Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu delivers a speech May 29 at the Tel Aviv University. (Jack Guez / AFP via Getty Images)
TEL AVIV — Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu resisted calls by a recently retired U.S. Pentagon official to make amends with Turkey, insisting that it was Ankara and not his government that is rejecting “an outstretched hand for peace.”
Speaking May 29 at Tel Aviv University’s Institute for National Security Studies (INSS), Michèle Flournoy, a longtime adviser to U.S. President Barack Obama who retired in February after four years as undersecretary of defense for policy, urged Israel to reconcile with Turkey.
Insisting that Turkey shares Israeli and U.S. interests in preventing Iran from becoming a nuclear state, Flournoy said Turkey has emerged as one of the strongest and most influential countries in the region.
“If there was ever a time for Israel to rise above recriminations, now is the time,” Flournoy said. “Israel has to act strategically and try to rebuild its partnership with Turkey.”
She was referring to the two-year impasse in Israeli-Turkish ties sparked by the May 2010 killing of nine Turkish activists aboard the Mavi Marmara, a Gaza-bound protest ship. Israel has refused Turkish demands to apologize for the killings, insisting Israeli commandos sent to enforce Israel’s blockade of Gaza acted in self-defense and in response to violent and preplanned provocations.
The impasse reached a new low May 28 when an Istanbul criminal court indicted in absentia former Israeli military officers — including INSS Director Amos Yadlin, then Israeli military intelligence chief — with prosecutors demanding nine life sentences for each of the activists killed.
But Netanyahu, in an address immediately following Flournoy, offered no hint of contrition.
He criticized Turkish attempts to arrest former Israeli military officers involved in the Gaza flotilla affair and insisted his government would stand by those targeted for arrest warrants.
“I want to say clearly to Israel Defense Forces [IDF] soldiers and commanders: The state of Israel will always stand by your side, in every place and in every situation. You protected us, and we will protect you,” he said.
In addition to Yadlin, the Turkish indictments target retired Lt. Gen. Gabi Ashkenazi, former IDF chief of staff; retired Vice Adm. Eli Marom, former Israel Navy commander; and the former head of Israel Air Force intelligence.
In an interview earlier this month in Amman, Jordan, Faruk Ozlu, deputy undersecretary at the Undersecretariat for Defence Industries at the Turkish MoD, lamented the impasse and its negative effect on strategic industrial cooperation. Until Israel apologizes and compensates for the killings, Ozlu said relations would not be repaired.
“Israel needs Turkey a lot more than Turkey needs Israel,” he said.