The Israeli apology to Turkey – two [mirror-image + nearly-identical] texts

In fact, this was clearly all worked out well in advance — the long-awaited but still not expected apology, by Israel’s Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu to the Turkish people via his counterpart, Turkish Prime Minister Recip Tayyip Erdogan, for the deaths of nine Turkish men.

The brokered by U.S. President Barack Obama [and, according to the Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglo, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry was instrumental in the process, which Davutoglu said was “interesting”…]

The Turkish Government has apparently produced two [mirror-image and nearly-identical] texts, in English and in Turkish, here, which are also reproduced below:
Continue reading “The Israeli apology to Turkey – two [mirror-image + nearly-identical] texts”

What Obama said to get Netanyahu to apologize to Turkey for Mavi Marmara "operational errors"

We really don’t know, yet, what U.S. President Barack Obama said, or did, to get Israel’s Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu to offer, finally, an apology to Turkey for the deaths of 9 Turkish men [one of them a 19-year-old Turkish-American high school student]… but the fact that one of the dead was a 19-year-old American high school student Furkan Dogan may have been part of Obama’s leverage.

Israel has needed to resolve this situation, in which its apology was required by clear and repeated Turkish demands, for a long time.

There were hints that a breakthrough might be coming, but nothing solid until last night’s surprise announcement.

Obama’s insistence offered Netanyahu a relatively “face-saving” way to do it. An statement issued by the Israeli Prime Minister’s office said that Netanyahu told the Turkish Prime Minister that “the tragic results regarding the Mavi Marmara were unintentional“. UPDATE: The Israeli Government Press Office has just sent around, by email, a new version, which says Netanyahu “made clear that the tragic outcome of the Mavi Marmara incident was not intended by Israel and that Israel regrets the loss of human life and injury“.

Haaretz reported here that “During the conversation, Netanyahu made it clear that ‘the tragic consequences of the Mavi Marmara flotilla were unintentional, and Israel regrets any injury or loss of life’.”

The Israeli statement also said, with notable pride about its own investigation into the “maritime incident”, that “In light of the Israeli investigation into the incident, which pointed out several operational errors, Prime Minister Netanyahu apologized to the Turkish people for any errors that could have led to loss of life and agreed to complete the agreement on compensation“.
[UPDATE: The new version sent around by the Israeli GPO is almost identical to the original, above, but the word “nonliability” has been added.  It now reads as follows: “In light of Israel’s investigation into the incident which pointed to a number of operational mistakes, the Prime Minister expressed Israel’s apology to the Turkish people for any mistakes that might have led to the loss of life or injury and agreed to conclude an agreement on compensation/nonliability”.]

Turkish and Israeli diplomats engaged in months of negotiations about the wording of the apology itself and the compensation Israel would offer. Israel insisted on limiting the blame to “operational errors”.

There was, reportedly, a three-way phone call between Obama, Netanyahu, and Turkish Prime Minister Recip Tayyip Erdogan, made from a portable trailer set up on the runway at Ben Gurion Airport. Israeli journalists said it was a 30-minute conversation. The New York Times reported here that the call lasted 10 minutes.

The New York Times reported that “senior Turkish government officials said: ‘The Israeli prime minister, in a phone call that lasted 10 minutes, apologized to the Turkish nation for all operational mistakes evident in an investigation that led to human loses, agreed to offer compensation’.”

Obama announced the result either just before or just after Air Force One was in the air, taking off from Israel’s Ben Gurion Airport en route to Amman.

A short while later, a statement published by the Israeli Prime Minister’s office, and sent by email from the Government Press Office [GPO], said:
“…The Prime Minister expressed regret over the deterioration in bilateral relations and noted his commitment to working out the disagreements in order to advance peace and regional stability. Prime Minister Netanyahu said that he saw Turkish Prime Minister Erdogan’s recent interview in a Danish newspaper and expressed his appreciation for the latter’s remarks. The Prime Minister made it clear that the tragic results regarding the Mavi Marmara were unintentional and that Israel expresses regret over injuries and loss of life. In light of the Israeli investigation into the incident, which pointed out several operational errors, Prime Minister Netanyahu apologized to the Turkish people for any errors that could have led to loss of life and agreed to complete the agreement on compensation”.

Turkish officials confirmed that Erdogan had, “on behalf of Turkey”, accepted the apology proferred by Netanyahu.

UPDATE: In the new version sent around by the Israeli GPO, the following is omitted: The Israeli statement claimed that “The two men agreed to restore normalization between Israel and Turkey, including the dispatch of ambassadors and the cancellation of legal steps against IDF soldiers”.

The revised Israeli statement is now posted on the Israeli Foreign Ministry’s website, here

The Times of Israel reported here that Erdogan said, shortly after the announcement of the apology + its acceptance, that “it was too early to cancel legal steps against Israeli soldiers who took part in the raid on the Mavi Mamara”.

As the Times of Israel noted, “four IDF generals stand accused of war crimes over the incident. The indictment, prepared last summer, sought ten aggravated life sentences for each officer ostensibly involved in the 2010 raid — including former chief of the IDF General Staff Gabi Ashkenazi and former head of military intelligence Amos Yadlin”.

The Times of Israel added that, according to the Hurriyet daily, Erdogan also said the exchange of ambassadors between Israel and Turkey would not take place immediately…Erdogan said that, in the past, Israel had ‘expressed regret several times, refusing to offer a formal apology’ over the killings of nine Turkish citizens of the Marmara in 2010 — the incident that led to the freezing of Israeli-Turkish ties. However, Ankara had ‘insisted on an apology’, he said. That apology had finally been delivered by Netanyahu on Friday, he said. ‘All our demands have now been met with that apology which was offered the way we wanted’.”

