Israel should apologize to Turkey for the loss of life aboard the Mavi Marmara

“We’re sorry.”

Magical words.

When a U.S. C-130 reconnaissance aircraft collided several years ago with a Chinese MIG that had been closely tailing it, the MIG crashed into the sea and the C-130 made an emergency landing in China. The Chinese government delayed releasing the crew, and it looked like a serious threat to U.S.-China relations when the Chinese ambassador paid a call on Secretary of State Colin Powell.

“We demand an apology,” said the ambassador. “We’re sorry,” replied Powell. “You’re sorry?” “Yes, we’re sorry,” Powell repeated

The ambassador was taken aback. “I must talk to Beijing,” he explained and left the State Department. Two hours later he was back with Powell. “Can you regret the loss of life?” he asked. This was a no-brainer for the intrepid Secretary of State.

“Yes, we’re sorry and we regret the loss of life.”

“I can assure you, the American airmen and the wreckage of the plane will be returned immediately,” the Chinese ambassador responded.

And so ended a potentially dangerous confrontation between the United States and China. Two magical words.

If only somebody as sensible as Powell could influence the Israeli government. Israel is about to suffer a costly—and possibly irreversible—breach in relations with Turkey, the only Muslim country it counts as an ally.

In the wake of killingsby Israeli naval commandos of ten Turkish activists on board a Gaza-bound flotilla, Namik Tan, the Turkish ambassador to the United States said that Turkey is on the brink of severing relations with Israel.

“Israel cannot find any better friend in the region than Turkey,” the ambassador told the Washington Post. “And Israel is about to lose that friend.” To prevent such a break between two close U.S. allies, Tan said that “first and foremost” Israel needed to apologize for the deaths.

A senior Israeli official rejected the demand for an apology. “Israel is not going to apologize for defending ourselves,” he said. “Our soldiers are not going to apologize for defending themselves from a murderous assault.”

And so for the lack of two magical words Israel continues its spin into isolation. Sad. And colossally stupid.

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3 Responses to “Israel should apologize to Turkey for the loss of life aboard the Mavi Marmara”

  1. Ed Stern Says:

    Bob, it looks like your comments are in referrence to Turkish Ambassador Namik Tan’s op-ed piece in the Washington Post of June 5, 2010. The Post published my letter on Ambassador Tan’s essay on June 9, 2010 at http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2010/06/08/AR2010060805027.html. The ambassador’s op-ed was misleading by innuendo, half-truths, and misdirection, as I explained in my letter.
    The loss of life was indeed regretable. But who owes whom an apology is not so clear. Turkey had been a valuable ally of Israel for many years. Facilitating a flotilla of ships to attempt to run a well known blockade is not the act of an ally. Did anyone in the Turkish government know that the big ship of peace protesters carried several dozen activists who intended to risk their lives attacking armed soldiers with pipes and knives? What did the Turkish officials think when activists chanted “Khaibar, Khaibar oh Jews. The army of Muhammad will return?” Did they not know that the chant was about a 7th Century battle of Muslims against a Jewish community in Arabia? (Did you?)
    Surely, someone involved in Turkey, besides the Turkish assault team, could see what was going to happen and expect fatalities. The chants explain a lot of that. It looks to me that Turkey owes Israel an apology.

  2. Ethics Bob Says:

    Ed, thanks for your thoughtful comment. The question for Israel isn’t who owes whom an apology. The rights and wrongs of the area are too twisted for me to unravel. Clearly every side has things to apologize for–and be apologized to.

    Colin Powell’s brilliant insight during the China/C-130 incident wasn’t that the US was wrong and China was right, not by a long shot. It was that we WERE, after all, sorry for the loss of life (even though the Chinese pilot caused the collision that killed him), and just saying that much averted a crisis in US-China relations.

    In the same way, a simple “We’re sorry” from Israel could–or could have–avert a breach with Turkey that will be very damaging to Israel, primarily, but also to the US and to Turkey. But I’m afraid that the Israeli government is too stiff-necked to see how simple the answer is. Sad.

  3. Ed Stern Says:

    Thanks for your further comment, Bob. It helps me understand your view of Colin Powell’s insight and actions–which were indeed wise.

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