According to Obama’s senior advisers quoted in the New York Times, the president “prodded” Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to apologize to Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, with Obama “raising the importance of a makeup phone call every day he was in Jerusalem.” Netanyahu’s apology, according to the Washington Post, was “bowing to a long-standing Turkish demand.”There is a lot of anger against Netanyahu for “apologizing” to Turkey. They cite stories like this, where the families of the terrorists killed on the Marvelous Marbles insist that they will not drop their lawsuit against the Israelis. Or the billboards in Turkey that thank Erdogan for “defeating” Israel. But Israel was not defeated, and her enemies are not emboldened. Saying it doesn’t make it so.
The reality is somewhat different than the official administration account. Jerusalem has long been looking to mend relations with its onetime strategic ally in Ankara. Contrary to popular narrative, it was Erdogan who was intransigent—not Netanyahu. Nor was Obama the prime mover here, “prodding” the Israeli prime minister to do his bidding. If anything, it was Netanyahu who used the commander in chief as something like a blunt instrument to force Erdogan to accept the same deal that his government had first put on the table at least 18 months prior: Israel would apologize; it would pay compensation; but it would not, as Erdogan had demanded, end the maritime blockade of the strip.
From Netanyahu’s perspective, it’s all to the good that Obama is getting the credit for the reconciliation. Bibi got what he wanted from Erdogan and gave Obama a big trophy to put on his shelf. The Turkish premier, despite his bluster, has little choice but to swallow it, and the American president now owes Bibi a favor. Netanyahu—often denigrated as a clumsy politician and preachy ideologue—is in fact a much more adroit statesman than he is typically believed to be.
Erdogan wanted a full apology in which Israel took blame for killing Turkish citizens. He didn’t get it. Erdogan wanted Israel to completely lift the Gaza blockade. He didn’t get it. Erdogan wanted Israel to pay millions of dollars in compensation directly to the victims’ families. He didn’t get it.
This was not a win for Erdogan. It is a win for Netanyahu, and a win for Israel. Normalizing relations with Turkey gets one more thing out of the way during a very dangerous time for Israel. The Syrian war is threatening to run over all of its borders, not just the ones with Arab nations. Israel has set up a field hospital on its border with Syria.
Here’s Lee Smith’s conclusion:
What Obama truly deserves credit for—and it’s no small thing—is realizing that an ally in whom he’d invested so much confidence was essentially a blowhard. Moreover, he saw that Israel, with whom he’d had contentious relations, was an ally he could count on. And that’s a very big win in Netanyahu’s column.I’m sticking with him and Barry Rubin on this issue. It’s a thorn out of Israel’s side, using the time-tested “I’m sorry if what I said offended you” non-apology apology. I can live with it.