Israeli FM: No Apologies for the Mavi Mamara

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JERUSALEM, Israel -- It has been a little over two years since the confrontation between Israeli naval commandos and pro-Palestinian Turkish activists aboard the ill-fated Mavi Mamara torpedoed the relationship between the two former allies.

Before leaving for Europe earlier this week, Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman invited a delegation of Turkish journalists to meet with him in his Jerusalem office.

It was the first such meeting with a Turkish delegation since the May 2010 confrontation aboard the Turkish flagship that attempted to break Israel's naval blockade of the Gaza Strip.

The Turkish Hürriyet Daily News reported Lieberman's responses, spoken with the same straightforward pragmatism for which he's become well known.

"[The Mavi Marmara mission] was a clear provocation and it was our right to protect the lives of our soldiers," Lieberman told the delegation. "Frankly speaking, Israel has no reason to apologize."

Israeli naval commandos attempting to board the flotilla's flagship (after its captain refused to sail to the Ashdod port to transfer humanitarian aid to trucks for land transport to Gaza) were attacked by pro-Palestinian activists brandishing knives, clubs, chains, and a variety of other weapons.

When it became evident their lives were in danger, the soldiers were given permission to use live ammunition against the attackers, resulting in the deaths of eight Turkish citizens and one American of Turkish origin.

In the ensuing two years, Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan has systematically downgraded ties between the two former allies, something Lieberman calls "a strategic decision."

"[Erdogan] thinks the best way to be the leader of the Islamic world is to confront Israel," he said, noting the anti-Israel rhetoric has gone from criticism to insult.

"We are really trying to keep silent despite every verbal attack against Israel from Mr. Erdogan and Mr. [Ahmet] Davutoglu [Turkey's foreign minister], and we are still trying not to create unnecessary tensions," Lieberman said.

"Even if Israel apologizes for the attack, that will change nothing," he said.

"During his speeches in parliament, Mr. Erdogan has repeatedly said that an apology will not improve the relations and that [he] has additional conditions," Lieberman said, adding that "this is not the best way to settle disagreements."

"As [the State of] Israel, we are ready to discuss [our differences] in high-level or low-level open meetings," Lieberman continued. "We're really ready to discuss not only this issue, but also the Iranian problem, the Gaza Strip or the support for Hamas. But [we are not prepared] to discuss in what way we will protect our citizens."

Lieberman called Erdogan's demand for an apology "only an excuse," saying there are many more reasons to resume good relations than continue the present deep freeze.

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From her perch high atop the mountains surrounding Jerusalem, Tzippe Barrow helps provide a bird’s eye view of events unfolding in her country.

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