Paul Alster
Israel-based print and broadcast journalist

The good and bad news on the Turkish rapprochement

With so many mutual strategic interests in an increasingly unstable region it can only be a positive thing for Israel to have diplomatic relations with Turkey restored, even if Turkey is led by the somewhat unpalatable Prime Minister Erdogan, a man whose past record suggests he will prove far from easy to take at his word.

Clearly President Obama’s visit of earlier this week brought about the opportunity for PM Netanyahu to apologise to Turkey for the loss of life on the Mavi Marmara back in May 2010, a pragmatic move that surely will not have come easily to the Israeli leader when bearing in mind the well documented intentions of the flotilla and the events that led up to Israel’s bungled boarding of the IHH ship.

The Mavi Marmara had sought to break Israel’s military blockade of Gaza and had amongst its passengers a number of highly dubious characters from across the Arab world who had made anti-Semitic and anti-Israeli statements on the record. Amongst this hardcore group were a significant number who had made final wills and martyrdom videos – surprising, (you might have thought), for supposed ‘unarmed peace protestors’.

In chaotic scenes that saw badly prepared Israeli Navy Seals – let down by poor military intelligence – rappelling down ropes onto the deck of a boat into a mob of ‘peace campaigners’ allegedly armed with wooden clubs, baseball bats and butcher’s knives, nine of the passengers on board were killed and a number of the Israeli forces seriously injured. The boat failed to break the military blockade, but Israel’s actions were widely condemned and prompted the cessation of diplomatic relations between Erdogan’s Turkey and Israel.

So nearly three years on it’s about time – with the Syrian conflict impacting on both Turkey and Israel and the seemingly deteriorating situation in Lebanon causing concern in both Ankara and Jerusalem – that relations were normalised, even if it requires Israel to swallow its pride and say ‘sorry’. The benefits of the rapprochement do appear to far outweigh the negatives at this particular juncture.

What is less easy to understand and indeed appears disturbing, is the reported that Israel will pay compensation to the families of those that died, a move that may set a worrying precedent and open the door for those with terrorist affiliations seeking to endanger the security of the State of Israel, or indeed injure or kill Israeli civilians (or military personnel) through terrorist acts, to be compensated for being forcibly stopped by Israel from carrying out their evil missions.

It should be remembered that the IHH, (the organisation which put together the flotilla), had from as far back as 1996 been named by the CIA as having terrorist links to Islamist groups – even though it has not officially been designated a terrorist organisation by the US –  and has long been an unashamed supporter of Hamas in Gaza. There have also been moves in both Germany and Italy to have branches of the IHH designated as terrorists.

On its way to Gaza the flotilla was refused permission by Cyprus to enters its waters, the Cypriot government citing concerns about the ‘humanitarian’ nature of the cargo, while the very day before the pitched battle a variety of news sources reported the passengers aboard the lead ship were singing a song glorifying Islam, pining for the removal of Israelis from the land, and a return to the teachings of the prophet Muhammed. A strange ditty, one might suggest, for a ‘humanitarian organization’ whose sole aim was to deliver goods to the people of Gaza who they perceived to be under siege.

Back in May 2010, according to SKY News who heard recordings of the radio traffic from the Mavi Marmara, when told: “This is the Israeli Navy. You are approaching an area which is under a naval blockade”, the response from the Turkish ship was “Shut up, and go back to Auschwitz.”

“We have permission from the Gaza Port Authority to enter”, said a female voice on board ship. “We’re helping the Arabs go against the US.” Then a male ‘peace protestor’ intervenes on the line, “Don’t forget 9/11 guys!” he says.

It might well be that paying money to draw a line under the unfortunate Mavi Marmara affair in order to restore ties with the Turks – once our closest friends in the region –  is a price the Israeli government feels is worth paying. But could the precedent of compensating the families of those with suspected ties to terror organisations, who deliberately set out to cause harm to the State of Israel or its citizens, potentially prove highly contentious and dangerous in years to come?




About the Author
Paul Alster is an Israel-based broadcast journalist with a special interest in the Israel/Palestinian conflict and Middle East politics. He is a regular contributor to a variety of international news websites including The Jerusalem Report, and was formerly's main Middle East correspondent. He can be followed on Twitter @paul_alster or at