“We don't think we have to apologize for an action which an international committee appointed by the UN described as self-defense,” Uzi Landau, the Israeli minister of Energy and Water Resources, has said.
Stories have recently appeared in both the Turkish and Israeli press that say the two countries had secretly restarted negotiations before Israel's attack on Gaza on Nov. 14 in order to put an end to strained bilateral relations. But with the statement by Landau and those of Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, describing Israel as a “terrorist state” for its recent Gaza attack, chances for reconciliation are looking dimmer.
“Whatever is being written about what's happening behind the scenes [between Turkey and Israel] is, I suppose, overshadowed by Mr. Erdoğan's comments,” Landau told a group of journalists at the 5th Eilat-Eilot Renewable Energy Conference in Israel on Monday.
Though noting that Israel seeks improvement in its diplomatic relations with Turkey, downgraded to the level of second secretary following the Mavi Marmara incident, Landau added, “This [the effort toward reconciliation] must not have ramifications only behind the scenes.”
Eight Turkish nationals and one Turkish American were killed when the Israeli navy attacked an international humanitarian aid flotilla, of which the Mavi Marmara was a part, which was attempting to break the Israeli naval blockade of Gaza in May 2010. Following the attack, Turkey described the raid as a violation of international law “tantamount to banditry and piracy” and called the killings of activists “state-sponsored terrorism.”
Ankara wants an official apology from Israel for the raid as well as compensation for relatives of the Mavi Marmara victims and continues to call for the Gaza blockade to be lifted. None of the demands have so far been accepted by the Israeli government, although Israel and Turkey came close to reconciliation in the summer of 2011. Immediately following the attack on the Mavi Marmara, Turkey withdrew its ambassador to Israel, suspended joint military exercises and prevented Israeli military aircraft from using Turkish airspace. In an additional step, Turkey put military pacts with its former ally on hold in September of last year.
Noting moves by Israel to mend ties with Turkey, Minister Landau said efforts from the Israelis toward reconciliation were not reciprocated by the Turkish side. Israeli officials seem rather perturbed by Erdoğan's comments, which follow the deaths of nearly 200 Palestinians in an Israeli barrage on Gaza. According to international media, most of those killed were civilians, though Landau maintains that two-thirds were operatives of Hamas.
“Unfortunately, in such an activity, you have collateral damage,” he said, and accused Hamas, which Israel sees as a terrorist organization, of using densely populated areas to launch rockets toward Israel from in Gaza. And Erdoğan is in no position to describe Israel as a terrorist state, added the minister. “Mr. Edoğan, who was awarded a special medal by [the former Libyan leader Muammar] Gaddafi, really can't describe Israel as a terrorist state,” he remarked.
Though expressing regret for Palestinian civilians killed in Israel's operation, the minister defended the country's position in the attack. “We are trying to target just those who are shooting at us. I suppose that no other country has taken measures as surgical and precise as Israeli military forces did in the Gazan operation,” said Landau.
The minister said Israel's performance was even better than that of NATO forces fighting in Afghanistan, where the ratio of civilians killed to militants is six to one, he noted.