06.11.2023 Author: Alexandr Svaranc

Turkey-Israel relations face a new test…

Turkey-Israel relations

Due to ethnic kinship, the confluence of “seasonal romance,” or other subjective factors, some experts who hold a particularly positive opinion of Turkey and remember the history of the Ottoman Empire in “rosy colors” also point out that the current Republic of Turkey, as the legitimate heir to the Ottoman heritage (including the Caliphate), demonstrates responsible foreign policy.

Petr Akopov, for instance, believes that Turkey opposes the US-led Western policy of neocolonialism, attempts to step back and prevent wars in times of crisis, especially in the Russian-Ukrainian and Arab-Israeli conflicts, advances the goal of establishing a just peace against Anglo-Saxon hegemony, deftly strikes a balance between the major centers of power—the USA, Europe, Russia, and China—and asserts its sovereignty while asserting its status as a major player in the world. This expert states that Pan-Ottomanism, not Pan-Turkism, is Turkey’s primary goal.

That is to say, because he is the apparent successor to the Ottoman Caliphate, Erdoğan seeks to restore the new Turkish state’s imperial status, including claims to leadership in the Islamic world (the two billion-strong Muslim Ummah). In other words, in the competition between key Islamic countries such as Saudi Arabia and Iran, Turkey has a better chance of gaining leadership, according to the vision of pro-Turkish experts. As additional arguments for such versions, it is noted that Turkey is a state-civilization, like Russia is the heir to Byzantium, has a “real sense of history” and responsibility “for its historical lands and peace.”

But in order to fully justify Erdoğan’s Turkey, Mr. Petr Akopov says that modern Turks need ultimately make a clear decision about who they support—the West or the anti-West—during pivotal historical times. What can you say?

First, the history of imperial entities includes both the pinnacle of grandeur and the final days of tragedy. Alongside the objective of freedom of various peoples and civilizations, their fate was also marked by a policy of conquest exemplified by multiple horrific wars and devastation.

Furthermore, the anti-colonialist policy arises from resistance to the imperial (imperialist) colonial policy.

Finally, the 470-year history of the Ottoman Empire (1453–1923) and the 407-year Ottoman Caliphate (1517–1924) are filled with numerous accounts of brutality, savagery, conquests, and tragedies (including genocide) involving subject peoples.

Fourth, given Erdoğan’s portrayal as a “Dove of Peace,” what actions did Turkey take in Libya, Syria, and Nagorno-Karabakh? Furthermore, Turkey’s military-technical support for the Kiev regime against the Russian Armed Forces in Ukraine hardly constitutes a step toward peace.

Fifth, if Turkey is claiming “its historical lands,” then what territories are the Kurds, Jews, Arabs, Armenians, and other indigenous peoples of the Middle East and West Asia entitled to?

Sixth, the idea that the Ottoman Caliphate brought peace to the Islamic world is questionable since it runs counter to historical evidence. Specifically, Sunni Turks fought Shiite Persia for centuries over territory and leadership in the Islamic world, and the Arabs did not accept the loss of the caliphate. This was due to Selim I, known as Selim the Grim or Selim the Resolute, who usurped the title of caliph by force.

Still, all the other empires had their share of brutal pasts, not only the Ottoman Empire. This does not lessen the glory of the Ottoman Empire, which was home to diverse peoples and lasted for nearly five centuries. It was destroyed by internal turmoil and the First World War, not without external intervention.

The focus on Ottoman history within the framework of current Middle East events is undoubtedly due to the fact that 100 years ago, Israel and Palestine, who are currently engaged in a military conflict, were a part of the Ottoman Empire. But after the second Karabakh war, Turkey came back to the region and successfully recreated the events of a century ago in Transcaucasia. It is evident that Russia’s relative weakness and international fragility allowed Turkey to successfully extinguish the Armenian issue in both the 1918–1921 and 2020–2023 periods.

