Israel Refuses to Apologize Despite Turkish Ultimatum

Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu

JERUSALEM (Today’s Zaman)—Israel won’t apologize to Turkey over the May 31 raid on an aid flotilla heading to the Gaza Strip in which nine Turkish pro-Palestinian activists were killed, Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman said, shrugging off warnings from Ankara that it would cut ties with the Jewish state if it failed to apologize.

Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu said in remarks published on Monday that Israel has three options: “It will either apologize, or it will consent to a study by an international commission, or the relations will break off.”

But Lieberman was defiant in his response to his counterpart. “We don’t have any intention to apologize. We think that the opposite is true,” he was quoted by Reuters as telling reporters after meeting Latvia’s foreign minister during a visit to the Baltic state.

The once robust Israeli-Turkish relations took a downturn after Israeli commandos killed eight Turks and one American on an aid ship trying to break an Israeli embargo on the Gaza Strip on May 31. On Monday, it emerged that Turkey had decided to shun a joint Turkish-US-Israeli naval exercise as ties continue to deteriorate over the flotilla crisis.

The Reliant Mermaid exercise was planned for next month. But the Turkish Defense Ministry informed the Israeli military that Turkey would not participate in the search-and-rescue exercise, the Israeli Jerusalem Post daily reported. The annual exercise began 10 years ago and was held last summer despite political tensions over a deadly Israeli operation in Gaza.

Israeli officials said Turkey’s decision not to participate in Reliant Mermaid did not come as a surprise. Immediately following Israel’s May 31 raid, the Turkish government had announced three planned military exercises with Israel would be cancelled, but did not say which ones. Israel and the US are expected to continue with the drill.

Foreign Minister Davutoglu told Israeli Trade Minister Binyamin Ben-Eliezer during a secret meeting last week that Turkey could impose further sanctions on Israel — including the extension of a current ban on Israeli military flights over Turkish airspace to civilian ones — if it refuses to apologize for its deadly raid and offer compensation to victims’ families.

The secret meeting, which is a sign that the two countries are still trying to salvage bilateral ties, has caused a deep rift within the Israeli government. Two ministers from the coalition partner Labor Party, Ben-Eliezer and Defense Minister Ehud Barak, clashed over the meeting, with tensions so high that at one point, Ben-Eliezer threatened to “skewer” Barak’s spokesman at a meeting on Sunday, according to Israeli media reports.

Ben-Eliezer was upset that after he had told Barak in advance about his meeting last week with Davutoglu and the defense minister wished him good luck, Barak’s spokesman Barak Seri told reporters that Barak was opposed to the meeting.

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