from the Council on Foreign Relations recounts the deterioration in relations between Turkey and Israel and looks at the strategic reasons why Turkey decided now was the time to fully re-establish diplomatic relations. To read this article, CLICK HERE

Next up, the Times of Israel‘s diplomatic correspondent Raphael Ahren describes the agreement as a diplomatic win for Israel. He says PM Netanyahu has secured almost everything he could have hoped for and if his rivals were in charge they would have signed the deal too. To read this article, CLICK HERE

Finally, Shmuel Rosner looks at why the deal is a “bitter pill” for many Israelis to swallow. Opposition relates to the compensation being paid, he writes, for the deliberately provocative actions of the Turkish Government in trying to break Israel’s legal blockade of Gaza. Other grievances include the belief that Turkey should have used its influence with Hamas to secure the return of two Israelis being held in Gaza and two dead Israeli soldiers. To read Rosner’s full analysis, CLICK HERE

Readers may also be interested in…

  • Elliot Abrams on the significance of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas’ recent refusal to meet with his Israeli counterpart in Europe.
  • Hillary Clinton’s supporters on the Democratic Party committee drafting the party’s policy on Israel have successfully prevented her rival Bernie Sanders’ attempts to include statements condemning Israel’s “occupation and illegal settlements” and legitimising the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions movement.
  • A look at the future of EU-Israel relations following Brexit. Also discussing Brexit, Liel Leibovitz on how the Israeli left and the elites in Britain shocked by the result share a similar mindset. Anne Applebaum considers the significance of Brexit for the upcoming US presidential election.
  • A look at the questionable deal Iran has signed to purchase 100 aircraft from Boeing. Also on Iran, for those who missed it, veteran analyst Paul Monk in the Australian on the moral dubiousness of getting too close to Iran in light of its antisemitic and anti-Israel attitudes.
  • Some examples from the many stories and comments now appearing at AIJAC’s daily “Fresh AIR” blog:
    • Gareth Narunsky on the latest antisemitic rantings from former Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad.
    • Aaron Torop on prosecuting Nazi war criminals and the Australian context.
    • Glen Falkenstein on how Arab states can play a greater role in securing a Palestinian-Israeli peace.

How the Kurds Drove Turkey Back to Israel (and Two Other Reasons for the Deal)