The Times of Israel also reported, in the same story, that “Erdogan also announced plans to visit Gaza, possibly next month. Hamas’s Gaza prime minister, Ismail Haniyeh, calling Netanyahu’s apology ‘a diplomatic victory for Ankara’, confirmed Erdogan would visit ‘in the near future’, and said this trip would mark ‘a significant step to ending the political and economic blockade’ of the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip”. According to this report, Erdogan may visit both Gaza and the West Bank in April, “in the context of a general effort to contribute to the resolution process”, Erdogan is quoted as saying.

Other Hamas sources were less enthusiastic about the apology, however.

The Israeli statement said that “Prime Minister Netanyahu also noted that Israel has already lifted several restrictions on the movement of civilians and goods to all of the Palestinian territories, including Gaza, and added that this will continue as long as the quiet is maintained”.

But, this rang a bit hollow a day after four rockets were reportedly fired from Gaza, with two hitting Israeli areas, after which the Israeli Defense Forces announced that they were reinstating crippling restrictions on Gaza’s fishermen that were lifted in a cease-fire agreement with Hamas brokered by Egypt after Operation Pillar of Clouds last November.

In a separate but related development, Hamas “complained to Egypt Friday after Israel suspended part of a Cairo-brokered truce agreement by halving Palestinian access to fishing waters in response to a rocket attack from the Gaza Strip”. This is reported here. It was also reported, in another story, here, that “Gaza’s Hamas rulers have arrested two Salafist militants, sources close to the Palestinian Islamist hardliners said Friday, after a Salafist group claimed a rocket attack on Israel. A coalition of Salafist groups in Gaza, which oppose the Hamas regime, claimed responsibility for the firing of two rockets at southern Israel on Thursday while US President Barack Obama was visiting…”

Reuters reported here that “Ankara expelled Israel’s ambassador and froze military cooperation after a UN report into the Mavi Marmara incident, released in September 2011, largely exonerated the Jewish state. Israel had previously balked at apologizing to the Turks, saying this would be tantamount to admitting moral culpability and would invite lawsuits against its troops. Voicing until now only ‘regret’ over the Mavi Marmara incident, Israel has offered to pay into what it called a ‘humanitarian fund’ through which casualties and their relatives could be compensated. A source in Netanyahu’s office said opening a new chapter with Turkey ‘can be very, very important for the future, regarding what happens with Syria but not just what happens with Syria’.”

UPDATE TWO: Laura Rozen wrote on Al-Monitor here that “Once close Israeli-Turkish ties have been deeply strained since Israel’s 2008 Cast Lead operation against Hamas, and more broadly as Erdogan’s ruling Islamist Justice and Peace (AKP) party has moved against the country’s once dominant secular military commanders. Military ties formed the backbone of the Turkish-Israeli alliance at its height, said Dan Arbell, a former Israeli diplomat studying the relationship as a visiting fellow at the Brookings Instition. Even the restoration of formal diplomatic ties now–as well as brisk economic trade–is not likely to return Israel and Turkey to the level of rapport they enjoyed in the past, given the reduced role the Turkish military plays in the country under Erdogan and the AKP, he said. ‘This begins a process of normalization, but I do not see it bringing the countries back to the level of relations they had between them in the 1990s’, Arbell, Israel’s former Deputy Chief of Mission in Washington, told Al-Monitor in an interview Friday, adding that there has been, however, a growing “’convergence of interests’ between Ankara and Jerusalem, including on the Syria conflict and Iran. Though Turkish-Israeli reconciliation was certain to be on the agenda for discussion during Obama’s conversations in Israel this week, Arbell said he was pleasantly surprised at the speed of the diplomatic breakthrough”.

The Haaretz report noted that “Over the past few months, Israel and Turkey have been trying to reach an agreement over the wording of an apology, in an attempt to end the bilateral crisis. Just a few weeks ago, Turkey’s Undersecretary of the Foreign Ministry Feridun Sinirlio?lu met in Rome with Israel’s National Security Advisor Yaakov Amidror and envoy Joseph Ciechanover. But during this meeting the parties failed to reach a magic formula to bring the crisis to an end. Part of the reason the reconciliation talks between Turkey and Israel encountered difficulties was because of Erdogan’s inflammatory comments a few weeks ago. During a United Nations Conference in Vienna, Erdogan called Zionism a ‘crime against humanity’, and compared it to fascism. Erdogan’s comments caused great anger in both Jerusalem and Washington”.

Perhaps Erdogan said something placatory today, too.

[Israel’s former Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman, now chairman of the Knesset Foreign Relations + Defense Committee, said that unless Erdogan apologized as well, in today’s phone call, for his “crime against humanity” accusation, Israel’s dignity would be compromised”. Brent Sasley wrote here a blog post today saying that “It’s hard to avoid noticing that the apology was only realized with Avigdor Lieberman gone from the Foreign Ministry. Blustering and belligerent, Lieberman was never the right choice for the position. If Bibi’s apology can warm his relationship with Obama, reset the relationship with Turkey, and lead to the inclusion rather than exclusion of Israel in global and regional forums, conferences, and exercises, then it’s hard to argue bringing Lieberman back is a good thing. In fact, the obvious conclusion is the opposite one: Israel can accomplish much with Foreign Minister who’s pragmatic and has a broader sense of Israel’s position in the world”.]

Now, back to the opening question: what did Obama do to get Netanyahu to take this step?  Here’s one strange theory, from The Washington Institute’s Robert Satloff: “It is no coincidence that Netanyahu spoke by phone with Turkish prime minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan just as President Obama was departing Israel for Jordan, opening the door to a mutual return of ambassadors. Mending ties between the two leaders has long been a U.S. objective. The fact that Obama delivered a highly symbolic (if indirect) rebuke to Erdogan by visiting the tomb of Theodor Herzl — implicitly endorsing the ideology that the Turkish leader recently called a “crime against humanity” — almost certainly gave cover for Netanyahu to reach out to Ankara”... This is posted here.

