March 24, 2013

Netanyahu: Syrian crisis motivation for apology

The premier says Israel and Turkey, which border Syria, must communicate with each other.

The Associated Press

JERUSALEM - Concerns that Syria's stockpile of chemical weapons could reach militant groups bordering Israel and Turkey was the motivating factor in restoring relations with Ankara after a three year rift, Israel's prime minister said.

Benjamin Netanyahu wrote on his Facebook page Saturday that Israel and Turkey, which border Syria, need to communicate with each other over the Syrian crisis.

"The fact that the crisis in Syria intensifies from moment to moment was the main consideration in my view," Netanyahu wrote.

Netanyahu phoned his Turkish counterpart Friday and apologized for a botched raid on a Gaza bound flotilla in 2010 that left eight Turks and one Turkish-American dead. Turkey demanded an apology as a condition for restoring ties. Netanyahu had until now refused to apologize, saying Israeli soldiers acted in self-defense after being attacked by activists.

Turkey and Israel were once strong allies but relations began decline after Erdogan, whose party has roots in Turkey's Islamist movement, became prime minister in 2003. Erdogan has embarked on a campaign to make Turkey a regional powerhouse in an attempt to become the leading voice in the Muslim world, distanced from Israel.

Animosity increased after the flotilla incident and ambassadors were later withdrawn.

Spillover from fighting in Syria's civil war reaches Israeli communities in the Golan Heights from time to time. Errant mortar shells and machine gun fire have caused damage, sparked fires and spread panic but led to no injuries so far.

Israel has expressed concern that Syria's chemical arsenal could fall into the hands of militants like Lebanon's Hezbollah, an Assad ally, or an al-Qaida-linked group fighting with the rebels.

Netanyahu's national security adviser, Yaakov Amidror, said the timing was right for reconciling with Turkey. "Between us and Turkey is a country that is falling apart and that has chemical weapons," he said.

Last week, Syrian rebels and Assad's government blamed each other for a chemical attack on a village. The U.S. said there was no evidence chemical weapons were used.

 

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