Steven A. Cook

Defense One, June 27 2016

The Turks want to forestall any Israeli declaration of support for Syrian Kurdish independence aspirations, but distrust and resentment remain.
News came over the weekend that Israel and Turkey are making up. There have been on and off rumors to this effect over the last three or four years, but the expected rapprochement never came. There was some hope that Jerusalem and Ankara would patch things up quickly after President Barack Obama visited Israel in March 2013, and as a party favor—a “deliverable,” as it is known in the awful jargon of Washington wonkery—Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who was Turkey’s prime minister at the time before ascending to the presidency in August 2014, to apologize for the infamous 2010 Mavi Marmara incident. It was not to be, however. Negotiations dragged on with varying degrees of intensity between Turkish and Israeli diplomats in the ensuing years with episodic rumors and press report of imminent breakthroughs. Yet because the foreign ministries in both countries actually have limited influence on foreign policy, it was up to the leaders, and neither Netanyahu nor Erdogan seemed all that interested in a rapprochement. All that said, today’s official announcement that Israel and Turkey are restoring full diplomatic relations was not that much of a surprise. But as important a development as the deal may be, this is unlikely to be the dawn of a new day in Israeli-Turkish relations.
The Denouement
Before getting into why there is a deal now, but not one or two years ago, it is important to review just how Israel and Turkey—who were close strategic partners for a brief moment in the late 1990s and early 2000s—got to this place. The Mavi Marmara incident in which a Turkish-owned ferry sought to run Israel’s naval blockade of the Gaza Strip, killing eight Turks and a Turkish-American in the process, is often cited as the denouement. It was certainly a low, but the crisis began a few years earlier in December 2008.
Few remember this, but in the late 2000s then Prime Minister Erdogan and his foreign minister at the time, Ahmet Davutoglu, were overseeing indirect negotiations between the Israeli and Syrian governments. The culmination of these efforts came in late December 2008 when Erdogan hosted Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert at his Ankara residence while simultaneously holding a phone call with the Syrian leader, Bashar al-Assad. According to accounts of the evening, Erdogan engaged in mini–shuttle diplomacy, working the phone in one room, asking Assad to hold the line, then moving to another room to talk to Olmert, all in an effort to convince the two adversaries to begin direct negotiations. Erdogan failed, and Olmert, a few days after returning to Jerusalem, launched Operation Cast Lead in response to Palestinian rocket fire into in Israel from Gaza. The hostilities lasted for three weeks. Anywhere between a thousand and 1,400 Palestinians were killed, and thirteen Israelis lost their lives. Erdogan was mortified. Olmert never told him that a military operation was imminent, and coming so soon after the Israeli prime minister’s visit to Ankara it looked like either Erdogan was complicit in Israel’s invasion or too weak to stop it.
The Israelis were justified taking the fight to Gaza after Hamas had fired nonstop rocket attacks, but Olmert—who is now serving time in prison for corruption—failed to appreciate the strategic environment in which he was operating. Had he been more astute at that moment, he might have asked Erdogan for help in Gaza. It is true that Israelis trusted Erdogan on Syria in ways they never trusted him on the Palestinian issue, but Olmert might have been wise to play to Erdogan’s vanity and ask him to use his good relations with Hamas to try to cut out the rockets. If Erdogan succeeded, there would not have been a need for military operations in Gaza and the crisis in Israel-Turkey relations might have been avoided or at least delayed. Had the Turkish prime minister failed and Olmert was force to order up Cast Lead, at least he could claim that he tried every avenue, even asking Erdogan, Hamas’s emerging patron, to intervene. A long shot to be sure, but one that seemed worth taking.
Almost everything after Cast Lead was all Turkish bile. It seemed that Erdogan and his Justice and Development Party (AKP) derived a certain amount of domestic political benefit from the anti-Israel and anti-Jewish sentiments they whipped up. For a time, Erdogan hit the Israelis at every ribbon-cutting event he attended. It seemed to be a reflection of a weird obsession with Jews, which makes sense since Erdogan and his party come from the Millî Görüş, or National View, movement, which has long harbored animosity toward Israel, Israelis, and Jews generally.
Why Now?
There are three reasons why the Turks wanted the deal now more than ever. First, the Israelis have a lot of natural gas and Cyprus has a lot of natural gas. There have been signals all year that negotiations to find a solution to the Cyprus problem and reunify the island are promising. It seems that the deal with Israel is connected to the coming gas bonanza in the Eastern Mediterranean.
Second, Ankara’s approach to the Middle East has been an utter failure. Its bid to lead the Middle East after the Arab uprisings was based more on the self-reinforcing myths that AKP elites told themselves than their actual ability to drive events in the region. There was also little chance that Saudis, Egyptians, and Emiratis were going to allow the Turks to play the role they sought. Between the summer of 2013 and rather recently, Ankara had bad relations with Riyadh, Abu Dhabi, Cairo, Jerusalem, and Baghdad—in other words, all the major capitals in the region. When Erdogan forced Davutoglu from the prime ministry on May 5, Davutoglu could be made the fall guy for Turkey’s regional isolation with few, if any, political consequences for the president. This is not entirely a stretch; Davutoglu was the architect of Turkey’s grandiose ambitions in the Middle East as an advisor and then foreign minister during the last five years of Erdogan’s tenure as prime minister. Then again, it is not like Erdogan did not embrace the idea of Turkey’s (and thus his own) leadership of the Middle East.
