Dany Bahar

Turkey and Israel: the difference between the right and the smart

Apologizing to Turkey for military operational mistakes of the Mavi Marmara was the right thing to do. The need to reestablish diplomatic ties with our best friend in the region is a no brainer.

The debate on whether we had the right to stop the flotilla is a healthy one. I personally, like most Israelis do, think we had the right to do so. However, the question for me is whether such a move (in the way it was carried out) was a smart one.

I believe it was not. The people in the flotilla were trying to provoke Israel to retaliate, and they accomplished their mission with high success. Israel came out of this incident as the bad guy that attacked indiscriminately Turkish civilians who were in a humanitarian mission bringing food and supplies to the people of Gaza, who are in a siege for several years. Let’s face it. There is no hasbara (advocacy) in the world that can make us look good in this case.

Navy vessels escort the Mavi Marmara to the Ashdod port on May 31, 2010. (photo credit: Kobi Gideon/Flash90)

Some will say that the people in the flotilla had no good intentions towards Israel. I agree. I believe they were anti Israeli fanatics, who came to generate headlines in the media, and their humanitarian mission was a cover-up. But let’s be honest. They were not terrorists. They were rioters –even violent ones- and they should have been treated as such.

Hence, we weren’t smart in our immediate reaction in 2010. We have to admit it. Being smart is about keeping us away from the bad headlines when we can easily avoid them. Being smart is avoiding falling into provocation and jeopardize the ties with an important country because of a group of extremists. We should not be getting into trouble with people who are our friends because of a small group of people. We have enough enemies already to go around the world and trying to make some more. But even so, after we did what we did, we must acknowledge our mistakes. Playing the role of the proud kid who does not want to apologize is not mature. It is not smart.

Turkey is an important friend of Israel. Turkish-Israeli trade stands on over $2 billion dollars (for Israel, that is almost $300 per capita worth of imports from and exports to Turkey). In the good times of our friendship, over half a million Israelis visited Turkey as tourists yearly.

Moreover, the people of Turkey understand the difficulties that Israel face. While they are not unselective supporters of Israel and its policies, they acknowledge our right to have a state and they understand the threats we face, such as Iran for instance. It is true that the line of the AKP government is more hostile to the occupation than previous Turkish governments. But also the governments and people of the United States and Europe are less supportive of Israel’s policies in the occupied territories. And rightly so. After 46 years of occupation, our support in the world deteriorates further. So it is the support for the occupation within the Israeli society and Jews around the world.

The Turkish people are more sympathetic to us than the average citizen in other parts of the Muslim world. This is not obvious, and we should internalize it. Turning them against us is not smart.

Today I applaud Netanyahu’s decision on issuing an official apology to Turkey. This time Israel acted smartly. I’m glad that this episode is over, and we can go back to normal with our Turkish friends. It is good for us, and good for the region.

About the Author
Dany Bahar is a fellow in the Brookings Institute in Washington DC. He holds a PhD in Public Policy from Harvard University.