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Mixed Reviews on Turkish Israeli Rapprochement

06-27-2016
Courtesy PMO, Amos Ben Gershom

JERUSALEM, Israel – Israel and Turkey announced the resumption of diplomatic relations Monday, six years after the Turkish-owned flagship, Mavi Marmara, attempted to breach Israel's naval blockade on the Gaza Strip.

As part of the deal, Turkey has agreed not to allow Hamas – the Palestinian arm of Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood – to carry out terror attacks against Israel from Turkey, though its headquarters may remain there.

Israel has agreed (as a humanitarian act) to set up a $20 million fund to compensate families of the nine pro-Palestinian Turkish activists killed aboard the Mavi Marmara.

While the deal has been criticized by some, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu defended it as having "immense implications" on the economy.

Sitting alongside Secretary of State John Kerry at the U.S. Embassy in Rome, Netanyahu said "it's an important step" to normalize relations with Turkey.

"It has also immense implications for the Israeli economy," Netanyahu said, "and I mean positive immense implications."

Prof. Efraim Inbar,  director of the BESA Center for Strategic Studies at Bar Ilan University, told CBN News, the deal seems "basically reasonable."

"Turkey is an important country in our region," Inbar said. "We don't want unnecessary friction with them."

Inbar said the main issue that concerns him is if the agreement includes an Israeli commitment to send natural gas to Turkey.

"We don't have to strengthen Turkey with our gas," he said. "After all, it is an Islamist country with ties to the Muslim Brotherhood. I think we should look for other alternatives to market our gas."

But not everyone is happy with the deal.

Gilad Sharon, the youngest son of the late Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, said it's time Israel "put a premium on its national dignity."

"What exactly are we apologizing for," Sharon asked in an op-ed on YNet.com.

"Even the U.N. concluded that it was Israel's right to block the sea passage to Gaza," he said, referring to the U.N.'s Palmer Commission findings that affirmed Israel's legal right under international law to maintain the naval blockade.

"So what part of that do we regret? What is our sin here?" Sharon asked.

Former Education Minister Gideon Sa'ar called it "a bad deal," saying Turkey should be paying compensation to Israel, not the other way around.

What exactly took place?

On May 31, 2010, some 40 anti-Israel activists wielding knives, clubs and chains attacked Israeli naval commandoes attempting to board the Mavi Marmara after its captain refused to change course. The soldiers toted paintball guns to quell rambunctious protesters if that even became necessary.

Instead, the activists pummeled the soldiers as their feet touched down on the deck, with some reports of "live weapons" being used.

Bloody and battered and fearing for their lives, the soldiers asked permission to use their handguns. In the end, nine activists died in the crossfire and Israel found itself on the defensive.

The IDF responded to the political lynching with video showing one soldier being thrown over the railing to a deck below. It soon became obvious that humanitarian aid was not the flotilla's real purpose.  

Over the next six years, talks between the two former allies started and stopped. Erdogan continued laying one demand on top of another – from restitution and a formal apology to an Israeli admission of a "wrongful act" in trying to stop the blockade-busting flotilla.

Erdogan's determination to humiliate Israel seemed obvious to many.  

"The Marmara was no love boat" and "the activists were not exactly innocent peace activists," Netanyahu said. "IDF soldiers acted in self-defense. We made tremendous efforts to prevent injuries, but the IDF soldiers have the right to defend themselves."

Six years later, the rapprochement allows Turkey to work with Hamas to construct a new power station and desalination plant and complete construction of a hospital in Gaza.

The deal is set to be signed on Tuesday, with Israel's Security Cabinet reviewing it Wednesday. Most expect it will approve it as it stands. 

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