The third reason is Syria. This is the failure within the failure of Ankara’s entire bid for leadership in the region. That the uprisings-turned-civil-war-turned-proxy-war has created a zone of jihadi violence and an area of great power competition that has consumed Syria and obscene numbers of Syrians is an extraordinarily difficult problem. No country, including the United States, has managed to handle it well. The Turks should get credit for doing their best to manage the massive inflow of refugees, now numbering almost three million. Beyond that, Ankara’s Syria’ policy stands out for one bone-headed move after the other. Where to begin? They believed they could convince Assad to reform early on in the crisis, they thought Ankara could coordinate and lead the Syrian opposition, they turned a blind eye to jihadis using Turkey to take part in the fight against Assad before actually coordinating with extremist groups, they were reluctant to allow members of the anti–Islamic State coalition to use Turkey’s airbases, they shot down a Russian bomber, and they failed to see how their unwillingness to join the fight against the self-declared Islamic State in order to snuff out Kurdish nationalism actually helped make Ankara’s Kurdish nightmares come true.
Of all these issues, the Kurds are driving Turkey back to Israel. The Israelis have long sought to maintain close ties with non-Arab groups and countries in the Middle East to mitigate Jerusalem’s regional isolation. This was the logic behind Israel’s ties with Turkey. The Israelis have long supported Kurdish independence in Iraq, an issue that used to be deeply disconcerting for Ankara, but not as much anymore given the close ties between the AKP and Masoud Barzani, the president of the Kurdistan Regional Government. Now with the emergence of the Federation of Northern Syria—also known as Rojava, or Western Kurdistan—along a strip of territory running from the district of Afrin that borders Turkey’s Hatay province in the west to the border with the Turkish town of Cizre in the east, the Turks find themselves in trouble. Syria’s Kurds do not control all of that territory yet, pockets of which are dominated by rebel forces, regime forces, or the Islamic State, but it is only a matter of time. The Turks want to forestall any Israeli mucking about in the area and any declaration of support for Syrian Kurdish independence aspirations so they have decided to patch things up with the Jerusalem. More importantly, the Turks seem to believe that by letting bygones be bygones with the Israelis they will get a better hearing on their concerns about Syria’s Kurds from Rojava’s accidental patron, the United States.
In the American effort to turn back the Islamic State, Washington went looking for allies to do the fighting on the ground while Americans targeted Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi’s forces from the air. Iraqi and Syrian Kurds signed up—but not together—while the Turks balked. After two years, the United States regards the Syrian Kurdish People’s Protection Units, or YPG, has an effective ally in the fight against the Islamic State. Here is the problem for the Turks: The Turkey-based Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), a terrorist organization that has been waging a war on the Turkish state since the mid-1980s, stood up the YPG after the Syrian uprising became militarized, and the two groups remain closely associated. The Turks regard the YPG and the PKK to be essentially the same group. From where Ankara sits, the United States— Turkey’s NATO ally—is helping to create a terrorist state on its border that could link up with the predominantly Kurdish portions of Turkey’s southeast, which are now under assault from the Turkish military and police in response to PKK violence. For some reason, the Turkish leadership believes that the Israelis and their supporters can help in this area in the same way the Israelis pressed the Obama administration to lay off the Egyptians. It is not a coincidence that Erdogan met with leaders of the Jewish-American community twice this past spring. It is not at all clear that the Turks will get the kind of support from Israel’s supporters in the United States that they would like, but Israelis are masters of realpolitik and in the competition between Turks and Kurds, they will likely pick Ankara.
For their part, the Israelis have gone from rendering their clothing over the breach with the Turks to lo maziz lanu (literally, “it doesn’t move us”). Gaza has been quiet, relations with Egypt have been quite good, ties with Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates have developed, Cyprus and Greece are new partners, and the Turkish leadership has proved themselves over and over again to be nasty anti-Semites and anti-Zionists. The same could be said of the Egyptians, but Turkey is hardly Egypt, which is second only to the United States on Israel’s list of priorities. Still, the Israelis are getting something from this deal: Hamas is leaving Turkey (though as Jonathan Schanzer recently noted, there is reason to believe this may not actually happen), the Israelis do not have to lift the blockade of the Gaza Strip as the Turks have long demanded, and the Turks will be afforded a role in rebuilding Gaza, which some believe might bring stability to the area. The Israelis also get normal relations with Turkey, on Israel’s terms.
What’s the Big Deal?
I am not sure this is as big a deal as it is being made out to be. Sure, it ends a period of estrangement for two American allies in the Middle East, which is a good thing. Beyond that kind of generality, it is hard to discern how much will change now. In the past, analysts have touted the potential for intelligence and security cooperation, but that seems unlikely. The Turks fought tooth and nail to keep the Israelis away from NATO intelligence data, blew an Israeli spy ring in Istanbul, and have engaged in various kinds of gratuitous nastiness, including disinviting the Israelis to NATO exercises held on Turkish territory and refusing flight clearance for Israeli military transport aircraft en route to Poland for visits to Auschwitz by the Israel Defense Forces. Add to this Erdogan’s February 2013 declaration that “Zionism is a crime against humanity.” Taken together, the Israelis are likely satisfied with the agreement, but distrust and resentment remain. On the Turkish side, this agreement came together as a result of Ankara’s weakness, which cannot sit well with the Turkish leadership. When the headlines fade and after the ambassadors are exchanged, Israel-Turkey political and diplomatic ties will likely look a lot more like they do now than current expectations suggest and remain vulnerable to developments in the Gaza Strip, Cyprus, and Israel’s relations with Kurds across the region. In other words, it is no big deal.


