Erdogan’s closeness to Hamas and his recent supportive statements have once again surprised Western partners. Many are wondering whether he can still be trusted as a mediator in the Middle East conflict. The Turkish president has raised his voice to the Palestinian cause: he declares the terrorist organization Hamas to be freedom fighters, describes Israel as a pawn of the West, warns of a “battle between the crescent and the cross” – and with his statements he once again opposes NATO. “If you have such an intention, then remember, this nation is still alive,” he shouted to his supporters. You can “come unexpectedly every night”.
Immediately after Hamas’ attack on Israel on October 7, Erdogan made moderate statements and positioned himself as a mediator in the conflict. In fact, Türkiye was reportedly involved in negotiations for the release of Israeli hostages in the hands of Hamas. Ankara’s contacts with both the Palestinian militia and the Israeli government had made this possible. Erdogan condemned the “killing of civilians in Israel,” without mentioning Hamas by name, while calling on Israel to “behave like a state and not like an organization.” And he offered his mediation services, for example for the release of around 220 people who Hamas had kidnapped as hostages. But the Israelis obviously had no need for such mediation, especially not from Erdogan.
In connection with Erdogan’s about-face, the fears of Western European security services have also increased that the Turkish president could also incite the Turkish communities in the West with his statements in favor of the Muslim Brotherhood terrorist group. Fear is growing, especially in Germany, when the Sultan trawill be traveling to Berlin soon for a friendly match between Germany and Türkiye, where the football event will take place in the historically charged Olympic Stadium. There are fears of anti-Semitic riots by Erdogan fans in the German capital, under the eyes of their “leader”, who will then probably sit next to the German Chancellor. There is already internal discussion in security circles in Germany about postponing the game.
Erdogan’s closeness to Hamas and its political leaders is not new; he has received their top officials several times and allowed them to operate offices in Istanbul. One cannot ignore the fact that he feels ideologically connected to Hamas. After Hamas’s 2006 election victory in Gaza, he invited its leader Khaled Mashal to Türkiye. In 2014, cheered on by chants of “Down with Israel,” he appeared at an AKP party conference in Konya. According to reports, the current Hamas leader Ismail Haniya was even in Istanbul on October 7, the day of the Hamas attack on Israel.
The terrorist organization apparently has significant assets in Türkiye. The US Treasury Department speaks of a “central component” in the “secret global investment portfolio”. Washington has imposed sanctions on Turkish real estate developer Trend GYO and has several Turkish residents on its blacklist. The Turkish authorities’ desire to investigate appears to have been less determined than in Saudi Arabia. From there, the terrorist organization is said to have relocated part of its financial activities to Türkiye in recent years. In the meantime, according to the British newspaper “Times”, Ankara is said to have even issued Turkish passports to some Hamas officials.
Erdogan’s renewed U-turn also has domestic political reasons. Islamist opposition parties and his far-right coalition partner, the MHP, raised doubts about his support for the Palestinian cause, after his initially conspicuously reserved statements. Erdogan’s AKP lost many votes to the right-wing fringe in the parliamentary elections. A pro-Palestinian stance is the consensus in Turkish politics, from left to right. But that doesn’t necessarily apply to Hamas. Only eleven percent of those surveyed in a study by the Metropoll Institute said Türkiye should stand behind the terrorist organization.
Erdogan also wants to underline his claim as the leader of Sunni Islam and as a regional power. After his efforts to play a mediating role met with little international response, he brought himself into the conversation in other ways. It was no coincidence that he used the eve of the centenary of the Turkish Republic to do this. So he could remember that not so long ago Palestine was part of the Ottoman Empire.
The new Sultan knows from experience that he can increase his popularity in the Arab world by criticizing Israel. In 2009, he scored points at the World Economic Forum in Davos with a harsh attack on then-Israeli President Shimon Peres. Relations reached a low point in 2010 when Turkish ships tried to break the naval blockade of Gaza and nine Turkish activists were shot dead by Israeli soldiers.
Ahead of the Turkish President’s visit to Germany on November 17 and 18, critical voices are now increasing in Berlin, demanding a clear positioning of the German government towards their guest. In view of Hamas’ defense of Erdogan, there is now no longer any basis for discussion. Economic and migration policy issues could be discussed at ministerial level, experts say. It would be completely the wrong signal to roll out the red carpet for Erdogan in Berlin now and thereby trivialize his support for Hamas. Erdogan could also add fuel to the fire in front of his supporters in Germany. That would worsen the situation on German roads.
The Israeli bombs on Gaza are making it easy for many in the Islamic world to ignore Hamas’ monstrous terror on October 7. The bloodshed of that day no longer plays a role in the Turkish media, the topic is Gaza. Erdogan knows what the mood is in Türkiye, namely against Israel.
Similar support for Hamas only came from Iran. Erdogan is once again underlining his claim to be considered the successor to the Ottoman caliph and the spokesman for the Muslim world, the “Ummah”. He may be pursuing a domestic political calculation in the run-up to the local elections, in which he wants to win back the city administrations of Istanbul and Ankara. Just as Erdogan was always prepared to subordinate all ideological zeal to personal power interests. With his commitment to Hamas, Erdogan has positioned Türkiye in a shocking way: on the side of the murderous gang called Hamas, together with the Iranian mullahs’ regime.
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