ANALYSIS: Israel Moves to “Normalize” Turkish Relations- What Are They Thinking?


Global media are reporting that as Turkey and Israel move to normalizing relations, Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan has met in Istanbul with Khaled Meshaal, political leader of Hamas in exile. According to a Reuters report:

ISTANBUL (Reuters) – Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan met with Khaled Meshaal, leader of Palestinian militant group Hamas, on Saturday in Istanbul, Turkish presidential sources said, a day after Israel and Turkey said they were close to patching up five-year political rift.

A source from Erdogan’s office said Meshaal ‘briefed Erdogan on the latest developments in the region’, without giving further details. Islamist Hamas controls the Gaza strip.

Israeli officials said late on Thursday that a deal with Turkey was struck to normalize ties following high-level bilateral talks in Switzerland.

Turkish officials said a final agreement was yet to be sealed, but that given the progress it would not be too long.

Israel’s once-strong ties to Turkey soured in 2010 when Israeli commandoes killed 10 Turkish activists when storming the Mavi Marmara, a ship in a convoy seeking to break an Israeli naval blockade of the Palestinian territory of Gaza.

Turkey had demanded Israel apologize over the assault, pay compensation and lift the Gaza blockade. For Israel, limiting Hamas activity in Turkey has been key.

Under the preliminary deal between the two countries, Saleh al-Aruori, a senior leader in the Palestinian Islamist group Hamas who has been living in Turkey, would be barred from the country, the Israeli official had said.”

The Israeli motivations for trying to establish relations with Turkey at this time are not clear to the GMBDW. Further muddling the situation is that Dore Gold, the director-general of the Israel Foreign Ministry appears to be a key figure in mediating the rapprochement. In August the Jerusalem Post reported:

Foreign Ministry director-general Dore Gold told The Jerusalem Post on Thursday that he is “hopeful that in the not too distant future Israel and Turkey will find a way to reestablish their relationship.”

Gold, who held secret talks in Rome in June with his Turkish counterpart, Feridun Sinirlioglu, said that regional developments and challenges are compelling Ankara to make some changes of its own.

“The strategic environment around Turkey is much more complicated than it was two or three years ago, with the rise of ISIS as a challenge to Turkey, not just Syria, and the growth of Iranian power, which is not just a problem for Israel, but for Turkey as well,” Gold said.

Asked why the two countries have not reconciled if indeed the situation facing Turkey today is much more difficult than it was at the time of the Mavi Marmara raid in 2010 that led to a rupture in the ties, Gold responded: “Everything takes time.”

As to whether he thinks that Israel could ever reestablish relations with Turkey with President Recep Tayyip Erdogan at the country’s helm, Gold replied: “I think countries ultimately operate according to their interests, and I think Turkey and Israel do have important converging interests.”

As the president of the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs (JCPA) at that time, Dr. Gold was responsible for the 2011 JCPA report authored by the GMBDW editor titled “Turkey, the Global Muslim Brotherhood, and the Gaza Flotilla” which demonstrated that the Global Muslim Brotherhood, including at that time its Turkish components as well as the Turkish government and AKP ruling party, was deeply involved in the planning and preparation leading up to the first Gaza flotilla that was involved in the violent altercation with Israeli naval forces. (In 2011, JCPA also published an article on the role of the Global Muslim Brotherhood and Hamas in the unsuccessful second Gaza Flotilla.) Therefore Dr. Gold is aware not only of the Turkish government’s own culpability in the 2010 flotilla but also that since 2006, Turkey has become a new center not only for Hamas but also for the Global Muslim Brotherhood which is implacably opposed to the existence of the Jewish State. Furthermore, the JCPA report detailed Erdogan’s own ideological ties to the Global Muslim Brotherhood network, ties which date back to Erdogan’s affiliation with WAMY in the 1970s making it unlikely that he will ever accept the existence of the Israeli state.

The meeting between Erdogan and Meshaal further symbolizes the enduring relationship between Erdogan and Hamas. Furthermore, it appears that Hamas will only be strengthened as a result of the pending deal. As the Tower news portal has written:

Arouri’s expulsion from Istanbul and the dismantling of the branch office operated by him and for him is good news for Meshaal, especially since Erdogan is insisting that Israel lift the blockade on Gaza as a precondition for normalizing relations. Erdogan is dangling two carrots in front of Meshaal: a significant easing of the blockade (which Israel is interested in implementing as long as there are Turkish assurances that weapons and ammunition will not be smuggled into Gaza) and the dismantling of a rogue branch office in Istanbul that has been going over the heads of the movement leadership.

Alon Liel, a former Israeli ambassador to Turkey, is an authority on the relationship between the two countries. He told Al-Monitor, “Erdogan’s interests in reconciling with Israel are obvious. Nevertheless, Erdogan and Turkey will continue to regard Hamas as a ‘little sister.’ I am sure that Erdogan will continue to be a friend of Gaza and Hamas. Arouri is the weak link, so he can be dropped.”

Where will Arouri go from Istanbul? It’s hard to tell. It won’t be easy for him to find another country willing to take him in right now and allow him to build a new base on its territory. Yemen or Sudan might be options of last resort, but Arouri will have a hard time recreating his previous successes from either of those countries.

“There is so much the region could gain from such a normalization process,” Erdogan told reporters Dec. 14. As it turns out, Hamas has a lot to gain as well, namely the lifting of the blockade on Gaza on the condition of ending the armed struggle against Israel. Actually, the movement has no other option.

The GMBDW fails to understand why the Israel government would choose at this time to bolster the Erdogan government as that very same government systematically continues to persecute and imprison more and more journalists and moves ever closer towards one-person rule. There have been suggestions that a potential natural gas pipeline through Turkey to Europe may be one of the motivations but that would simply would allow Turkey under Erdogan to hold Israel economic hostage whenever it chose, further compounding the strategic perils for Israel. Erdogan’s lifelong involvement with Hamas and the Global Muslim Brotherhood strongly suggest that any short-gains arising from a deal with Turkey are highly unlikely to endure and would only serve to bolster both Mr. Erdogan and Hamas. If Turkey under Erdogan  is willing to make a deal with Israel, it is a likely a sign of Turkish desperation and an opportunity to hasten Erdogan’s downfall instead of prolonging his rule.

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