Israel and Turkey find magical land where (almost) everyone’s a winner

While local politicians belly-ache, Netanyahu got just about everything he needed out of the normalization deal, and allowed Erdogan to save face. It’s called diplomacy

By Raphael Ahren

Times of Israel, June 27, 2016
The Israeli-Turkish reconciliation deal that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced Monday in Rome is being criticized by politicians and pundits from across the political spectrum. That’s probably a good sign.
Unsurprisingly, opposition leader Isaac Herzog slammed the deal, hammering Netanyahu for agreeing to pay $20 million in compensation for the families of the Turkish victims of the 2010 Mavi Marmara incident. Such a deal is “unfathomable,” Herzog wrote on his Facebook page.
“Let all Jewish mothers know that the right wing will pay compensation to those who attack their sons,” he added.
Gideon Sa’ar — who was a government minister at the time when Netanyahu apologized to Turkey for “operational errors” during the Marmara raid — came out swinging against the deal. He called it “a national humiliation,” a case of “paying the aggressor,” and said it “opens the door to the next capitulation to terrorism” because Hamas would now make new demands for the release of its terrorists from Israeli jails.
But anyone with even the faintest familiarity with Israeli politics knows that these two men would likely have supported the deal had they had been in the government today.
Likewise, Netanyahu would doubtless have opposed it had he been sitting in the opposition.
Given the acerbic nature of Israeli politics, the fact that politicians on both the left and the right reject the deal says less about its true merits than about the speakers’ own biases. In Turkey as well, the deal was met with some domestic criticism that accused Ankara of not achieving enough.

A sober look at the facts reveals that there are no big winners or losers. Both sides made significant concessions to clinch a deal.

Israel had already apologized over the deaths of 10 Turkish activists aboard the Mavi Marmara Gaza-blockade busting ship, and had agreed to pay compensation, fulfilling two of Turkey’s three demands for the full restoration of ties.
Ankara’s final demand was the lifting of Israel’s naval blockade of the Gaza Strip — the very issue leading Turkey to support 2010’s Mavi Marmara-led flotilla in the first place.

The requirement of lifting the Gaza blockade was declared nonnegotiable by Turkish leaders, who until now refused to back down. For Jerusalem, this demand was a nonstarter, simply because of the concern that free access to the Hamas-ruled coastal strip would spell an immediate danger for Israel’s security.
Another issue of contention was Turkey’s hosting of leaders from the Hamas terror group. Jerusalem demanded Ankara kick them out, but Erdogan — who has excellent ties with the organization — adamantly refused.

The deal Netanyahu and Turkish counterpart, Binali Yıldırım, announced nearly simultaneously — the former in Rome, the latter in Ankara — allows both sides to save face.

Ankara celebrates having “lifted” the blockade of Gaza, because the agreement allows it to provide humanitarian assistance to the people of the Strip, including building a power station and desalination plant there.

“To this end, our first ship loaded with over 10,000 tons of humanitarian aid will leave for Israel’s Ashdod port on Friday,” Yıldırım announced.

But Jerusalem was quick to point out it that it refused to compromise on the naval blockade. “It will remain as it is,” Netanyahu said.

The Turks’ efforts to help ease the humanitarian crisis in Gaza are clearly in Israel’s interest, the prime minister added, pointing out that Israel had at no stage refused to let Turkey provide humanitarian assistance to Gaza as long as the blockade remained intact.

This is perhaps the agreement’s biggest accomplishment. It allows Ankara to announce that it is helping build Gaza, but keeps entirely in place the policy Israel has set up to try to prevent arms from entering the Strip.

Ankara further celebrated the $20 million Israel will pay to the families of the Marmara victims. Jerusalem, in turn, emphasizes that the sum will only be transferred once the Turkish parliament passes legislation providing legal cover for Israeli soldiers.