President Obama, Prime Minister Erdogan, Syria… + the baseball bat

Hilarious! According to Turkish Politics [@TurkishPolitics] on Twitter just now, the White House has issued an explanatory statement over the following photo and caption:

White House photo of the day - 31 July 2012

The White House caption on this photo is: President Barack Obama talks on the phone with Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey in the Oval Office, July 30, 2012. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)

This photo + its caption is published on the White House website, here.

@TurkishPolitics has just reported, via a series of three Tweets on Twitter, that:
1.) The #WhiteHouse released a statement regarding Pres. #Obama’s picture holding a baseball bat while speaking on the phone with PM #Erdogan. +
2.) “We posted this photo with only one goal, and that is to highlight the close relationship of Pres. Obama with PM #Erdogan, (…) +
3.) + and to draw attention to their meetings on the Syrian crisis.”

The Turkish English-language paper, Hurriyet Daily News, wrote Friday here that White House National Security Council spokeswoman Caitlin Hayden said the White House “had been keeping a close watch on the debate in Turkey that followed the release of the photo”.

Continue reading “President Obama, Prime Minister Erdogan, Syria… + the baseball bat”

The Apology – more background from Israeli officials via Turkish media

Israel’s colorfully-spoken Foreign Ministry spokesperson Yigal Palmor has kindly explained, to representatives of the Turkish media, some of the problems involved in Israel’s failure to apologize [so far] for the deaths of nine Turkish men [including a 19-year-old Turkish American high school student] during the ill-prepared and ill-conceived boarding of the 600-passenger Turkish ship Mavi Marmara on the high seas in the eastern Mediterranean on 30 May 2010 by a few helicopter-borne Israeli commandos [who apparently expected to be instantly obeyed].

The Turkish Hurrieyet Daily News reports today that Palmor said negotiations with Turkey involved discussions including the word “apology”. “Yigal Palmor, a spokesperson for the Israeli Foreign Ministry, also told a group of Turkish journalists in Jerusalem earlier this week that the deal was put on hold at the very last minute before being voted on by the Israeli Cabinet. This was due to ‘additional conditions’ set by senior Turkish government officials”. This is reported here.

As it turns out from a reading of this Hurriyet report, the “additional conditions” were not part of the discussions or negotiations, but rather were entirely separate. It appears that the linkage was made by Israel.

Hurriyet reports that “the agreement had lost its credibility before it was put to a vote by the Israeli Cabinet, Palmor said, due to the additional conditions later publicly set by Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdo?an. ‘While it was being discussed by the Israeli Cabinet, Mr. Erdo?an made a statement in which he called on Israel to lift the blockade on the Gaza Strip. Later, a high-ranking Turkish official, it may have been Mr. Erdo?an again, said the government would not pursue prosecution of the Israeli soldiers involved in the raid, but that they could not give guarantees for other parties. Those were additional conditions’, Palmor said. Following these statements, the deal was shelved, Palmor said”.

So, what was the “apology” going to be?

According to this account in Hurriyet, Palmor “revealed the long-discussed wording of the planned deal on the issue: ‘If possible operational mistakes led to unintentional damage and unintentional loss of life, then Israel apologizes’. The spokesperson also underlined the fact that it was an agreement that ‘included an “if”,’ and it was not intended to state as a fact that something wrong had happened as a direct result of Israeli policy”.

This Turkish newpaper’s report on Palmor’s briefing adds that “The planned agreement, which was negotiated by Turkish and Israeli diplomats in Geneva, had many layers, said Palmor. ‘According to the plan, Israel was supposed to announce an agreed formula that would be satisfactory for both sides, to agree with the [UN’s] Palmer Report before it was published, and to agree to pay compensation to the families of victims through a joint Turkish-Israeli fund’, he said … According to the spokesperson, Turkey, in return, agreed to restore diplomatic ties to their previous level, to declare it had no claims left on the issue, and to announce it would not pursue the prosecution of the Israeli soldiers who were involved in the raid. But, following the statements from Turkey, the deal was never submitted to the Israeli Cabinet for voting, Palmor said”.

The Mavi Marmara was part of a “Freedom Flotilla” of some six boats, with large unofficial Turkish participation headed by the IHH humanitarian aid organization, headed to “break the siege” on Gaza — over a year after Israel had declared a formal maritime blockade of Gaza’s maritime space.

Israeli think-tanks and Israeli officials warned many times in advance of the sailing of the Freedom Flotilla that they viewed it as a “terrorist” threat.

Charm offensive? Israeli PM Netanyahu gives interview to journalists from three Turkish newspapers

As the regional situation continues to be extremely tense, Israel’s Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu today met with journalists from three Turkish newspapers: Hurriyet, Zaman and HaberTurk. Earlier, Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman met the three journalists.

It was a surprise.

On Twitter, Zaman journalist @MahirZeynalov that his newpaper’s correspondent reported that “the Turkish flag was displayed during the interview, in a hall where Israeli cabinet meets”.

Hours later, the Israeli media was almost unanimously reporting that Israel was on the verge of reestablishing relations with Turkey.

But, it was Turkey who lowered the level of its relations with Israel, because Israel has not apologized for the deaths of nine men aboard the Mavi Marmara when it was boarded by Israeli commandos at the end of May 2010.

