The two militaries had established very close relations. The intelligence services of the two countries were Siamese twins. We sold them huge amounts of military equipment and services. We held joint military maneuvers.
Between the two peoples, relations were even more cordial. Every year, half a million Israelis spent their vacations on the Turkish Riviera. The Turkish terms for tourists, "everything included," became a byword in Israel.
The Turkish-Israeli honeymoon started right from the beginning, when David Ben-Gurion created the "strategy of the periphery" -- alliances with non-Arab countries surrounding the Arab world. Turkey was to play an important role in it, together with the Shah's Iran, Ethiopia, Chad and others.
What went wrong? Apologists of the idiocrats assert that relations would have deteriorated even without the Mavi Marmara. Having been rebuffed and humiliated by the European Union, Turkey was turning towards the Arab world. Also, a religious party had taken power from the secular heirs of the great Ataturk, and especially from the army. But in view of these developments, would it not have been wise to be even more careful than before in our dealings with Turkey?
Instead, our Deputy Foreign Minister, one Danny Ayalon, did something so colossally idiotic that it should be taught in diplomacy school. He summoned the Turkish ambassador to deliver a rebuke, offered him a seat markedly lower than his own and publicized the humiliation.
What actually happened was that Ayalon held the meeting in his Knesset room. In all these rooms -- including mine, long ago -- there is one standard chair, and a low sofa. The Turkish diplomat felt quite comfortable and did not feel insulted. But when Ayalon asked the journalists in and told them to notice the humiliation, they published it and caused the Turkish public to explode in anger.
The text of the apology was already formulated more than two years ago. The Israeli army begged the government to accept it. But our then Foreign Minister, Avigdor Lieberman, put all his considerable weight on the scales and vetoed the move. We are a proud nation with a proud army, consisting of proud soldiers.
Israelis don't apologize. Ever.
FEARING LIEBERMAN, Binyamin Netanyahu had to be very circumspect.
Lieberman is now a minister-on-hold. He cannot regain his ministerial office until after -- and if -- he is acquitted of the bribery charges for which he has been indicted. But he is still the chief of a party on which Netanyahu has to depend for parliamentary support.
So an elaborate maneuver had to be enacted. The apology was agreed upon with the Turks long ago. President Obama's visit to Israel was to be the occasion, giving the president the aura of a successful mediator. But the deal was to be announced only during the very last minutes of the visit.
Why? Simply to allow Netanyahu to pretend that it was all done on the spur of the moment, in a telephone conversation initiated by Obama. This being so, he could not possibly have consulted with his cabinet and with Lieberman, could he?
Childish? Infantile? Indeed.
ONLY IN Israel? I doubt it. I am afraid that in most countries, large and small, that's how crucial affairs of state are managed. And not only nowadays.
It is a frightening thought, and therefore unacceptable to most people. They like to believe that their fate rests in the hands of responsible leaders endowed with superior intelligence. Much as they refuse to believe that the sky is empty, and no almighty Super-Father with unlimited compassion is waiting there to answer their prayers.
The first historical example of utter incompetence that springs to my mind is the outbreak of World War I. A group of nationalist Serbs killed the Austrian heir to the throne. A deplorable incident, but certainly no reason for a war in which several million human beings perish miserably.