Israeli Apology to Turkey Is Big Victory for Obama

Your News Companion by Ben Mathis-Lilley
March 22 2013 4:16 PM

Obama Scores Big Diplomatic Victory by Prodding Israeli Apology to Turkey

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President Obama managed to facilitate an Israeli apology to Turkey right before he left for Jordan

Photo by Lior Mizrahi/Getty Images

Obama traveled to Israel without any new proposals. Many scoffed at his trip, wondering whether it even made sense for him to go. But, in the end, he didn’t leave empty handed. President Obama and his team must have been pretty pleased with themselves when they traveled to Jordan Friday after scoring what CNN characterizes as a “diplomatic coup.” And it was a last minute coup. During a meeting with Obama at the airport, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu placed a phone call to Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan and apologized for the killing of eight Turkish citizens and one American of dual nationality who were part of an aid flotilla to Gaza.

The apology had long been demanded by Turkey and it immediately eased strained relations between the two countries that are vital U.S. allies in the Middle East. Obama had been pushing Netanyahu to make the apology since May 2010, when Israeli commandos raided the aid ship in a bid to prevent the flotilla from reaching Gaza. But it wasn’t all about Obama’s diplomatic prowess. The Washington Post notes Israeli officials said the worsening fighting in neighboring Syria pushed the apology along. "The timing was good for that conversation to take place," Obama said.

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In an analysis, Haaretz points out that while it’s true that it was “the serious deterioration of the crisis in Syria” that led to both Israel and Turkey to put their differences behind them, it wasn’t the only reason. The two countries also have shared interests in Iran, and Obama’s prodding played a key role. While Israel insists the apology wasn’t carried due to American pressure that “is, at best, not accurate,” says the Israeli paper.

Considering Obama set such low expectations for the three-day trip “he can easily proclaim it is mission accomplished, having wooed skeptical Israelis, eased their fears over Iran and shown Palestinians that he had not forgotten their aspirations,” writes Reuters.

Daniel Politi has been contributing to Slate since 2004 and wrote the "Today's Papers" column from 2006 to 2009. You can follow him on Twitter @dpoliti.

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