Nine Turkish men, including one Turkish-American high school student, were killed during an Israeli commando boarding of the 600-passenger Mavi Marmara on the high seas in the Eastern Mediterranean on 30 May 2010. The Mavi Marmara was en route to Gaza as part of a Freedom Flotilla that intended to “break the siege on Gaza”, almost 1.5 years after Israel declared a formal naval blockade on the Gaza Strip.

Turkey has continued to insist that Israel must apologize for the deaths, and must also offer compensation to the families of the men who were killed during the botched boarding.

It is not yet known what effort Netanyahu or Lieberman might have made, during their separate meetings with the three Turkish journalists, in the direction of meeting either or Turkey’s demands.

But, apparently no apology was offered.

UPDATE: Today’s Zaman has reported here that “Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has maintained that Turkey and Israel are looking for ways to normalize political relations, saying, ‘We want to restore relations with Turkey’. As the crisis in Syria aggravates and instability in the region looms, Israel has started to send warm messages, the first of which came from Israeli Foreign Affairs Minister Avigdor Lieberman last week, to Turkey in an effort to mend significantly damaged diplomatic relations. Relations between the two countries have been strained since 2010, when Israeli troops killed nine civilians of Turkish origin in cold blood during a raid of the Mavi Marmara vessel in international waters as it headed to the Gaza Strip to deliver humanitarian aid supplies”.

Today’s Zaman also reported that “As another indication of importance Israel attaches to restoring political relations with Turkey, Netanyahu received Turkish journalists in the same room where Israel’s National Security Cabinet meets. And in the back, behind Netanyahu both Israeli and Turkish flags stood”. The newspaper politely avoided making any comparison with Israel Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon’s deliberate humiliation of Turkey’s Ambassador to Israel by summoning Israeli media to the Foreign Ministry and then explaining, in Hebrew, while the Turkish diplomat was in the room, that the chair on which he had been offered a seat was lower than the chair Ayalon was using.

    UPDATE: The Jerusalem Post reported here that “Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu met Monday with a delegation of eight senior Turkish print journalists the Foreign Ministry brought to Israel in an attempt to “break the ice” with Turkey’s public. The delegation, representing such leading Turkish newspapers as Hurriyet, Zaman and Haber Turk, met with Netanyahu a day after meeting with Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman”. According to the JPost eport, the encounter was organized by Israel’s reduced embassy in Turkey; there were 8 Turkish journalists invited; and it was the first time in more than two years that Turkish journalists have met with Israel’s “senior leadership”. The JPost reported that an Israeli “diplomatic official said the delegation was invited because Israel was interested in reaching out to the Turkish public and letting it know that relations between the two countries were important to Jerusalem”.

Today’s Zaman noted, in its report, that “A high-level Israeli official’s comment on the present situation in the region was revealing as to why Israel finds it necessary to mend ties with Turkey: ‘Now that the circumstances and interests have changed. We need to get positioned accordingly’.”

There were months of Israeli-Turkish negotiations about an apology, which fell apart.

We reported a year ago, here that Özdem Sanberk, described as “one of Turkey’s most experienced diplomats” and Turkey’s representative to the panel appointed by the UN Secretary General, which came up with the UN’s Palmer Report, said in an interview published on 19 July 2011 in Today’s Zaman that “obviously we cannot be expected to accept nine deaths”.

Sanberk gave the interview after a week of closed-door negotiations in New York at the beginning of July 2011. The paper added that “The report’s publication has been further delayed until the end of July in a [further] attempt to give Turkey and Israel a chance to resolve their differences”.

In fact, as the negotiations over an apology continued, the publication of the UN Report was delayed until it was actually leaked, in an precipitous action, by the New York Times on 1 September.

Sanberk noted last July that in the negotiations over an apology Israel “repeatedly expressed their demand for understanding in the face of their serious security problems, and expect the same understanding from Turkey, which they see as a friend”.

The situation appears to be the same today.

Sanberk also expressed disagreement with the then-draft conclusions of the UN Palmer Commission’s Report on the grounds of whether or not Israel’s maritime blockade of the Gaza Strip was legal and legtimate, or not — because “we know that the Israeli blockade of Gaza amounts to collective punishment as it includes civilians, women and children who bear no responsibility for the perceived threat to Israel”. Sanberk also said that “even though these details are not clearly stated in the [UN] panel’s report, another UN body, the UN Human Rights Council fact-finding mission in Geneva, had said last October that Israel’s military violated international law during the raid”.

Now, Today’s Zaman has just reported that: “According to the high-level official, the two countries have been trying to find a magical formula to mend the bilateral ties, but as of yet the efforts remain fruitless. Noting that they are open to proposals from third parties regarding the magical formula, ‘The formula needs to not only appeal to both countries but it should also not harm the dignity of either country’, the official remarked. The Israeli official repeated their standard version of the Mavi Marmara incident, maintaining that the incident also led to trauma in Israel, but he is of the opinion that it is important for the two countries to get over the trauma at this point”.

However, on 1 September 2011 there was an under-reported apology of sorts offered, in what was presented as an unofficial way — but it didn’t do the job, As we reported at the time, here, the former IDF Chief of Staff Dan Halutz [Haloutz] told journalists at a hastily-organized briefing for journalists at the Misheknot Shaananim center in Jerusalem: “Yes, we are sorry people were killed during the operation, very sorry”.

Was that an attempt at satisfying Turkey’s requirement of an apology?

The timing and purpose of the press briefing that day would otherwise seem…vague. It was only afterwards that journalists there realized the New York Times was about to publish the leaked UN Palmer report. But Israeli officials knew in advance.

Halutz appeared at the press briefing in the company of a professional Public Relations man [who also had a military rank].

But, in response to a question about whether it was an apology, Halutz seemed to back off a bit, qualifying his words: “I believe there were some innocent ones among those nine, but…that mission was not so innocent … The word apology is too strong…because Israel was doing a legal action to prevent [a violation] of the siege we imposed”.

