Bowing to a long-standing Turkish demand, Netanyahu apologized for the deaths of nine activists aboard the Turkish ship and promised to reach an agreement on compensation to their families, according to a statement from his spokesman.
The Israeli and Turkish leaders agreed to restore normal relations, including the return of ambassadors and the cancellation of Turkish legal proceedings against four former senior Israeli army commanders accused of involvement in the raid, Israeli officials said.
Concerned about the deterioriating situation in Syria, the Obama administration has been trying to mend relations between its allies Turkey and Israel, two regional powers on Syria’s borders.
“The United States deeply values our close partnerships with both Turkey and Israel, and we attach great importance to the restoration of positive relations between them in order to advance regional peace and security,” Obama said in a statement.
“I am hopeful that today’s exchange between the two leaders will enable them to engage in deeper cooperation on this and a range of other challenges and opportunities,” the president added.
A senior administration official who briefed reporters traveling with Obama said the president got on the line with the Israeli and Turkish leaders and suggested they “talk more in detail in the near future.”
Speaking later in Jordan, Obama said that he had pushed the two leaders for months to repair the rupture in their relationship but that during his visit to Israel, “it appeared that the timing was good” for them to talk. But he also sought to temper expectations about the renewed relations.
“This is a work in progress,” Obama said. “It’s just beginning. As I said, there are obviously going to still be some significant disagreements between Turkey and Israel — not just on the Palestinian question, but on a range of different issues.”
A senior Israeli official said that while Israel and Turkey had come close in the past to an understanding to restore ties, Friday’s agreement was spurred by the Syrian conflict.
The official said the new understanding was like “a newborn baby” that needed nurturing. “I hope this will provide an opening to a different relationship,” he said.
Ties between Israel and Turkey deteriorated after the May 2010 Israeli raid on the Turkish ship, Mavi Marmara, which was part of an aid flotilla headed for the Gaza Strip. Israeli commandos who boarded the vessel in international waters opened fire after meeting violent resistance from activists on deck, killing eight Turks and an American of Turkish descent.