In January – amid rumors of a thaw in relations between Israel and Turkey, which had been frozen by Ankara three years ago – Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan bitterly denounced what was widely suspected to be an Israeli air strike on missiles in Syria in transit to Hezbollah. The tone and content of the statements, which came at a time when Turkey was also at odds with Damascus, caused Turkey experts to conclude that “the Turkish government for whatever reason is incapable of rational and level-headed behavior when it comes to Israel.”
A little while later President Barack Obama facilitated a halting reconciliation between the two countries.
So when Israel was widely suspected of having conducted more air strikes Friday and Sunday against Iranian and Hezbollah assets on Syrian, analyst attention turned in part to whether Erdogan would again denounce Israel. Which he promptly did:
Addressing party members in Parliament, Erdogan said the Israeli airstrikes into Syria were “unacceptable” and amounted to “handing over (to Assad) opportunities on a golden tray.” Erdogan said: “Assad, who has not sweated a single drop against Israel for the (occupation of the) Golan Heights is now using the Israeli attack to cover up the Banias massacre.”
The statements are are not the only moves that the Islamist prime minister has made that threaten to delay or undermine Israeli-Turkish reconciliation. Erdogan is scheduled to conduct a diplomatic visit to the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip in late May. American diplomats have strongly and repeatedly objected to the trip, highlighting fears that it will boost Hamas at a time when the Iran-backed terror group is at odds or worse with U.S.-backed Egyptian security forces, the U.S.-backed Palestinian Authority, and U.S. ally Israel. The prime minister has brushed off calls to delay his trip, leading Hamas to celebrate his plans as the end of U.S. hegemony.
Erdogan’s moves are unlikely to derail reconciliation efforts, however. Rapprochement between Turkey and Israel is broadly considered to be in the national interests of Israel, Turkey, the United States, and the U.S.’s regional allies. Turkey’s diplomatic gambits against Israel among other things had damaged interoperability between NATO and Israeli forces, undermining American capabilities in the region. The U.S. State Department has been quite explicit about its desire to see reconciliation succeed, and then used as a basis for shoring up regional stability.
It is more likely, instead, that the speech will be written off as posturing for domestic audiences. Erdogan has faced hard-line criticism since beginning the process of reconciling with Israel. The Turkish prime minister had been maneuvered into accepting terms that he had long derided as unacceptable, and may now be trying to save face.
[Photo: World Economic Forum/ Wiki Commons]