Halutz added: “Our soldiers were under a live threat”.

Halutz was IDF Chief of Staff from 2005-2007, and was previously commander of the Israeli Air Force, and said he had made many trips to Turkey in his professional capacity. But, he is now retired from active military service, having been severely criticized for Israel’s military performance during the Second Lebanon War. After retirement, he dabbled briefly in business before joining, in early 2011, the opposition Kadima party, which he has since left.

Halutz spoke in the briefing about his close ties with his counterparts in the Turkish military during his period as ID Chief of Staff.

But, as Hillel Schenker, co-editor of the Palestine-Israel Journal notes, in Israel Halutz is remembered for other reasons: “When asked what he feels when he drops a multi-ton bomb on a Palestinian building in Gaza [after this powerful explosion killed more than a dozen members of a family in an effort to eliminate one man], his response was ‘a bump in my plane’. For the general public, he’s known for having found the time on the morning of the second Lebanon War to protect his savings in his bank account, based on his advance knowledge of what was about to happen. His historic role is having replaced Ya’alon as chief of staff at the request of Sharon, because Ya’alon had misgivings about the disengagement from Gaza, while Halutz was ready to carry it out”…

Schenker added that though Halutz was “one of the trio of leaders, together with Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Defense Minister Amir Peretz who are perceived in Israel to be responsible for ‘the failure’ of the Second Lebanon War, he was the first to pay the price with his position — particularly since he was the only one of the three considered to have security expertise”.

The way that the Halutz press conference was so hastily arranged last 1 September suggests something and somebody other than Halutz by himself was behind it. The timing — just hours before an early version of the UN Palmer report on the Mavi Marmara boarding was leaked to the New York Times — suggests it was a deliberate attempt either at damage control or at altering the course of reaction. Halutz was accompanied by a PR escort [who was also a serving IDF officer, though not in uniform in that PR function]. And, an official of Dore Gold’s Jerusalem Center for Policy Affairs was also present, unusually — and this person appeared to be functioning in that event as a journalist, and asked a question that led to Halutz saying: “We’re sorry, we’re very sorry”.

Halutz himself, who chain-smoked nervously after the briefing, then raced all the way up several flights of steep stone steps, taking two at a time, with his PR escort bounding up a few steps behind Halutz.

The UN report, released a few hours later, made pointed criticism about the use of force, and resistance, during the Israeli naval interception — which, the report notes, took place 72 nautical miles off the coast, well outside of Israeli territorial waters [or Gaza’s maritime space]:

“Israel´s decision to board the vessels with such substantial force at a great distance from the blockade zone and with no final warning immediately prior to the boarding was excessive and unreasonable … Non-violent options should have been used in the first instance…[and]…The operation should have reassessed its options when the resistance to the initial boarding attempt became apparent…”
“Israeli Defense Forces personnel faced significant, organized and violent resistance from a group of passengers when they boarded the Mavi Marmara requiring them to use force for their own protection. Three soldiers were captured, mistreated, and placed at risk by those passengers. Several others were wounded…”
“The loss of life and injuries resulting from the use of force by Israeli forces during the take-over of the Mavi Marmara was unacceptable. Nine passengers were killed and many others seriously wounded by Israeli forces. No satisfactory explanation has been provided to the Panel by Israel for any of the nine deaths. Forensic evidence showing that most of the deceased were shot multiple times, including in the back, or at close range has not been adequately accounted for in the material presented by Israel…”

In its report on the meeting with Netanyahu yesterday, Today’s Zaman noted that “Deterioration in relations between Turkey and Israel, which earlier enjoyed rather good relations at all levels, started at the end of 2008 when Israel, which was on the verge of concluding a peace agreement with Syria, with Turkey acting as the mediator, suddenly bombarded the Gaza Strip in a devastating assault, eliminating all hopes for peace with Syria. Turkey probably felt deceived at the time and had the impression that its efforts to bring about peace were not given due respect by Israel. Then came the Davos summit in Switzerland in January 2009, where Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan spoke out against Shimon Peres for bombarding Gaza and walked out of the forum. Then in May 2010 came the raid by Israeli soldiers on the Mavi Marmara that led to the death of nine Turkish civilians”.

[It should be noted that Israel was raising alarms about the Freedom Flotilla being a “terrorist” threat against Israel’s interests — and its blockade of Gaza — for months before the Flotilla set sail for Gaza, before the Israeli commandos descended from hovering helicopters onto the decks of the Mavi Marmara. Nine Turkish men were then killed… which Turkish officials have said cannot be forgotten.]

Talks on Iran's nuclear program to resume on 23 May

After two sessions in one day in Istanbul on Saturday 14 April, six nations agreed to meet again with Iranian delegation on 23 May — in Baghdad.

Baghdad — that’s a strange choice of venue.
[Are we supposed to believe that Iran prefers Baghdad, because it’s annoyed with Turkey?]

Here is a photo of Iranian negotiator Saeed Jalili, speaking to the press after today’s talks. The photo was taken by Turkish journalist Mahir Zeynalov [@MahirZeynalov on Twitter], and posted here:

Iranian negotiator Saeed Jalili speaking in Istanbul after talks on his country's nuclear program - photo by Mahir Zeynalov

Zeynalov Tweeted that in the photo, “Jalili sticks large Iran map above Istanbul, with big “PERSIAN GULF,” assassinated scientists & message to Israel” —

Iranian Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi wrote in an opinion piece published Friday in The Washington Post [see below] that “Despite sanctions, threats of war, assassinations of several of our scientists and other forms of terrorism, we have chosen to remain committed to dialogue”.

Persian Gulf is the official name, used by the UN, to refer to that body of water.

