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Israel-Turkey relations: Another casualty of the Gaza war?

By Raphael Levy – Research Assistant

12th September 2014, Security and Defence,  Issue 3, No. 7

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Turkey was once one of Israel’s strongest allies in the region, though that, of course, does not necessarily mean much. Since 2010, however, and the much discussed, usually misunderstood and widely condemned Israeli action on the Mavi Marmara which saw 9 Turkish citizens killed, Turkey and Israel have not had diplomatic relations, despite a well-publicised apology and other efforts made.[1] With the latest escalation in Gaza between Israel and Hamas, diplomatic relations seem as far away as they ever have been.

Turkey’s president-elect, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, has made his feelings towards the world’s only Jewish state abundantly clear in a number of tirades directed against Israel. He has accused Israel of being more barbaric than Hitler[2], something that is considered anti-Semitic by everyone except anti-Semites; suggested that Israel has been carrying out ‘systematic genocide’ of the Palestinians and has been doing so since its inception in 1948;[3] and called for Turkey’s Jews to ‘denounce Israel’.[4] He has also written to Congress making it clear that Israel’s action in Gaza is what is responsible for anti-Semitism.[5] These sorts of comments are nothing spectacular in anti-Israel rhetoric exhibited by leaders of nations who oppose Israel and claim to support the Palestinians in Gaza.

What is, however, more worrying and of more concern is the reported support for Hamas. Foreign Policy reports that it is ‘getting harder and harder to deny that…Ankara, [is a] full Hamas partner’.[6] In previous years Erdogan’s government has pledged huge financial support to Hamas, reaching the hundreds of millions.[7] Israeli intelligence also suggests as much, stating that, since 2012, Turkey has replaced Iran as Hamas’ biggest sponsor with full knowledge and coordination from Erdogan and the Turkish government.[8] An Israeli official has named a Hamas leader currently living in Turkey as being behind the recent abduction of 3 Israeli teens,[9] whilst on Monday, 18th August, reports surfaced that indicated a Turkish based Hamas[10] operative ‘who enjoyed the support of local authorities’ was behind a Hamas coup to topple Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.[11] Turkish support for the Palestinians is no secret – another flotilla has been organised by the Turkish group that saw its shop stormed four years ago[12] for example.

Indeed, an Advisory Board member of the Human Security Centre, Luke Simpkins, MP for Cowan in Western Australia and former Australian Army Major, recently visited Turkey. He noticed the support for anti-Israel sentiment at a rally he attended and had this to say:

“When I was in Turkey in late July, I saw well organised anti-Israel rallies in Istanbul that corresponded with the Presidential election campaign. Men walked through the crowd handing out brand new Palestinian flags and black shahada head bands. There was clearly domestic political advantage at play as these rallies helped to distract people from domestic issues and motivate the conservative religious vote.”

This all places immense strain on any potential for a normalisation in ties between Israel and Turkey. Its current prime minister and president-elect uses violently anti-Israel and anti-Semitic language in denouncing Israeli action. He has made it clear that he blames Israel for the breakdown of ceasefires in Gaza[13], and the comparisons to Hitler, for example, do not lend well to restoring diplomatic ties. This is especially true when coupled with a strong Israeli suspicion that Turkey is funding and offering support to Hamas, including allowing its operatives to work from Turkey, allegedly with local support.

This may have practical implications that run beyond the exchange of rhetoric. The escalation in Gaza may place a strain on gas deals between Israel and Turkey. A recent agreement to build a pipeline between the two countries may be under threat as a result of continued violence.[14] The fact that Turkey emerged as a stable partner for Israel to export its natural gas through does perhaps suggest that ties were on the road to being normalised prior to this latest round of violence. Indeed, Israel had been in discussions with Turkey regarding meeting the third of their conditions for normalising relations stipulated after the Mavi Marmara incident (easing/removing the blockade).[15] Having already met the first condition (an apology) and an agreement on the second (compensation to the families)[16], this would have represented a huge step in restoring ties.

The escalation in Gaza has left a lot of this in tatters. Whilst funding Hamas is never conducive to having diplomatic relations with Israel, there is evidence to suggest it was being considered. Israel must have seen the importance of a stable ally in the region with Iraq and Syria currently being rampaged by IS, not least to export natural gas as has been analysed. However, the latest round of comments combined with, more crucially, suspected direct support for Hamas through sheltering its operatives, for example, means that any restoration of ties is looking as unlikely as it has since 2010.

Raphael Levy is a researcher at the Human Security Centre.

Contactable at Raphael.levy@hscentre.org

Please cite this article as:

Levy, R (2014) ‘Israel-Turkey relations: Another casualty of the Gaza war?’ Human Security Centre, Security and Defence, Issue 3, No. 7

[1] http://www.breitbart.com/Big-Peace/2014/08/16/17-Aug-14-World-View-Erdogan-turns-Turkey-even-more-against-Israel-and-Egypt

[2] http://www.jta.org/2014/07/19/news-opinion/israel-middle-east/erdogan-calls-israel-more-barbaric-than-hitler-but-defends-turkish-jews

[3] http://www.timesofisrael.com/erdogan-says-israel-atempting-systematic-genocide-in-gaza/

[4] http://www.timesofisrael.com/erdogan-says-turkeys-jews-should-denounce-israel/

[5] http://www.thedailybeast.com/articles/2014/08/06/exclusive-turkish-leader-doubles-down-on-blaming-jews-worldwide-for-gaza-war.html

[6] http://www.foreignpolicy.com/articles/2014/08/04/hamas_s_bffs_turkey_qatar_israel_gaza

[7] http://www.haaretz.com/news/diplomacy-defense/turkey-may-provide-hamas-with-300-million-in-annual-aid-1.409708

[8] http://www.israelnationalnews.com/News/News.aspx/175441

[9] http://www.timesofisrael.com/security-official-hamas-leader-abroad-likely-behind-abduction/

[10] http://www.timesofisrael.com/turkish-group-plans-new-flotilla-to-challenge-gaza-blockade/

[11] https://www.todayszaman.com/diplomacy_israel-coup-attempt-in-west-bank-planned-by-hamas-official-in-turkey_356081.html

[12] http://www.timesofisrael.com/turkish-group-plans-new-flotilla-to-challenge-gaza-blockade/

[13] http://www.timesofisrael.com/erdogan-blames-israel-for-truce-breakdown/

[14] http://www.dailysabah.com/energy/2014/07/17/gaza-raids-hurting-turkishisraeli-energy-relations

[15] http://www.al-monitor.com/pulse/originals/2014/05/turkey-israel-relations-thaw.html#

[16] Ibid

About Raphael Levy

Raphael Levy was a research assistant at the HSC. His main interests are the political situation in the Middle East, with a focus on Israel’s security and the peace process. Raphael has previously interned at Stand For Peace, researching extremism on campuses in the UK and the interfaith network’s links to extremism.