The Apology to Turkey and My Analysis of Obama’s Speeches

A reader at LobeLog  asked how I thought Netanyahu’s surprising and long-belated apology to Turkey over the Mavi Marmara killings fit in with my analysis of Obama’s speeches in Jerusalem and Ramallah. I thought my readers here would be interested in my response, so I reprint it below.

William,
I think it fits in perfectly. What Obama set out to do, in my view, was to reset his foreign policy priorities, given not only the pivot to Asia, but also the domestic political

Protesters at Ashdod, Israel one year after the IDF killed eight Turkish and one US civilian aboard the Mavi Marmara

Protesters at Ashdod, Israel one year after the IDF killed eight Turkish and one US civilian aboard the Mavi Marmara

realities that severely limit his options in dealing with Israel (i.e. AIPAC et al). He’s essentially trying to move the conflict out of the way.

It may well be that events, maybe in Syria, possibly even in Egypt or Jordan, will change the status quo by drawing Israel in and that may hamper the move to lessen US involvement in all of this. But for now, Obama will do what he must as dictated by US politics but I think little if anything more, and that was his message to the Israeli public.

To Bibi, I think he handed that perspective as a gift, or more precisely a payoff. Basically, he said I’m not going to push you the negotiating table, but you’re going to pay me back for that by making this issue less of a thorn in my side. I think the rapprochement with Turkey is the centerpiece of that, because while the split between those two US allies has not always been in the news, it is a central concern for US diplomats. This makes matters simpler.

I think Obama was also hoping that Bibi would agree to turn the heat back down on the Iran issue and let Obama take the lead. Such a thing would probably be wise for Israel, even from their point of view, because Obama’s own rhetoric on Iran has hardly been mollifying. But I think that was an area where Bibi was much less forthcoming. He knows his new defense minister prefers the US hit Iran rather than Israel, but also that he very much believes that the US should be pressured to do so–Ya’alon does not seem to share the assessment of his military and intelligence leaders on Iran, which is pretty much identical to the US’.

So Bibi kept harping on how Obama has said (as he has) Israel has the right to defend itself “on its own,” a key phrase Bibi stuck in there to drive the point home. Thus, he was not giving Obama what he wanted on Iran, though I suspect he did agree to refrain from the kind of high-level pressure we saw last year at least for a while. The quid pro quo for that was the apology to Turkey. That at least will make US diplomats’ work with regional allies easier, presumably will start toning down Erdogan’s rhetoric and probably cool the ties between Turkey and Hamas.

That’s also important as it is becoming more likely that the US is going to become increasingly distant over the course of this year to Egypt’s new government. Not hostile, unless things there blow up as they might. But the MB government is looking less and less like one that will be popular with or friendly to most US citizens, nor to US positions in the region, though they are trying to walk that tightrope for now. Keeping cozy with Turkey is even more key under such circumstances, and having them fighting with Israel is most inconvenient.

It will be good for the Israeli government as well, but this was not something Bibi wanted to do, and probably only agreed to do it because Avigdor Lieberman is not currently the foreign minister. He absolutely loathes the Turks, and his actions as well as his ex-deputy, Danny Ayalon’s did more to damage those ties as the flotilla incident. So, he did it while he could, giving Obama something. Bibi can no longer afford to be seen as being unable to work with the US President, after all.

And, of course, the big losers in all of this are the Palestinians.