Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has a balancing act with Israel and Hamas, but as time has gone on, the Turkish president has vocalized his views.
Erdogan’s criticism of Israeli has been building while he studiously has chosen not to condemn Hamas over their Oct. 7 attacks inside Israel.
Earlier this week, the Turkish president asserted that Hamas was not a terrorist organization, but a liberation group of “mujahideen” fighting for its lands and people.
In an address to a mass pro-Palestinian rally in Istanbul last Saturday, Erdogan said that his country was making preparations to proclaim Israel a “war criminal” for its actions in Gaza.
Last weekend, Secretary of State Antony Blinken spoke with Turkish Foreign Minister Hakan Fidan.
During that phone call, Blinken reiterated America’s condemnation of Hamas’ “barbaric terrorist attacks” on Oct. 7 and called regional leaders to be engaged “to prevent the spread of the Israel-Hamas conflict, secure the release of hostages, and mobilize humanitarian aid,” said a U.S. State Department official.
President Biden has committed $100 million in humanitarian assistance to the Palestinians in Gaza and the West Bank.
President Erdogan now is saying Israel will face justice.
Erdogan vowed to bring Jerusalem to justice over “crimes committed in the Gaza Strip,” and has accused the U. S. and Europe of being “complicit with Israel.”
“I believe that we should stop Israel — which looks as if it’s completely out of its mind and lost it — as soon as possible. We will ensure that those responsible for war crimes in Gaza will face justice,” he said in a statement following a cabinet meeting.
Erdogan’s government only recently restored full diplomatic ties with Israel.
Five days ago, Israel said it was pulling its diplomats out of Turkey to “reassess relations” amid Erdogan’s inflammatory statements.
“In light of the escalating rhetoric from Turkey, I have instructed the return of diplomatic representatives from Turkey in order to reassess Israel-Turkey relations,” Israeli Foreign Minister Eli Cohen said in a statement.
Erdogan had taken a more cautious line in the first days after Hamas’ Oct. 7 attack, but as the death toll has risen, Erdogan has become much more vocal.
The Hamas-controlled health ministry in Gaza has reported that Israel has killed over 8,500 people, mostly civilians. The figures cannot be independently verified. The ministry is run by Hamas.
In the meantime, anti-Israel sentiment and incidents are becoming commonplace in Turkey even though mosts Turkish citizens want Turkey to remain neutral in this lastest conflict between Israel and Hamas.
Israel had been a regional ally of Turkey well before Erdogan’s tenure, but Israel and Turkey’s relationship soured during the 2010 Israeli commando raid on the Gaza-bound Mavi Marmara ship that left ten Turkish activists dead, who had attacked IDF soldiers aboard the ship.
Following that, both Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Turkish President Erdogan repeatedly accused the other of genocide.
By mid-2014, Erdogan accused the Jewish state of “keeping Hitler’s spirit alive” during a war with Gaza.
In 2018, both leaders withdrew their ambassadors amid violence in Gaza after President Trump relocated the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem.
By August 2022, Israel and Turkey had announced a full renewal of diplomatic ties.
Israeli President Isaac Herzog then was hosted by Erdogan last March in Ankara. It was the first high-level visit since 2008. Israeli Foreign Minister Cohen met the Turkish leader in February this past year. Then-prime minister Yair Lapid met with Erdogan in New York during last year’s General Assembly.
In Sept. 2023 - right before the Oct 7 attacks - in New York, Erdogan met with Netanyahu for their first known face-to-face meeting to discuss avenues of cooperation.
But, the Israeli response to Hamas attacks on Oct. 7 have changed their relationship.
Turkey maintains deep ties with Hamas. Erdogan has allowed Hamas to have an office in Istanbul for over a decade. Erdogan has been in close contact with the Hamas since the start of this recent conflict.
Most importantly though, Erdogan has been insisting that Turkey only hosts the group’s political wing. However, in 2020, Israel intelligence provided Turkish intelligence with evidence that members of Hamas’s military wing operate in their Turkish office, under the supervision of Beirut-based Saleh al-Arouri.
Israeli intelligence claims that those in the Turkish office plan attacks against Israel and transfer funds to their Hamas activists in the West Bank.
In an interview with Turkish TV just weeks ago, Qatar-based former Hamas leader Khaled Mashaal said he has “great respect for Turkey,” and suggested that “Turkey should say ‘Stop’” to Israel, according to Al-Monitor.
Mashaal has repeatedly met with Erdogan, and in an address to members of Erdogan’s party in 2014, Mashaal stated that he hoped to “liberate Palestine and Jerusalem” with the Turks.
The US State Department refused to confirm on Wed. whether U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken will visit Turkey during his Middle East later this week..
But, according to a Turkish diplomatic source, Blinken is expected to land in Ankara on Sunday.
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