Scott Peterson wrote in the Christian Science Monitor that “Above a map of Iran was written a common official slogan: ‘Nuclear energy for all; nuclear weapons for none’….”that slogan, in English,  is visible in the poster above.

Press TV noted here that in the talks, “The secretary of Iran’s Supreme National Security Council, Saeed Jalili, says Iran insists on the recognition of its rights as stipulated in the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT)”.

Another story by Press TV reported that “Sources close to the Iranian delegation said Iranian negotiators have rejected multiple requests from US for bilateral negotiations both after the first round of talks and before the beginning of the second round. Meanwhile, the EU foreign policy chief, Catherine Ashton, has met three times with Secretary of Iran’s Supreme National Security Council Saeed Jalili over the past 24 hours”.

Scott Peterson wrote in the Christian Science Monitor here that Jalili “described the talks as ‘successful’, and noted that Khamenei’s fatwa was ‘welcomed’ by the P5+1”. Peterson added that Jalili said the statement, “opposing the use and production of nuclear bombs, was highlighted by the other side … They consider it valuable and it creates an opportunity and capacity for cooperation on international disarmament and nuclear nonproliferation”,

Ashton’s role in these six-nation talks with Iran seems more high-profile than that of previous EU High Representatives.

Details of what went on in the series of bilateral and group meetings in Istanbul on Friday and Saturday are scarce, but comments from those involved suggest there might be small steps taken between now and the next round of talks on 23 May.

Zvi Bar’el reported in Haaretz here just after midnight that “Sources close to the talks told Haaretz that the Iranians are demanding an American and European commitment not to carry out a military attack on their country as long as the talks continue”…

Continue reading “Talks on Iran's nuclear program to resume on 23 May”

Who/What is Ahvaaz [Avaaz] and why did/do journalists trust them with their lives in Baba Amr

Who or What is Ahvaaz [Avaaz]?

And, why do veteran combat journalsts working for major news organizations trust Avaaz with their lives in getting into, and when inside, the Baba Amr quarter of Homs, Syria, which has been beseiged by the Syrian army on a mission to exterminate “Islamist terrorism”?

Ahvaaz [Avaaz]:
The name of an organization [a “global advocacy group”, The Telegraph coyly calls them] called Avaaz, has been mentioned as cooridinating closely with journalists covering the Syrian uprising, and in connection with their arrivals in besieged places like Baba Amr.

Their website is available in 14 or 15 languages at www.avaaz.org, here, they are on Twitter [@avaaz], and also Facebook — and they are interested in global matters — the oceans, the Amazon, the internet, and now Syria — identifying themselves as “a campaigning community” with 13 million members.

Their website says: “Avaaz—meaning ‘voice’ in several European, Middle Eastern and Asian languages—launched in 2007 with a simple democratic mission: organize citizens of all nations to close the gap between the world we have and the world most people everywhere want … Where other global civil society groups are composed of issue-specific networks of national chapters, each with its own staff, budget, and decision-making structure, Avaaz has a single, global team with a mandate to work on any issue of public concern–allowing campaigns of extraordinary nimbleness, flexibility, focus, and scale. Avaaz’s online community can act like a megaphone to call attention to new issues; a lightning rod to channel broad public concern into a specific, targeted campaign; a fire truck to rush an effective response to a sudden, urgent emergency; and a stem cell that grows into whatever form of advocacy or work is best suited to meet an urgent need”…

UPDATE: Julian Borger reported here in The Guardian on Tuesday night [28 February] that Avaaz was founded in 2007.

Borger adds that Avaaz “emerged out of activist groups in the US and Australia, including ResPublica, GetUp! and MoveOn.org. Its founding president is Ricken Patel, a Canadian-British veteran of the International Crisis Group, a global thinktank, and MoveOn.org, a progressive American group. He runs a team of campaigners around the world, with offices in New York, Rio, Delhi, Madrid and Sydney”.

And, Borger added. Avaaz “has taken on a prominent and more physically risky role in the Arab spring, providing satellite phones and other communication equipment to pro-democracy groups in Libya, Egypt and Syria … Amid the bloodshed of Syria, the organisation’s commitment is less likely to be queried. The question its critics are raising now is whether a group that started out in the high-tech safety of the internet has found itself out of its depth in a brutal conflict in the real world”.

While the first time I recall hearing the name Ahvaaz was in connection with an “uprising” against the Islamic Republic regime installed in Tehran that the Iranian authorities strongly believe was coordinated with the American CIA + British secret services, they also seemed to have some kind of association with the MEK — or, Mujahedeen-e-Khalq = a supposedly “leftist’ movement that was part of the resistance to the Shah of Iran prior to the Iranian revolution, but was then persecuted, and took up arms against the Islamic Republic, when they found an ally in Saddam Hussein who offered them shelter and a base came which they are now evacuating for relocation as refugees around the world, under great pressure.

Ahvaaz, if I am not mistaken [will check] is the Persian version of the name of [CORR: the capital city of Khuzestan, the] Arabic-speaking province [Ahwaz] in south-western Iran, bordering Iraq, the Shatt al-Arab, and the north-western shore of Iran along the Persian Gulf.  It was in the Ahvaaz province that the first clashes in the terrible Iran-Iraq war [end 1979 to August 1989] took place, between the freshly-installed Islamic Republic and a Saddam Hussein backed by the U.S., by all Arab states [officially, at least] and by all the “civilized world”.

Ahvaaz came in big, internationally, in social media more recently at a late phase of the Tahrir Square protests — and though nobody knew who they were, exactly, many otherwise savvy people were enthusiastic to support, if not join, their calls for signing petitions, etc., in support of the Tahrir movement.

Like the MEK, Avaaz seems to be very media-savvy, and have expertise in modern technology.

