Turkish President Erdogan sees himself as the most important mediator in the conflict between Israel and the Palestinian Hamas. He is ready to negotiate between the two sides, including a prisoner exchange. In a “just peace there are no losers,” he said. His opinion as an “Angel of Peace” is only too understandable, because on the one hand his policy towards Israel has been a very pragmatic one, while at the same time he has guaranteed a safe haven in his country for leaders of the terrorist Hamas, the military branch of the Muslim Brotherhood. For years, the political part of Hamas has been based either in its supporting country Qatar or on the Bosphorus.
“The oppression that Israeli security forces inflict on Palestinians” should be rejected, as should “violence against Israeli civilians.” It is important that Israel and Hamas do not fall into a spiral of violence, although Erdogan primarily addressed the Israelis: If they stop the bombing of the Gaza Strip, “a door to a path to peace will open.” Just a day later, he called for human rights to be respected in view of Israel’s closure of the Gaza Strip – and also sent a message to the US , which had promised support for Israel.
At a press conference with Austrian Chancellor Karl Nehammer in Ankara, Erdogan spoke about the aircraft carrier USS Gerald R. Ford, which the Pentagon relocated to the eastern Mediterranean. “What will the US aircraft carrier do near Israel, why are they coming?” asked the Turkish president. “They will attack Gaza and the surrounding area and take steps towards serious massacres there.”
For the Sultan of the Bosphorus, his role as the new “protector of Islam” worldwide always also included the Palestinians; he openly supported Hamas. To this day he refuses to classify it as a terrorist organization; according to Turkish definition it is a legitimate political force. Erdogan met the Hamas leadership several times, some of whom are fighting from Istanbul. He is even said to have given the order to issue Turkish passports to some of the Hamas officials.
The relationship with Israel is therefore somewhat more cool than that with the Palestinian cause. But, as is so often the case in Erdogan’s politics, here too he shows how flexible he can be. He received the head of state of Israel in Turkey, and it later became known that he had expelled Hamas members who were part of its military wing. At the UN General Assembly a few weeks ago in New York, Erdogan even met with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, for the first time ever. Two people who have despised each other all their lives shook hands. And immediately followed the handshake with a plan for a pipeline from an Israeli gas field in the Mediterranean to Turkey.
Similar to the war in Ukraine, the Turkish president is one of the few in the Middle East who appears to be able to deal with both sides. He first called Mahmoud Abbas in Ramallah and assured him of Turkish support, then to Isaac Herzog and asked for “a rational approach” in responding to the Hamas attack. Many independent experts believe Erdogan’s role as a peace broker is appropriate, especially because he is an advocate for the Palestinians. As such, the Turk is credible, perhaps more so than the ruling families from the Arabian Peninsula, who have made themselves vulnerable by recognizing Israel. Erdogan never had to take this step; Turkey has had diplomatic relations with Israel since 1949. Israelis, for their part, know that Erdogan’s word carries weight in the Islamic world.
From Erdogan’s perspective, there are good reasons to prevent a major war. If the Middle East descends into violence, it would disrupt his attempts to make new friends in the region. If the situation escalates, he would probably have no choice but to side with the Palestinians. A major war could also damage the Turkish economy. Erdogan would find it difficult to express solidarity with the Palestinians while sticking to the gas deal with Israel.
However, the possible competitors are not sleeping! On the one hand, there is Egypt, which has previously successfully mediated between Israel and Hamas, and the United Arab Emirates are also well connected in the region: the Emiratis are said to have warned the Syrian dictator al-Assad that he should keep out of the new conflict.
And there’s still the US. There are early signs that the Biden administration will ask another player to mediate in the critical situation. Apparently they don’t completely trust Erdogan, especially when one observes his tactics in the Ukraine war. Here Washington seems to be betting on a different card. Qatar is the place where another part of Hamas’s political leadership is located; the emirate finances the organization to a large extent. The first talks are now to be held with the terrorist militia, which will involve the release of at least some of the Israeli hostages in Gaza.
It remains to be seen whether Erdogan can still pull out a trump card. However, it remains to be noted that – regardless of whether you look at Ankara or Dohar – it actually amounts to a declaration of moral bankruptcy when states that officially support the terrorist branch of the Muslim Brotherhood ultimately become justices of the peace. This is how you turn a goat into a gardener. The West should finally realize this, but also Israel, which approved the flow of money to Hamas for years.
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