In the case of the Middle East, scholars say, quite accurately, that the design of ethnic boundaries here was shaped by the out of the First World War under the leadership of the Anglo-Saxons. Middle Eastern mosaics were originally designed by Britain a century ago, but the United States assumed the mantle from Britain following World War II. Nonetheless, it is difficult to accept the view of Petr Akopov that the Anglo-Saxons put all their influence into creating Israel, given that Palestine became a mandated territory of Great Britain following the Treaty of Versailles and the Treaty of Lausanne. Nevertheless, Joseph Stalin (USSR) had a major influence on the future of the Jewish state in 1947. One should not diminish Russia’s role to the establishment of Israel. Another thing is that at that time, the UN was deciding on the formation of two states in former Palestine – Israel and Palestine itself.

And now what? Israel sees the reasons and outcomes of the different narrative about the fate of the Palestinian state in its own perspective. Tel Aviv accuses Arab governments (particularly Egypt, Syria, and Jordan) of instigating the occupying wars against Israel and reaping the consequences. With the topography of former Palestine, Israel had no choice but to protect its boundaries for economic and strategic security reasons. Historical mentions against Israel are not usually accurate, because the Jewish kingdom existed in ancient times, and the Jewish people have not vanished since World War II. Jews are a gifted people who have made enormous contributions to world culture (not only in the West, but also in Russia and the Middle East), have organized themselves, and have every right to an ethnic homeland and state.

Following World War I, London did not encourage the development of a unified Arab state (federation or confederation). There are currently twenty-three Arab states in the Middle East, North Africa, and East Africa. While some of these states have vast gas and oil resources, others have limited access to raw materials. This “divide and conquer” political geography appears to have been motivated by British interest in the resources of the Arab East.

Israel is the primary ally of the Anglo-Saxon West (the United States and Great Britain), which takes into account: a) the role played by Jewish capital and the diaspora in the growth of these global hubs; and b) the alliance between Israel’s survival and the imperial interests of the United States and Great Britain to control the Middle East (raw materials, land and sea communications, deployment of NATO military bases). Will the West now turn its back on Israel, its ally? It is hard to believe that the United States and Great Britain would have to give up their own influence and interests in this strategically important region.

It is, in my opinion, an extremely premature and unrealistic view that Turkey and the West, or more precisely, Turkey and the Anglo-Saxon world, are at odds over the Arab-Israeli conflict. Undoubtedly, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan supports Hamas. Yaakov Kedmi, head of the Nativ liaison bureau, counts him as a supporter of the Muslim Brotherhood, a violent Islamic group. Erdoğan describes Hamas as a liberation organization of mujahedeen fighting a righteous war for Palestinian freedom. These days, Turkey has launched intensified diplomacy. In particular, it:

– denies the terrorist nature of Hamas;

– advocates humanitarian assistance to Palestinians in the Gaza Strip;

– condemns the West, led by the US, for supporting Israel’s policy of extermination and discrimination against Palestinians;

– calls Tzahal’s actions in the Gaza Strip outright “collective murder” (“mass slaughter”) and even “genocide.”

– proposes organizing an international peace conference and recognizing Palestine as a state, with Ankara prepared to pledge itself as one of the guarantors, in order to put an end to the carnage and bring about peace in the Middle East.

Erdoğan postponed a trip to Israel and declined to travel with Western friends. Although Israel and Turkey have called back their ambassadors, there hasn’t been a formal break in ties. The government of Benjamin Netanyahu is advocating for a fresh assessment of Israel’s ties with Turkey. The Jewish community is being deeply affected by Erdoğan’s anti-Israel statements and the widespread demonstrations in Turkey, to an extent that is far beyond what even Iran is demonstrating.

It is unlikely, nevertheless, that Turkey will actually take steps to sever ties with the Anglo-Saxon world in light of this. In particular, a protocol regarding Sweden’s NATO entrance has already been signed by President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and Parliament Speaker Numan Kurtulmuş. Turkey does not want to withdraw from the North Atlantic Alliance; rather, it anticipates that the matter pertaining to US military supplies and multi-billion-dollar loans will be settled expeditiously. The presidents of several ally nations are envious of the friendship between Recep Erdoğan and Richard Moore, Chief of MI6, the UK Secret Intelligence Service, as Turkey and Britain have been and continue to be close allies and partners. In the meantime, Nagorno-Karabakh, Azerbaijan, and other post-Soviet Central Asian nations have amply proved Turkish-British collaboration.