But, Avaaz is functioning differently than the MEK at the height of its influence. Avaaz is concentrating on social media, and video postings on the internet, as well as their new role of helping “smuggle” journalists into battle zones in closed Syria via routes they have access to in neighboring countries [Lebanon, and possibly Turkey — the Israel government is surely aware of this, but keeping a judicious quiet].

The Avaaz website explains this under the heading, Breaking the Middle East Black-out:

    “Funded by donations from almost 30,000 Avaazers, an Avaaz team is working closely with the leadership of democracy movements in Syria, Yemen, Libya and more to get them high-tech phones and satellite internet modems, connect them to the world’s top media outlets, and provide communications advice. We’ve seen the power of this engagement — where our support to activists has created global media cycles with footage and eyewitness accounts that our team helps distribute to CNN, BBC, Al Jazeera and others. The courage of these activists is unbelievable — a skype message read ‘state security searching the house, my laptop battery dying, if not online tomorrow I’m dead or arrested’. He’s ok, and together we’re helping to get his and many other voices out to the world”

But, in Syria, things are not ok.

[Due to the dire situation, presumably, there is no particular information about Syria, at the moment, on the Avaaz website… UPDATE Yet, Avaaz states, here, that it “has been working with activists on the Syrian Spring since it started, setting up a network of over 400 Citizen Journalists across the country, smuggling in medicines and international journalists to report on the unfolding story and campaigning to ensure that sanctions and political pressure are applied on the Assad regime. The organisation is entirely funded by small donations from its members”.

UPDATE: An article published on The Guardian website last July, here, reports that “Since 2009, Avaaz has not taken donations from foundations or corporations, nor has it accepted payments of more than $5,000. Instead, it relies simply on the generosity of individual members, who have now raised over $20m. Much of this money goes towards specific campaigns. This year, $1.5m was raised to supply cameras to citizen journalists throughout the Arab world; as a result, much of the footage currently coming out of Syria was filmed on equipment provided by Avaaz”. The BBC picked up and rewrote this today, reporting rather lazily, here, that “Avaaz says it is independent and accountable because since 2009 it has been wholly member-funded”.]

Why should journalists trust Avaaz with their lives, as Marie Colvin did?

And, why are French photographers and filmmakers working so closely with Avaaz? [Are French photographers just more passionate and curious about the world? Or, do they have some kind of official backing?…]

If Avaaz is behind the recent quantum leap in improvement in the filming and video streaming of protests throughout Syria — particularly the dancing protests highlighted in our previous post — they deserve a lot of credit for their skills.

By comparison, the MEK, before it was labelled by the US as “terrorist organization”, a label which they have been fighting, used to function less as “local fixers” who can boost a foreign correspondent’s impact and reach, and more as an effective pressure group which was in regular contact with members of Congress and other governments, as well as everyone’s editors — and if a journalist didn’t seem enthusiastic about publishing their news, they would threaten to go to one’s editors. They implied that they could promote journalists’ careers — or of having them black-listed, and fired … Like other powerful and effective lobbies, the MEK traded in influence, and was feared.

More to follow later…

The day of the big prisoner swap [ok, yes, it's an "egregious" term]

23:55 pm: A Tweet from Turkish journalist @MahirZeynalov says that 11, not 10, Palestinian released prisoners has arrived in Ankara: “11 released Palestinian prisoners make sajdah right after they leave the plane in Ankara’s airport. Palestinian Amb. to Turkey met them”. UPDATE: The additional person appears to be a woman — perhaps the one [or one of the ones, but I think it was in the end only one] who refused to be sent to Gaza this morning, and Egypt reportedly agreed to take her. [If so, it must be Mariam al-Tarabeen, or Tarabini...] But, perhaps Egypt agreed to take her to the Cairo airport, on the condition that Turkey would be the ultimate destination, or receiving country.

21:15 pm: At least one of the Palestinian prisoners released today, a woman who is now in Gaza, was on the hunger strike that began on 27 September — Wafa al-Bis was hospitalized in Gaza tonight, according to a report by WAFA picked up and posted here. It seems that she was one of the women prisoners who initially refused to be released into Gaza, if I correctly understood earlier Tweet by @dimaeleiwa.

19:05 pm: Just realized, listening to replay of Noam Shalit’s remarks to public in Mitzpe Hila, he said his son Gilad suffers from lack of sunlight [that was kind of obvious today], from after-effects of shrapnel wounds [how did he get these shrapnel wounds?] , and from isolation — including because he did not speak the language and could not communicate with OTHER PRISONERS. What OTHER PRISONERS was Gilad Shalit held with?

18:15 pm:: Live event in Gaza, address by Hamas’ Ismail Haniyah shouting angrily — apparently in answer to criticism that Hamas has benefitted — by saying that all factions were consulted and involved, Palestinians are one people. Al Jazeera [+ some other TV channels] break away from Haniyeh speech just after he says Chris Bandak, a Palestinian Christian [from Bethlehem] who had been serving three [3] life sentences “is now here with us”. Al Jazeera International goes directly to public remarks being made in Mitzpe Hila in northern Israel by Noam Shalit, Gilad’s father, who mentioned that his son still suffers from shrapnel injuries [shrapnel? Couldn’t have been from the operation when he was captured, could it? Was it, instead, from IDF’s Operation Cast Lead? — there were reports he had been injured] and from having been in near-total isolation…

16:30 pm: IDF says Gilad Shalit has completed medical exams and will fly to family home in Mizpe Hila soon. Arrived after 17h00 — holding up well, greeted by crowd waving lots of large Israeli flags. Meanwhile, Turkish Foreign Minister said that 10 released Palestinian prisoners are being flown from Cairo to Turkey — for 5-year stay! UPDATE: Palestinian TV reports on night news that the Turkish FM had a phone conversation today with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.

