11.12.2023 Author: Alexandr Svaranc

Turkey’s political grandstanding fails to bring any practical results

Turkey’s political grandstanding fails to bring any practical results

The latest Palestinian-Israeli conflict has once again focused the attention of media and politicians around the world on the situation in the Middle East. In the second month of the ongoing war, it is evident (as on previous occasions when protracted hostilities broke out between Palestine and Israel) that the international community is divided in its assessments of and reactions to the situation.

The US and most European countries are still unequivocally pro-Israeli, both in terms of their statements and their more tangible support. The Islamic world, as far as its verbal declarations, threats and wishes are concerned, is definitely pro-Palestine. However, we have seen  no decisive actions on the part of the Arab states or the wider Islamic world, and no sign of any attempt to adopt a coherent, unified and resolute approach towards Israel. Turkey’s diplomacy provides a very good example of this tendency.

After Hamas’s large-scale terrorist attacks against Israel on October 7, President Erdoğan initially tried to secure a pause and play the role of an impartial mediator. At that time, Ankara urged the parties to agree on a ceasefire and reach a peace agreement, and proposed organizing a representative international conference to discuss the creation of a State of Palestine with its capital in East Jerusalem, with Turkey providing security guarantees. However, Turkey’s initiatives have been met with little enthusiasm in the US, and still less by Israel. As Tel Aviv told Erdoğan, through its ambassador to Ankara, Irit Lillian, now was not the time for negotiations, but for a military crackdown on terrorism.

Twenty days after the start of the conflict, on October 27, when the IDF attacked the Al-Ahli Baptist Hospital, Turkey hardened its stance towards Israel, accusing it of committing “massacres,” “war crimes” and “genocide” against Palestinians in the Gaza Strip. The next day, October 28, President Erdoğan personally convened a “great Palestinian rally” of more than 1.5 million people. Turkey refused to call Hamas a terrorist organization, but instead described it as a legitimate political structure engaged in a just struggle for the Palestinians’ liberation from an Israeli-imposed apartheid. He also publicly accused the USA and the “collective West” of tacitly supporting Israel’s conduct.

However, despite numerous meetings between Recep Erdoğan and his Foreign Minister Hakan Fidan with Islamic and other foreign partners (including the notably frosty reception given to US Secretary of State Antony Blinken in Ankara) Turkey’s political initiatives on the Palestinian issue have not borne fruit.

Recep Erdoğan’s participation in the pan-Turkic OTS summit on November 3, in which Turkey appeared to be the undisputed leader and chief authority for all current and prospective members, nevertheless failed to achieve the result he wished for, namely the adoption of a joint resolution condemning Israel. The Turkish leader made repeated angry denunciations, accusing Israel of serious crimes, but the leaders of his Turkic allies merely listened to their “big brother” in silence and limited themselves to expressing their intention to provide humanitarian aid to their fellow believers in the Gaza Strip.

The extraordinary summit of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) held in Riyadh on November 11 also thwarted Turkey’s desire for concerted and effective joint actions against Israel. The main Arab states (Saudi Arabia, UAE, Egypt, Jordan and Bahrain) actually blocked an initiative by Iran, which called for a military coalition and economic embargo against Israel and the closure of its airspace. In the Riyadh summit, Turkey itself did not show any particular inclination to get involved in a conflict.

Nevertheless, there has been no cooling down of the anti-Israeli rhetoric from Erdoğan and other Turkish politicians. Ankara has stated that it had called on the ICC to prosecute Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu for “war crimes” and “genocide” in the Gaza Strip. However, Turkey is not a party to the Rome Statute, the basis of the ICC’s authority, and it is unclear from a procedural perspective how it could actually bring such a lawsuit. It is also unclear what evidence the Istanbul attorney general’s office offered in support of Turkey’s claim against the Israeli leader. This, it seems, is the reason why Erdoğan instructed İbrahim Kalın, the head of Turkey’s intelligence agency, the MIT, to collect evidence of war crimes committed by the Israeli army in the Gaza Strip.

