Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Friday phoned his Turkish counterpart, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, and apologized for an Israeli naval raid three years ago in which nine Turkish nationals were killed, with the two leaders agreeing to normalize bilateral relations, Netanyahu’s office said.
The dramatic announcement came shortly after U.S. President Barack Obama departed Israel at the end of a three-day visit.
Turkey severed diplomatic and security ties with Israel after nine of its citizens were killed in May 2010 during a violent confrontation with Israeli commandos onboard the Mavi Marmara, part of an international six-vessel flotilla of pro-Palestinian activists who sought to breach the maritime blockade Israel imposes on the Gaza Strip.
The conversation between Netanyahu and Erdogan was the first since the former began his second term as prime minister in 2009.
“The prime minister apologized to the Turkish people for any errors that could have led to loss of life and agreed to complete an agreement (on financial compensation to the victims’ families), ” the Prime Minister’s Office said in a statement.
During the conversation, Netanyahu told Erdogan that an Israeli investigation into the incident revealed several flaws in the military operation. The prime minister made it clear that “the tragic results were unintentional and that Israel expresses regret over injuries and loss of life,” the statement read.
Netanyahu also said he had “good talks” with Obama on the issue of regional cooperation, according to the statement.
Erdogan, for his part, announced that Turkey would drop all legal proceedings that were launched against Israeli military personnel involved in the flotilla incident. “The two leaders agreed to normalize relations” and to return their ambassadors to Tel Aviv and Ankara, said the statement.
The phone call took place in a tent at Ben-Gurion International Airport a half hour before Obama boarded Air Force One to Amman, Jordan for talks with King Abdullah II. At one point, he joined the conversation, the Ha’aretz newspaper quoted a U.S. official as saying.
Obama, in an official statement released by the White House, welcomed the announcement.
“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,” the president said.
“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.”
Friday’s conversation reportedly came after significant mediation efforts by the United States to resolve the diplomatic fallout between Ankara and Jerusalem.
Ha’aretz quoted a White House official who said that Obama stressed in his meetings with Netanyahu this week that he seeks to maintain strong relations both with Israel and Turkey.
Opening a new leaf with Turkey “can be very, very important for the future, regarding with happens with Syria, but not just,” The Jerusalem Post quoted a source in Netanyahu’s office as saying.