In an important article Jerusalem Post analyst Seth Frantzman went on about Israel-Turkey relations, entitled: Israel-Turkey relations are returning, but will they last?
Israel and Turkey restored diplomatic relations this month. President Isaac Herzog spoke with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan during the restoration of relations. The resumption of full relations means there will be ambassadors in both countries and new flights.
At first glance, this is a positive sign. Countries should have normal relations. Turkey has been trying to return to full relations with Israel for the past two years. Israel and Turkey apparently share some common interests in the region, including concerns about Iran’s role in Iraq as well as an interest in cooperation with Russia and the West. The administrations of Naftali Bennett and Yair Lapid have worked to rekindle ties.
There are several reasons to be concerned about ties with Ankara. First of all, Ankara has supported Hamas for many years. Not long ago, there were reports that Hamas was planning terrorist attacks from Turkey. Hamas terrorist leaders were received with ceremonial courtesy in Turkey and treated by its president as if they were a legitimate government. In fact, Hamas has received better treatment from Turkey than from most other countries in the region.
How can a country like Turkey, which claims to be “fighting terrorism” and even opposes Sweden and Finland joining NATO because Ankara claims they harbor “terrorists,” also support Hamas? Hamas has murdered hundreds in terrorist attacks. However, for the current far-right government in Ankara, Hamas is a normal group that is greeted with smiles.
Turkey’s ties to Hamas and other far-right, anti-Semitic and racist Islamist groups are a cause for concern. Ankara has supported extremists who persecute Kurds, Christians, Yazidis and other minorities. As a minority country, Israel knows very well that the persecution of minorities always leads to anti-Semitism. The countries that crush Kurdish rights are always the same countries in the region that were against Israel.
Countries do not need to share a worldview to have ambassadors, and on this level Turkish-Israeli relations appear to be a positive development on trade and other issues.
But there are other questions about what motivates Ankara’s approach to Israel. Ankara has spread rumors in the past trying to persuade Israel to bypass its close ties with Cyprus and Greece in favor of energy deals with Turkey. It seems that Ankara wants to damage Israel’s ties with Greece. This use of ties with Israel to damage Israel’s ties with other countries is clear. Turkey threatened in August 2020 to end relations with the UAE if the UAE made peace with Israel. How can the leadership in Ankara want to damage Israel-UAE ties one day and then want to rekindle relations with Israel the next?
One could argue that Turkey’s regime, led by the Justice and Development Party (AKP) for the past two decades, is simply erratic in its behavior.
But this claim does not seem to be supported by all the facts. Turkey’s ruling party is very capable of smooth relations with Iran, Russia, China and other countries. It is primarily Israel with whom Turkey has faced such antics, such as harboring Hamas and threatening ties with the UAE in order to isolate Jerusalem.
Just a few years ago, Turkish pro-government media were hosting stories about Israel’s “liberation” of Jerusalem and accusing Israel of being a genocidal country. The same media in Turkey, under the government seal, also published articles naming all the Jews in the Biden administration as a way to imply that Jews and “Zionists” control the White House.
Perhaps Ankara’s sudden decision in recent years to seek closer ties with Israel is due to the anti-Semitic belief that closer ties with Israel will help pro-Israeli voices lobby for Turkey in Washington.
This is not far-fetched, many groups and some other small countries have often tried to work with Jewish groups or pro-Israel groups in order to advance their interests in the US, under the false impression that being close to Israel opens all doors to DC . Israel should be wary of being used for such machinations.
The final reason for concern about the new ties is Ankara’s 10 years of anti-Israeli behavior. In 2009 Turkey’s Erdogan stormed off a stage in Davos during a meeting with Shimon Peres. Erdogan said: “I remember two former prime ministers in your country who said they felt very happy when they were able to enter Palestine with tanks… I find it very sad that people applaud what you said. Many people have been killed. And I think it’s very wrong and it’s not humane.” Erdogan has compared Israel to Nazi Germany several times in major speeches, most recently in 2018 and 2019. How can someone who sees Israel as Nazi also want ties to Israel?
From all the evidence, it seems that the Ankara regime will not change its position. He wants relations with Israel again now, in part because he knew he could get nothing from the previous Netanyahu government. Turkey’s leadership destroyed ties with Israel during Netanyahu’s years in power, including unleashing the Mavi Marmara flotilla against Israel. That flotilla was full of far-right activists from Turkey who tried to reach Gaza and attacked Israelis sent to interdict the ships. From the attack on Peres to the Marmara affair, Turkey has increased support for Hamas and compared Israel to the Nazis. This is not just erratic behavior, but a decade of hatred directed at Israel. That Turkey now wants to reverse course seems odd given this background.
Israel has been wary of Turkey’s approach because Israel does not want to be seen as some kind of “rag,” as it is called in Hebrew. Israel does not feel it needs Ankara. This is important in the power relationship because Ankara has treated Israel as if it were the weaker partner in the past, expecting Israel to beg for relations. Ankara has a habit of doing this to other countries, forcing Sweden and Finland to beg to join NATO, for example. Israel should be wary of allowing Turkey to bring it into any position where Israel “needs” Turkey. For example, Turkey has detained Israeli tourists in the past to make concessions. Ankara often also lets Iranian agents operate in Turkey, only to pretend to work with Israel against Iran. Israel’s reticence in this policy is significant.
The new ties are timed to coincide with the Israeli elections. If Netanyahu returns to power, it will be easier for Turkey to then pressure Israel by threatening to sever relations. This is the logic of Ankara’s move. He knows that the next Israeli government may not want to talk to Turkey. He knows that Netanyahu worked hard for Greek-Cyprus ties.
The main question that remains is whether Ankara will turn over a new leaf. Considering the previous comments, it is hard to see how this is possible. The ruling far-right party in Turkey is deeply anti-American and is a regime that works closely with Russia and Iran. It has damaged NATO, the EU and Western democratic models of governance. This means that there are very few interests that coincide between Jerusalem and Ankara today.
While trade is important, beyond that it’s unclear how well the ties will work. In the past, Turkey has wanted to help work on peace deals between Israel and the Palestinians, and even Israel and Syria. However, Ankara’s goals have changed in this regard.
Today, any kind of peace deal supported by Ankara would involve moving Hamas closer to Ramallah and Jerusalem. Israel does not want Hamas on its doorstep. This sets up an inevitable conflict.”