Ankara notes that it rejected the Israeli demand to oust Hamas; Jerusalem prides itself in having persuaded the Turks to commit themselves to preventing terror and any other military aggression against Israel emanating from its territory, including financing of terror.

The families of two Israeli soldiers whose bodies are held by Hamas, and of two Israeli civilians held in Gaza, unsurprisingly accused the prime minister of selling them out. But as Netanyahu noted, Turkey doesn’t rule Gaza. Hamas does. And the Turkish president, he noted, has now promised to help return Israeli soldiers and captives from Gaza.
Neither Israel nor Turkey got everything they wanted, but each got enough to declare themselves the winner of this half-decade long standoff. This arrangement will be criticized in Jerusalem and in Ankara, but ultimately it serves the interests of both countries, and that’s why it will be signed. It’s called diplomacy.

As Israel’s ambassador packs his or her bags for Ankara, some may wonder whether Israel needs any of this at all. Efrat Aviv, a Turkey expert at Bar-Ilan University, told this reporter a few months ago that Erdogan needs Israel more than Israel needs Erdogan, and that it is not in Jerusalem’s best strategic interest to make peace with Turkey at this point.

“If tomorrow there’s another war with Hamas, will he again say that we’re worse than Hitler? Why do we rush to normalize relations with a country that supports Hamas, promotes anti-Semitism and terrorism?” she asked.

No one is under the illusion that bilateral relations are about to enter a new golden age. “I’m not going into a honeymoon. And I’m not presenting this agreement through rose-tinted glasses. But this agreement strengthens Israel,” Netanyahu said Monday.

But besides the geopolitical and strategic implications of a détente with Turkey, Netanyahu emphasized the potentially enormous economic gains to be had, chief among them the sale of natural gas to European markets via Turkey and to Turkey itself. “This issue could not have gone forward without the deal, and now we will advance it,” he said. “This will boost Israel’s economy with vast capital. This is a major strategic boost.”

Yıldırım, asked about the gas deal, sounded less enthusiastic, but he did not deny that Ankara is interested in cooperating with Israel on that matter. “We are talking about normalization of relations. Once the normalization starts it will be up to two countries to decide to what extent they want to cooperate and on what issues,” he said.

When and how the Israeli-Turkish reconciliation deal will bear economic fruit remains to be seen. But diplomatically, it is a real, tangible achievement for Netanyahu.

The region is in the midst of “upheaval,” the prime minister said, and Israel needs all the allies it can get — in full coordination with its key ally, he stressed, the United States.

MK Yair Lapid, who has made a point recently in slamming the government’s foreign policy in every possible forum, could not bring himself to criticize the détente with Turkey. “The deal is hard to stomach, but countries make such agreements,” he said. “There is what we all feel, and then there is the national security interest, and the national security interest comes first.”

And even Tzipi Livni, opposition Zionist Union MK, former foreign minister and perennial Netanyahu critic, recognized the wisdom of the deal. She would have accepted these terms, Livni said, had she been in government.