Continue reading “The day of the big prisoner swap [ok, yes, it's an "egregious" term]”

Former IDF Chief of Staff says "We're sorry" – just hours before release of UN report on Mavi Marmara deaths

Former IDF Chief of Staff Dan Halutz [Haloutz] said today: “We are sorry people were killed during the operation, very sorry“. He was speaking about the Israeli naval interception of the Mavi Marmara on the high seas in the eastern Mediterranean on 30 May 2012, at a briefing for journalists organized at rather short notice today at the Mishkenot Shaananim center in Jerusalem.

Is that an unofficial/official apology?

Halutz added: “I believe there were some innocent ones among those nine, but…that mission was not so innocent”.

Halutz told the journalists at the press briefing that the “The word apology is too strong…because Israel was doing a legal action to prevent [a violation] of the siege we imposed”. And, Haloutz added: “Our soldiers were under a live threat”.

Yes, it looks like Haloutz had already been briefed about what was in the UN report, and yes, it sure looks like an attempt at a finessed Israeli apology.

Halutz was IDF Chief of Staff from 2005-2007, and was previously commander of the Israeli Air Force, and he said today
that he made many trips to Turkey in his professional capacity. But, Halutz is now retired from active military service, having been severely criticized for Israel’s military performance during the Second Lebanon War — and dabbled in business before joining, just eight months ago, the opposition Kadima party led by former Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni [who ran a hard-fought campaign against the current Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu in the last Israeli general elections in February 2009, and she continues to be very critical of Netanyahu’s conduct of office].

Halutz’s profile is perfect for making an unofficial [yet somehow official] apology.

The timing and purpose of the press briefing would otherwise seem…vague. He appeared at the press briefing in the company of a professional Public Relations man.

After his meeting with journalists, Haloutz smoked a quick cigarette in the sunshine outside, then turned and quickly bounded up three flights of stone stairs, taking the whole rise two steps at a time. The PR man, also in as good [military-grade] shape, followed one step behind.

A few hours later, the New York Times posted a leaked, advance copy of the “Final” Report commissioned by the UN Secretary-General on how to avoid a repetition of the mayhem and deaths that occurred during the Israeli naval interception on the high seas of a Freedom Flotilla aiming to break the Israeli siege on Gaza. During the pre-dawn Israeli raid on the 600-passenger Turkish ship, the Mavi Marmara, nine Turkish men [including one Turkish-American high school student] were shot to death.

The UN Report states that all nine appeared to have been unarmed.

The UN report, which the NYTimes posted on its website today here, says that “The events of 31 May 2010 should never have taken place as they did”.

It also says that “The incident and its outcomes were not intended by either Turkey or Israel … But more could have been done to warn the flotilla participants of the potential risks involved and to dissuade them from their actions”.

Continue reading “Former IDF Chief of Staff says "We're sorry" – just hours before release of UN report on Mavi Marmara deaths”

Turkey disagrees with UN report on legality of Israeli naval blockade of Gaza

Özdem Sanberk, described as “one of Turkey’s most experienced diplomats”, said in an interview published in Turkey on Monday that his government does not agree with all of the still-unpublished conclusions in a 90-page report of a panel appointed by the UN Secretary General to look into the forceful Israeli interception of the Mavi Marmara on the high seas in the Eastern Mediterranean on 31 May 2010, during which 8 Turkish men and one Turkish American high school student were killed by Israeli forces.

An AFP story that appeared in the first week of July said that the UN report considered these deaths “unacceptable”.

And, Sanberk said today: “obviously we cannot be expected to accept nine deaths”.

The Turkish passenger ship, chartered by the Turkish humanitarian aid organization IHH, was carrying about 600 passengers and crew, and was sailing towards Gaza as part of a “Freedom Flotilla” with a number of other boats carrying international activists and cargoes of humanitarian aid.

The stated aim of the Freedom Flotilla was to break the Israeli blockade of the Gaza Strip.

Israel declared a formal naval blockade of Gaza’s maritime space on 3-4 January 2009, as the IDF began the ground phase in its Operation Cast Lead against Hamas.

Sanberk is Turkey’s representative to the panel, which was assembled by UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, and headed by fFormer New Zealand Prime Minister Geoffrey Palmer. He spoke to the English-language Turkish newspaper, Today’s Zaman, in Istanbul, the paper said, after a week of closed-door negotiations in New York that started at the beginning of July. The paper added that “The report’s publication has been further delayed until the end of July in a [further] attempt to give Turkey and Israel a chance to resolve their differences”.

Sanberk noted that “it is probably the first time in Israel’s history that it is voluntarily taking part in a UN investigation”, and said that Israel seems to have “an attitude of making a diplomatic gesture by accepting the UN investigation. They have repeatedly expressed their demand for understanding in the face of their serious security problems, and expect the same understanding from Turkey, which they see as a friend”.

In the interview, Sanberk said that “The report clearly indicates the responsibility of the Israeli soldiers, while also acknowledging that Israel has security concerns and the Gaza blockade is legal. However, we know that the Israeli blockade of Gaza amounts to collective punishment as it includes civilians, women and children who bear no responsibility for the perceived threat to Israel”.

According to Today’s Zaman, Sanberk “also said that even though these details are not clearly stated in the [UN] panel’s report, another UN body, the UN Human Rights Council fact-finding mission in Geneva, had said last October that Israel’s military violated international law during the raid”.

“It is interesting to note that two bodies, both under the UN, have conflicting results in their reports”, Sanberk said.

Continue reading “Turkey disagrees with UN report on legality of Israeli naval blockade of Gaza”