In previous articles the author has already noted that the expert community, quite fairly, sees such initiatives of the Turkish president as reflecting his ambition to obtain the status of preeminent leader in the Islamic world and a permanent seat for Turkey in the UN Security Council. That latter achievement would enable Recep Erdoğan to go down in history as a great Turkish leader on a par with Kemal Atatürk or the victorious sultans of the Ottoman era (Mehmed Fatih, Selim Yavuz, Süleyman Kanuni) and cement Turkey’s position as a major Muslim power, thus helping it regain its imperial status.

The political analyst Tural Kerimov believes that his anti-Israeli rhetoric has allowed Erdoğan to raise his rating in the region by 15%. In other words, Tural Kerimov asks, maybe Erdoğan is not genuinely concerned about his fellow Muslims in Palestine, but instead is more interested in his own popularity.

The Turkish Foreign Minister Hakan Fidan sees Ankara’s principled stance against Tel Aviv’s actions in the Gaza Strip as a long-term position, and that Turkey may even break off diplomatic relations with Israel. However, as he put it in an interview with the Arabic publication Al Jazeera, “to achieve the proper effect, a similar decision needs to be taken by several countries.” Turkey hopes that the Islamic nations will support each other on this issue and work together to present a united front. Otherwise, their stance will not have a powerful effect. But, since the other Islamic countries have, as yet, failed to show the same determination in their relations with Israel as Turkey, Ankara is not currently seeking to break off its relations with Tel Aviv.

In the absence of any severance of diplomatic relations, for better or worse, Turkey is maintaining its trade and economic ties with Israel (including the transit of oil from friendly Azerbaijan through Turkish territory to Israel).

For his part, the Turkish president pledged to focus his diplomatic efforts on ensuring Israel’s international isolation in response to its crimes in the Gaza Strip. In fact, it is hard to see how Recep Erdoğan can isolate Israel internationally if even his “little brother” Ilham Aliyev refuses to listen to Ankara and continues in its military and economic partnership with Benjamin Netanyahu’s government. And what about Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Jordan, UAE, etc.?

As reported by Reuters, a Qatar-brokered agreement between Hamas and Israel is currently being discussed. Under the proposed agreement, 50 Israeli hostages from a list of 200 would be released during a three-day cease-fire, enabling further humanitarian aid deliveries to civilians in Gaza and evacuation of the seriously wounded. Turkey was willing to provide diplomatic support for this political deal by acting as a mediator. However, the short ceasefire and the release of 50 hostages have not yet actually happened, as Israel is insisting that the hostages not be separated from their families, and is demanding for the release of 50 hostages + any of their relatives who are also being held

From the above, it can be understood why the Russian political analyst Alexei Mukhin claims that “Erdoğan’s emotional statements and actions are understandable, and their meaning is clear on the surface: he is using the conflict in the Middle East to strengthen Turkey’s influence in the Muslim world. But these statements are emotional and are unlikely to lead to any practical results.”

Among the reasons for the failure of Turkey’s initiatives to bear any tangible fruit is the USA’s unambiguous pro-Israeli stance. The current Israeli leader has responded by dismissing Erdoğan’s accusations as groundless populism, which, naturally, Tel Aviv is not going to listen to, and will act as it sees fit.

Perhaps Erdoğan, who has publicly refused to enter into any kind of direct communication with Netanyahu, is hoping that the Israeli leader will soon resign, and that he will be replaced by someone else. And, naturally, everything, does come to an end in time. But whether Benjamin Netanyahu will soon be replaced, either by opposition leader Yair Lapid or anyone else (for example, a representative of the ruling Likud bloc, which has now lost half of its public support, or Avigdor Lieberman, leader of the Our Home Israel party, who entered the emergency government on October 16) – this is known to the Israeli political elite (and perhaps also to the Americans), and to none else but God. But whatever happens, Israeli politicians have a long memory and know their own interests, allies and adversaries better than anyone else.


Alexander SVARANTS – Doctor of Political Sciences, Professor, exclusively for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook”.

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