The emotionally unacceptable Israeli-Turkish agreement

By Shmuel Rosner

Jewish Journal, June 28, 2016

There are international agreements that the people celebrate, and there are international agreements that the people swallow. The agreement Israel has just signed with Turkey – which the Israeli cabinet is likely to approve tomorrow, reluctantly yet responsibly – is of the second kind. According to a Channel 10 News survey, 56% of Israelis (65% of Jewish Israelis) oppose the agreement. They oppose it because it is emotionally unacceptable. It is instinctively enraging. It is disappointing. Israelis feel that they were wronged by Turkey and that their country is now apologizing for using a supposedly excessive level of force against an attacker.
What ignited the crisis between Israel and Turkey that is now ending was a stab, six years ago, following Israel’s blockade of the Gaza strip. The Turks encouraged a flotilla to cross the Mediterranean and provoke Israel by attempting to get into Gaza, disregarding the blockade and challenging its legitimacy. Israel had to respond. It forcefully halted the flotilla. Its forces – elite navy soldiers – were attacked and defended themselves. Nine passengers were killed. Not innocent bystanders, but rather people that deliberately defied Israel’s authority and tried to maim and kill Israeli soldiers. Most Israelis have no feelings of remorse over their untimely death. Those who attack Israeli soldiers ought to know that they might die.
Turkey was furious. It demanded punishment and an end to Israel’s blockade. That was a non-starter for negotiations, as the blockade is essential for Israel’s security. It is necessary to prevent Hamas from smuggling even more weaponry into the strip. The UN report that investigated the incident accepted Israel’s position on this matter, concluding that “The naval blockade was imposed as a legitimate security measure in order to prevent weapons from entering Gaza by sea and its implementation complied with the requirements of international law.” It also concluded that “the flotilla acted recklessly in attempting to breach the naval blockade.” Israel was well within its right to prevent the flotilla from entering Gaza.
The investigation also concluded that Israel used “excessive and unreasonable” force to stop the flotilla. “Non-violent options should have been used in the first instance,” the report argued. Generally speaking, the Israeli establishment acknowledges that Israel’s preparation for the flotilla event and execution of the plan to halt it were insufficient. But it does not accept the “excessive force” accusation. The apology to Turkey is hence insincere. It is a price that Israel decided to pay for the purpose of ending the crisis with Turkey – and not the only price: it will also give money to a fund that will then compensate the families of those who were hurt in the incident. Israel argues: we are not compensating the families – it is the Turkish government that’s getting the funds. Legally, that is significant. Emotionally, it is not. It is the kind of action that Israelis call “Isra-bluff” – we say that we are not compensating the families when we actually are, via Turkey.
Israelis are also bothered by the fact that the agreement does not settle the issue of four Israelis that are still held by Hamas – two bodies, of soldiers that were killed in the last Gaza operation, and two living Israelis who wondered into Palestinian territory and are being held hostage. In the last three days the families have been running a campaign to stop the agreement. They say that the agreement is immoral if it does not include the return of their sons. Turkey – they argue – could use its leverage with Hamas to demand such a provision as a precondition for Turkish support. They also say that the Prime Minister promised them not to complete an agreement that does not include such a provision.
Israelis are highly sensitive to the complaints of families of fallen soldiers. They are highly sensitive when it comes to Israelis held – living or dead – by the enemy. Why indeed did Israel decided to allow Turkish assistance into Gaza without making the return of the bodies and hostages a precondition?
The government argues: We did all we could. The Turks cannot force Hamas to release the hostages. Letting assistance get into Gaza is Israel’s interest. With all due respect to the families and their justified grievances, a strategic agreement is on the line, and Israel’s huge interest in resolving its conflict with Turkey trumps the issue of the soldiers.
In the last couple of days there were essentially three main complaints concerning the agreement. The instinctive-emotional complaint: Israel does not need to apologize and compensate anyone for its just deeds. The we-could-have-achieved-more complaint: Israel needed to make the Hamas hostages issue a precondition. And the procedural complaint: the cabinet needed to approve the agreement before it was signed, and not just serve as a post-factum rubber stamp.
All of these three complaints are not easy for the Prime Minister to reject. The agreement is psychologically unpleasant. It is impossible for him (or for anyone) to prove that more insistence concerning the hostages would not have been fruitful – what-if complaints are a tricky thing. And as for the cabinet – he does indeed want it to be a rubber-stump. As most leaders want their cabinets to be.
Netanyahu argues that having better relations with a country as powerful and as important as Turkey is strategically important for Israel. He promised Israelis economic benefits as a reward for the agreement – boosting Israel’s ability to export its vast gas reserves. But Israelis, as greedy as they might be, think about the flotilla, and the dead soldiers, and the rupture with Turkey, more with their hearts than with their heads. They see the hateful anti-Semitic Turkish President Erdogan boasting that he got from Israel everything he wanted, and they fume. Did he really?
Not quite: he got the apology and some money – he does not really need the money, he just needs it as a symbolic sign of moral victory. He can also assist Gaza. But that is hardly a great achievement: Israel never prevented Turkey from assisting Gaza, it only demanded that all assistance goes through Israeli security – and that demand was accepted by the Turks. Assistance to Gaza will go through Israel. The blockade remains.
In other words: the real price Israel is paying by signing this agreement is the price of having to forgo its heart and use only its head. It has to accept an agreement that implicitly hints that Israel was somehow wrongful in stopping the Gaza flotilla the way it did.
That is a real price. A price that will make Israel swallow the agreement like a necessary yet bitter pill.


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