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Israel says Syria reason for restoring Turkey ties

March 24, 2013

On Friday, March 22, 2013, Israel and Turkey agreed to restore full diplomatic relations in a surprising turnaround after Israel apologized for the botched naval raid that left nine Turkish activists dead aboard an international flotilla bound for Gaza in 2010.  - AP File Photo

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 apologised 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 apologise, saying Israeli soldiers acted in self-defence 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Animosity increased after the flotilla incident and ambassadors were later withdrawn. Spill over 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 lead 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 Qaeda 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 US said there was no evidence chemical weapons were used. The use of such weapons would be a nightmare scenario in the two-year-old conflict that has killed an estimated 70,000 people.

President Barack Obama helped broker the Israeli apology to Turkey. Obama has declared the use, deployment or transfer of the weapons a ''red line'' for possible military intervention by the US in the Syrian conflict.