Obama Got What He Wanted, The Question is Did Netanyahu?

Many so called “experts” were scratching their heads trying to figure out why President Obama came to the Middle East. Some thought it might have been to kick start the stagnating “peace process” between Israel and the Arabs. However, it’s clear this wasn’t his intention. What’s also clear is his basic understanding of the issues remains flawed. For example, in his post meeting press conference with Mahmoud Abbas  he said “the Palestinian people deserve an end to occupation…and to feel secure in their communities.”

Pardon me Mr. President, but would you be kind enough to tell us how many Israeli terrorists have launched suicide missions against Arab civilians? Would you also tell us how many Israeli rockets have been fired at Arab homes and schools? The last time I checked it was Israeli’s who need to feel “secure in their communities.”

Prior to Obama’s remarks Abbas delivered what amounted to a carbon copy of the same demands he has not budged from since walking away from direct negotiations in 2009. He also referred to the establishment of the modern state of Israel as the “nakba,” a term which the Arabs often use meaning “catastrophe.” Obama offered no rebuttal to this degrading reference to Israel’s independence.

Thus, it’s safe to conclude no breakthrough was sought, nor achieved with Abbas.

Others thought the trip might be used in part to mend his uneasy relationship with Prime Minister Netanyahu. However, while their public banter seemed warmer, the President made it clear he came to “speak directly to the Israeli people.” This was a signal that he was more interested in making inroads with young liberal students, rather than with Netanyahu.

Turkey All Along?

So what was the main purpose of Obama’s trip? It appears we found out the day he departed when it was announced that Netanyahu had called Turkish Prime Minister Erdogan and apologized for the death of 9 Turks during the 2010 Mavi Marmara incident. This confrontation was a flagrant attempt by Turkey to challenge Israel’s efforts to ensure no weapons would be delivered to Hamas, who is committed to its destruction.

After the deadly encounter subsequent investigations confirmed the Mavi Marmara was not on a peaceful mission. It was staffed with members of IHH, a known terrorist organization. Video footage made public shows Israeli soldiers being brutally attacked as they boarded the ship. This  required them to take defensive measures to save their lives, which resulted in the death of 9 Turks. Numerous weapons were also discovered aboard the ship.

After the deadly encounter Turkey demanded an apology, which was not offered, since Israel felt strongly their soldiers acted defensively.

With no apology forthcoming unfriendly rhetoric increased and relations between the two countries worsened. Turkey began pursuing legal action against Israeli military officers who were in charge at the time. Further erosion was evident when Prime Minister Erodogan recently called Zionism “a crime against humanity.” Pressed after his comment to retract it, he refused.

If any apology is owed it should be coming from Turkey. Yet, almost three years after the incident suddenly Netanyahu offers one. It includes compensation to the families of the Turks who died during the incident, which was another Turkish demand. Initially Erdogan said he accepted the apology. He also indicated he would drop legal action against Israel, and normalize relations. However, 48 hours later he said  “…compensation will be paid and the blockade on Palestine will be lifted. There will be no normalization without these.” He also announced he would visit Gaza in April and promised to monitor Israel’s “blockade.” Nothing was mentioned about retracting his anti-Zionist comments.

Many in Israel feel providing an apology and compensation to Turkey sends the wrong message. It undermines the legitimate right of Israel to take necessary defensive measures when terrorists attempt to breach its security. Moreover, it encourages Israel’s enemies to act as the Turks did and get away with it. It’s also an insult to the soldiers who were attacked and beaten by the Turkish terrorists.

Conspicuously, the apology occurred the day Obama departed from his visit. Hmmm….Could it be pressuring Netanyahu to apologize was something Obama planned in advance, but did not make public for fear it would have become a huge distraction before and during his trip?

Netanyahu Covers for Obama?

Responding to critics Netanyahu indicated he initiated the apology due to concerns over deteriorating conditions in Syria. Could this be a cover to protect Obama? Did an opportunistic Obama ‘play’ Netanyahu and get away with it?

 Prior to Obama’s visit speculation was Netanyahu intended to ask the US to attack Syria if they used chemical weapons, or transferred them to Hezbollah. If they weren’t willing to he would ask them to approve an Israeli attack if it was deemed necessary. Additionally Netanyahu has wanted Obama to be more forceful toward Iran. He’s wanted assurances if Israel chose to strike Iran, the US would green light it, and provide military support.

Thus the atmosphere seemed ripe for Obama to leverage the situation by pressing Netanyahu to apologize. Securing an apology from Israel boosts Obama’s status in the Arab world and gives Prime Minister Erdogan an opportunity to proclaim Turkish pride. Indeed, billboards expressing gratitude to him were seen throughout the country after the apology.

By acquiescing Netanyahu rightfully would request something in return. Enter his requests regarding Syria and Iran. So the real question is did Obama ‘play’ Netanyahu? We may never know how it came about, however once again Israel has taken a bold step. Let’s hope Obama acts accordingly…

Dan Calic is a writer, historian and speaker. See additional articles on his Facebook page