Shortly after the Six-Day War ended, then-IDF chief of staff Yitzhak Rabin delivered a speech that will be remembered as the "Tzidkat Haderech (righteousness of our cause)" address. In his speech, he spoke of the "recognition of the IDF's superiority of spirit and morals, as was revealed in the heat of war."
Rabin said: "It all starts and ends with the spirit. Our soldiers prevailed not by their weapons but by their awareness of their supreme mission, by their awareness of the righteousness of their cause, by their deep love for their homeland and by their recognition of the difficult task laid upon them - to ensure the existence of our people in our homeland."
Throughout history it has been proven that every victory on the battlefield, as well as every diplomatic victory, is achieved primarily due to the victorious side's stronger belief in the righteousness of its cause and the deep sense that it is fighting for a noble and just cause. This is why we have seen countries with superior militaries lose wars to weaker rivals. This was the case in the War of Independence, when the small Jewish Yishuv defeated the Arab armies. Similarly, the mighty United States lost the Vietnam War when it was torn by an internal struggle over the righteousness of the war.
This is the main reason for my objection to the Israeli apology to Turkey. Even if at a certain point in time something appears to be a valuable diplomatic or political interest, it hurts the basic sense of the righteousness of the cause and of the nation's morality. The long-term damage is far greater than the momentary benefit, which is presented as diplomatic wisdom.
I think of the IDF commandos who risked their lives on the "Mavi Marmara" ship and of how they must have felt upon hearing of Israel's apology. The apology turned them into the guilty party. By apologizing to Turkey, the State abandoned these soldiers, who risked their lives and acted in self-defense during a mission they were sent on by the State. Israel's willingness to compensate the families of the Turkish nationals who were killed during the raid constitutes an admission of guilt and determines that the battle against terrorist groups that are sent to harm the country is not just. Such feelings among soldiers and the people are destructive to the nation's survival capabilities.
Battle on the Mavi Marmara (Archive photo: IDF Spokesman's Office)
As for the diplomatic-political significance of the apology, we must keep in mind that the deterioration of the relations between Israel and Turley did not begin on the Marmara, and not even on the low chair of the ambassador. It began long before these incidents and was the result of a strategic decision and the ideology of the Turkish regime, headed by PM Erdogan and FM Davutoglu. The first noticeable public expression of this deterioration came during Ehud Olmert's term as prime minister, when Erdogan stormed out of a debate at the Davos conference while leveling harsh accusations at President Peres. This was followed by a series of additional aggressive measures, such as the Turkish television series which was aired on a state-owned network and depicted IDF soldiers as baby killers. Just a few weeks ago Erdogan equated Zionism with racism and called it a crime against humanity. Even after Israel's apology and the "reconciliation," Erdogan has yet to apologize for this statement.
On numerous occasions in the past I have said, in both closed and open discussions, that I agree to an Israeli expression of regret over the death of Turkish civilians aboard the Marmara, just as the US expressed its regret to Pakistan. Despite the vast differences between the cases – the US killed 24 Pakistani soldiers due to a misunderstanding about the true location of Pakistani military units, while our soldiers were defending themselves against activists belonging to a terror organization (IHH is recognized as a terror organization in European countries as well, including Germany and Holland) who wanted to kill them and breach Israel's borders illegally. The fact that Erdogan refused to accept this wording and the manner in which the Israeli apology was accepted and interpreted in the east Jerusalem-based newspapers, as well as in Ramallah, Gaza, Lebanon – and by Erdogan himself – is a testament to the importance of the difference between expressing regret and apologizing.
Even more important is how the apology was perceived by Greece, Cyprus, the Gulf States, the Kurds and by moderate and secular elements in Turkey. From their standpoint, the apology shows that rather than cooperate with Israel, it is preferable to bypass the Jewish state and reach agreements with Erdogan and Davutoglu. The apology proves to them that Israel cannot be counted on when it comes to cooperation on issues related to the bolstering of moderate elements in the Middle East. This is a long-term strategic blow, the results of which we will experience in the coming years.
In conclusion, it is important for me to once again tell the IDF soldiers what the prime minister of Israel told them during the Naval Officers' Course graduation ceremony two years ago: "The nation of Israel is proud of you; we are proud of you."