TEL AVIV — Israel and Turkey announced Monday a reconciliation deal that both sides claim will normalize relations that were ruptured more than six years ago when Israeli commandos seized a Gaza-bound Turkish ship, killing 9 Turkish activists in the ensuing melee.
If approved by the respective governments, the accord should put to rest years of hostility that began with Israel's December 2008 Cast Lead incursion into Gaza and culminated in the May 2010 raid on the Mavi Marmara, part of a flotilla that aimed to bust Israel's maritime blockade of the Gaza Strip.
"Relations have normalized," Yildirim told reporters in Ankara. According to the Turkish website Haberler.com, Yildirim said the two countries would exchange ambassadors "as soon as possible."
In Rome, where Netanyahu was meeting with US Secretary of State John Kerry and Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi, the Israeli premier described the agreement as having "strategic importance for the state of Israel, for security, for regional stability and for the Israeli economy."
"Israel and Turkey are two major powers in the region and the break between us is not good for our vital interests and prevents us from cooperating in those instances — and there are more than a few — in which cooperation is warranted," Netanyahu said.
In remarks targeted not only at Washington and supporters of the Israel-Turkey rapprochement but at the many domestic and international skeptics of the accord, Netanyahu insisted the agreement was "part of a clear strategy to create centers of stability in the stormy Middle East."
He said repaired ties with Turkey mark the latest manifestation of a cooperation-based strategy involving all major stakeholders in the region. "We are doing so with our close neighbors, Arab countries. We are doing so with Greece and Cyprus. We are doing so with Russia. We are also doing so with Turkey."
Turkish Prime Minister Binali Yildirim gestures as he delivers a speech during a news conference after a meeting between Turkish and Israeli officials in Ankara on June 27. A breakthrough Israel-Turkey deal following six years of acrimony will see Israel pay $20 million in compensation for a deadly 2010 commando raid.
Photo Credit: Adem Altan/AFP via Getty Images
Netanyahu stressed that he and his representatives have updated leaders of Egypt, Jordan, Cyprus, Greece, Russia and the United States on all aspects of the agreement.
In exchange for Israel's agreement to pay $20 million in compensation for victims of the Mavi Marmara event, Netanyahu said the agreement augurs important achievements. He listed them as such:
- Protection of Israeli commanders and soldiers from prosecution due to deaths and injuries from the Mavi Marmara seizure. "The first thing in this agreement is protection for IDF commanders and soldiers from criminal and civil claims, both those being prosecuted now and those that might be prosecuted in the future. As of now, there are many such claims and their scope is increasing; they could reach many millions of dollars and prevent the free movement of our soldiers, their freedom of activity — all of this is cancelled. … Moreover, the agreement also stipulates that the Turkish parliament will pass a law canceling all of these processes in Turkey," Netanyahu said.
- Maintaining the maritime blockade of the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip. "The second thing that this agreement gives is maintaining the maritime security blockade of the Gaza Strip. This is our supreme security interest; I was not prepared to compromise on it. This interest is vital to prevent the strengthening of Hamas and it remains as it has been. Of course, we are allowing ships to dock at Ashdod port and unload civilian and humanitarian cargoes there for the Gaza Strip," Netanyahu said.
- Humanitarian rehabilitation of Gaza through Turkish construction of power plants, desalination systems and other projects. "Just like other countries from Norway to Arab states, so too will Turkey be able to help on this matter," Netanyahu said.
- Ankara’s commitment to limit Hamas’ base of operations in Turkey. "The agreement gives a commitment to prevent all terrorist or military activity against Israel from Turkish soil, including collecting funds for these purposes. This is an important — even primary commitment — that we have not had up until now," Netanyahu said.
- Ankara’s efforts to mediate Hamas’ potential repatriation of the remains of two Israeli soldiers killed in the 2014 Gaza war, along with two Israeli citizens thought to be held in Gaza. "We received a letter according to which the president of Turkey has instructed the relevant Turkish agencies to assist in every way in returning prisoners and [those missing in action] MIAs on a humanitarian basis," Netanyahu said.
- Turkey’s agreement not to block Israel’s entry or participation in international organizations. Netanyahu cited Turkey’s recent show of "goodwill" in allowing NATO to extend an invitation to Israel to establish a permanent office at headquarters in Brussels. "This has been a goal of ours for many years and it is being realized," he said.
- Finally, Netanyahu said the agreement will serve as a springboard for expanded economic cooperation in the energy and natural gas sector.
In remarks Monday from Rome, Kerry said he was delighted at the progress made by Netanyahu in negotiations with Turkey. "We obviously have been encouraging a movement towards the resolution of the differences between Turkey and Israel," Kerry said, according to a statement released by Netanyahu's office.
The agreement will be put to the Israeli cabinet for approval on June 29, where it is expected to be challenged by members of Netanyahu's coalition government, including Israeli Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman.
Opall-Rome is Israel bureau chief for Defense News. She has been covering U.S.-Israel strategic cooperation, Mideast security and missile defense since May 1988. She lives north of Tel Aviv. Visit her website at www.opall-rome.com.