Naturally, Turkey’s Islamic narratives are of great interest to the Anglo-Saxons (the US and the UK) who wish to demonstrate Turkey’s leadership within the worldwide Muslim Ummah. The history of the Caliphate and Ottoman Empire, as well as the contemporary accomplishments of secular and Islamic Turkey, can be used to this end. Furthermore, the West’s loss of Iran after the Iranian revolution of February 1979, the collapse of the Shah’s dictatorship in 1979, and the reunion of Iran and Saudi Arabia under Chinese sponsorship in 2023 have all increased the significance of this approach in the Islamic world. NATO’S Turkey still remains, which does not, however, govern the areas that are sacred and important to all Muslims (Mecca, Medina, Kerbela, Qom, Najaf). Erdoğan is actively pushing for the Al-Aqsa Mosque in East Jerusalem to serve as the capital of a future independent state for Palestine.

It would be wiser to ask the Muslims themselves whether they will accept a new Turkish caliphate or not. Saudi Arabia leads the Arab East, and Iran leads the Shiite world. Nonetheless, Erdoğan’s ability to promptly and efficiently present Turkey’s stance on hot-button international matters cannot be disputed. It is by no means novel to consider creating two states on the site of the old Palestine. However, history frequently revisits unsolved problems.

The establishment of Palestine is supported by a number of states outside of Islam, including China and Russia. No state in the Islamic world opposes it. An additional problem is that several Arab nations have not yet chosen how they would handle the confrontation between Hamas and Israel. These include Azerbaijan, Egypt, UAE, Bahrain, and Jordan. For example, Baku is in a difficult situation after successfully resolving the Karabakh dispute in 2020–2023, mostly with the aid of Israeli weapons.

Meanwhile, many attribute Iran’s behavior to the current, acute stage of the Arab-Israeli conflict. Some claim that Iran’s elite IRGC formation provided military and specialized training to Hamas troops. As Erdoğan delivers yet another anti-Israeli speech, the Israel Defense Forces are considering ways to contain pro-Iranian proxy forces in Lebanon, Syria, Iraq, and Yemen rather than the Turkish president. They also want to stop the anti-Israeli movement from spreading and involving the support of more Middle Eastern nations.

In this case, Iran stands alone as the primary hub uniting the Islamic and non-Islamic worlds against Israel’s actions in the Gaza Strip. It is Tehran’s actions from now on that Washington and London are most worried about, not Ankara’s remarks. Iran is not requesting F-16 jets and billions of dollars in loans from the US; it is not a part of NATO and is not planning to join; and it is not eradicating its people for racial grounds, like the Turks did to the Armenians, Aysors, Bulgarians, Serbs, and Kurds.

However, Turkey has once again chosen to sour relations with Israel and create a new crisis by endorsing Hamas. Several regional powers have endorsed the Turkish side’s proposal to convene a sizable international conference on the peaceful settlement of Arab-Israeli relations during Cairo summit; the specific states have not yet been disclosed. Certainly, the opinions of the neighboring countries matter, in my opinion. But the Middle East (Turkey, the Arab East and Iran) is an Islamic region if you take Israel out of the picture. As a result, the opinions of the attendees might be known before the summit.

It is reasonable to suppose that a larger number of governments (including all UN Security Council representatives) would need to participate in an international peace conference on this matter, given the nature and history of the lengthy Arab-Israeli conflict. As we all know, the leaders of the Anglo-Saxon world (the US and the UK) may not share the views of Russia, China, or even France on this matter. Ethnic or religious differences within their nations should never be accepted, though. Russia values its links with the Arab East and the Jewish world equally.


Aleksandr SVARANTS, Doctor in Political Science, professor, exclusively for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook”.

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