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Israel apologizes to Turkey: how Syrian crisis helped Obama make his case

Motivated by increasing concerns over the crisis in Syria, US officials say, Obama implored Israel's Netanyahu to reach out to Turkey. Erdogan's office said the apology was accepted.

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It was still unclear Friday exactly what the two leaders had agreed to in terms of official normalizing of relations. In its first statement on the issue, Netanyahu’s office said the two leaders had agreed to normalize relations and to exchange ambassadors. But a later, revised statement omitted any reference to normalization or to exchanging ambassadors.

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A statement out of Erdogan’s office said that the prime minister has accepted Netanyahu’s apology on behalf of the people of Turkey, and that the two countries agreed to conclude an “agreement on compensation” over the flotilla incident.

The US official said only that the phone call was an “important step forward” and that “we do believe that they can cooperate while they have differences.”

In tweets released later Friday by the Turkish Foreign Ministry, Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu said Turkey had informed Israel "many times" that an apology was a "must" for normalizing relations. He went on to tweet that "all of our demands have been met."

Erdogan said he agreed that “deterioration of the relationship between Turkey and Israel” was particularly “regrettable” because of that relationship’s “vital strategic importance for the peace and stability of the region.”

The mending of the two countries’ diplomatic relations, and Obama’s Middle East trip that provided the impetus for the repair work to occur, unfolded in the context of a deepening crisis in Syria with the potential for dire repercussions in both Turkey and Israel.

Allegations early in the week of both sides in the Syrian war using chemical weapons prompted Obama to repeat his “red line” concerning any use of chemical weapons and to declare that such use would be a “game changer” for the US in its approach to the conflict.

Israel has grown increasingly concerned about events in Syria – and in particular about the burgeoning presence of Islamist extremists from around the region, some of whom are already vowing to carry on against Israel once Syrian leader Bashar al-Assad is toppled. Israel is also concerned about the potential for Mr. Assad’s arsenal of chemical weapons to fall in the hands of Hezbollah and other militants.

Turkey is confronting an ever-growing Syrian refugee population, and worries about being sucked into the conflict, especially if an increasingly desperate Assad is tempted to launch cross-border attacks.

US officials note that the US had been working with Turkey and Israel for at least the last two years to encourage a reversal in their deteriorating relations.

But if Obama was able to pull off his diplomatic coup now, the two countries’ deep worries about a common threat – a crumbling and destabilizing Syria – was a good part of the reason.

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