ANALYSIS: Why Turkish Strongman Erdogan is Making Overtures to Israel

Israel, however, is reluctant to renew diplomatic ties with Turkey as long as Erdogan is its leader

By Yochanan Visser | | Topics: Turkey, Erdogan
Photo: Wisam Hashlamoun/FLASH90

Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is again making overtures to Israel and reportedly has invited Israeli President Isaac Herzog for an official visit to Ankara, according to his own spokesmen and foreign media.

The reports about Erdogan’s invitation couldn’t be verified though and the same is true for the report by Erdogan’s office about Hamas leaders being deported from Turkey.

The deportation of the Hamas brass from Turkey had been an important precondition of the Israeli government for repairing relations with the autocratic regime in Ankara.

Channel 12 News in Israel reported last week that Turkey was willing to reduce the presence of Hamas leaders and members in the country but couldn’t find an Israeli official who was willing to confirm the report.

There’s indeed not a shred of evidence that Erdogan is now suddenly willing to end Hamas’ presence in Turkey.

Since Turkey has been robbed of its independent press since the botched coup attempt in the summer of 2016, it seems that Erdogan is trying to get his narrative over improving relations with Israel out via his own office and foreign media.

The Turkish state-controlled media, meanwhile, stay mum about improving relations with Israel and the end of Hamas’ presence in the country.


Anti-Israel brainwashing campaign

The above can be explained by taking a look at the incitement campaign against the Jewish state that has brainwashed the masses in Turkey.

Erdogan has constantly incited the masses in Turkey against Israel ever since the first Gaza war at the end of 2008, and repeatedly compared Israel to Nazi Germany over its actions against the Palestinian terror movements.

The incitement increased after the incident with the Turkish ship Mavi Marmara that was banned from entering Israel’s territorial waters on May 31, 2010.

Nine Turks were killed and ten Israeli naval commandos of the Sayeret 13 Special Forces unit were wounded, one seriously, during the violence on the ship. The violence started when activists of the Islamist Turkish organization IHH used iron rods and knives in an attempt to prevent the Israeli soldiers from bordering the vessel.

Former Israeli Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu was later forced by then-US President Barack Obama to apologize to Erdogan and to pay compensation to the families of the Turkish IHH terrorists.

After that, Turkey and Israel renewed diplomatic relations and exchanged ambassadors in 2016.

However, in 2018 Turkey again severed ties with Israel and recalled its ambassador from Tel Aviv.

This happened after the US opened an embassy in Jerusalem and after Israel killed a number of Palestinian Arabs during the weekly ‘Great March of Return’ along the border with Gaza.

At the same time, Israel’s Ambassador Eitan Na’eh was expelled from Turkey and had to undergo an embarrassing on-camera security check at Istanbul National Airport before he boarded a plane.

Camera crews of the Turkish media were invited by Erdogan to cover Na’eh’s departure from Turkey and filmed him while he had to remove his shoes and his jacket.

The move was clearly made to humiliate Israel and to show that Turkey considers itself superior to the Jewish state.

Israel then subsequently summoned Turkey’s no.2 diplomat in Israel and asked him to present his identification upon entering the Foreign Ministry in Jerusalem.

Erdogan’s response was the expulsion of Yosef Levi Sfari, the Israeli consul in Istanbul, after which Israel did the same with Hüsnü Gürcab Türkoĝlu, Turkey’s consul in Jerusalem.


Battle for Jerusalem

That was the beginning of a period in which Erdogan upped his rhetoric against Israel and began to increase Turkey’s involvement in Arab Jerusalem and on the Temple Mount complex, where today the Al-Aqsa mosque and the Dome of the Rock are located.

Erdogan later again ranted against Israel during a speech at the opening session of the Turkish parliament in the fall of 2019.

He spent much of his speech bashing Israel and calling Jerusalem “our city.” He also claimed that the Palestinian Arabs had lived in “Palestine” for “thousands of years,” calling them “an oppressed people”.

By claiming Jerusalem was actually a Turkish city, Erdogan meant that because the Turks occupied what is now Israel during the 400 years that the Ottoman Empire existed, they still have a claim on the capital of Israel.


Turkey in free-fall

The Turkish leader and Netanyahu repeatedly traded barbs and relations between Israel and Turkey hit an all-time low.

The only relations that didn’t hit a snag were the economic ones with trade between the two countries continuing to grow and Turkey using the port of Haifa as a transit point for delivering goods to both Iraq and Jordan after an agreement with Israel in 2016.

Economic considerations as well as Turkey’s increasing isolation in the region are most likely behind Erdogan’s surprising overtures toward Israel.

Turkey’s economy is in free fall with consumer prices rising a staggering 36 percent in December, up from 21.3 percent in November 2021.

At the same time, electricity prices skyrocketed with households now paying 50 percent more per kilowatt since the beginning of 2022.

Prices of natural gas also exploded since the beginning of January. Consumers were suddenly confronted with a 25 percent price hike for natural gas and industries with a rise of up to 50 percent.

As a result only 4 percent of the Turks now say they can make ends meet.

Among supporters of Erdogan’s AKP party, things are a bit better, but only 6.3 percent of the dictator’s supporters say they can pay for all their basic needs.


Strategic motivations

After the US pulled its support for a joint Israeli, Greek and Cypriot project that would have constructed a gas pipeline to Europe, Erdogan apparently saw an opportunity to strike a deal with Israel regarding the delivery of gas from the Israeli gas fields to Turkey.

The cooperation between Israel, Cyprus and Turkey’s arch-enemy Greece is undigestible for the Turkish leader, and this could explain why he tries to drive a wedge in this newfound alliance by courting Israel.

Then there is Turkey’s isolation in the Middle East which has become a major problem for Erdogan, who also is at loggerheads with the European Union and the United States.

The Turkish dictator saw how Arab countries decided to make peace with Israel and how they now benefit from Israel’s state-of-art hi-tech industry and other advanced Israeli technology, including sophisticated weaponry.


Israeli reluctance

The Bennett-Lapid government, however, is reluctant to renew diplomatic ties with Turkey as long as Erdogan is its leader.

This also explains why there has not been a formal Israeli response to Erdogan’s invitation to President Herzog.

The Israeli government apparently waits for Erdogan’s actions toward the Jewish state and is suspicious about his reconciliatory statements, while giving the impression that it first wants to see that the Turkish strongman will indeed expel Hamas members from Turkey, including arch-terrorist Saleh al-Arouri.

Arouri founded Izz-a-Din al-Qassam, the military wing of the Islamist terror movement, and was later involved in Hamas’ reconciliation with Iran that led to the opening of a new front with Israel in southern Lebanon.

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