Press reports in both Israel and Turkey suggest that Israel is inching closer to issuing a formal apology to Turkey for Israel’s military operation last year to stop the Mavi Marmara, a Turkish ship seeking to run the Gaza blockade. Although the forthcoming UN report on the incident reportedly affirms that Israel was well within its rights under international law to stop the ship, and while Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s Islamist allies instigated the incident in order to bolster their allies in Hamas, the Netanyahu government in Israel and particularly Defense Minister Ehud Barak are urging an Israeli apology in order to preserve what’s left of the Turkey-Israel relationship.
Israel is acting like the proverbial beaten wife who, no matter how victimized she may be, refuses to walk out on a relationship and instead seeks to ingratiate herself to her abuser. Erdoğan bashes Israel not because of anything Israel does, but rather because he harbors a deep-seeded hatred for the Jewish state and because it benefits his quest for leadership among world Muslims. Erdoğan has steered Turkey closer to Hamas and Iran not because of anything Israel has done, but rather because of his own ideological predilections. That will not change with Israel’s apology. Turkey’s growing anti-Semitism and most Turks’ hatred of Israel likewise has less to do with Israel’s actions, and more to do with a steady stream of incitement which the Turkish press—itself under the thumb of the ruling party—has fed to a population who is willing to believe the worst about the Jews and the Jewish state. Israel’s apology won’t rectify that problem; it will affirm their belief that Israel is guilty.
If Israel apologizes to Turkey, it will compound its problems. Just as President Eisenhower’s decision to side with Gamal Abdul Nasser after he nationalized the Suez Canal emboldened the populist leader’s ambitions, so too will Israel’s apology empower Erdoğan. Not only will it solidify his reputation among Israel’s enemies, but it will only embolden Erdoğan to up his demands from Israel and from other states. Just in the last few days, not only has Erdoğan declared that he will not normalize relations with Israel until its ends is blockage of Hamas, but he has also begun demanding apologies from Armenia as well. Nor will an apology solve any legal problems facing Israeli soldiers who took part in the raid on the Mavi Marmara. Erdoğan may say that Turkey will not sue the soldiers, but if precedent is any indication, he will claim that he cannot speak for the families of the extremists killed onboard.
Israel has an enemy. Alas, it is less Erdoğan than its repeated belief that appeasement works. If Israel wants to defend itself and improve its security, position, and respect in the world, it’s time to tell Turkey, “enough.”