Relations between Turkey and Israel deteriorated after the assault by Israeli commandos on the Turkish-registered Mavi Marmara in international waters in May 2010; nine Turkish citizens on board were killed and another died of his wounds later. The ship was sailing towards the Gaza Strip as part of the Freedom Flotilla to break the Israeli-led siege of the Palestinian enclave. At the time, Ankara recalled its ambassador from Tel Aviv.
A year earlier, Recep Tayyip Erdogan had walked out of the World Economic Forum in Davos, during which he participated in his position at the time as Turkish Prime Minister. He had an angry verbal exchange with then Israeli President Shimon Peres in the immediate aftermath of Israel’s military offensive against the Palestinians in Gaza, Operation Cast Lead. “President Peres,” said Erdogan, “you are older than me and your voice is very loud. The reason for you raising your voice is the psychology of guilt. I will not raise my voice that much, you should know that. When it comes to killing you know very well how to kill. I know very well how you hit and killed children on the beaches.”
Relations between Ankara and Tel Aviv remained poor, until US President Barack Obama intervened to put pressure on Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to apologise to Turkey for the flotilla attack. Uncharacteristically, Netanyahu did apologise to Turkey, albeit nearly 3 years later. Tel Aviv also agreed to pay compensation to the families of the Mavi Marmara victims, as well as allow Turkish humanitarian aid to reach the Gaza Strip. Ankara had three conditions for the resumption of full diplomatic relations: an official apology, compensation and the lifting of the blockade on Gaza.
Today, Turkey-Israel relations are witnessing a new crisis after more than 60 Palestinians were killed in the Gaza Strip by the Israeli occupation forces on Monday. The Foreign Ministry in Ankara summoned the American and Israeli ambassadors for consultations. The Israeli ambassador was asked to leave the country and the consul in Istanbul was dismissed in protest at the events in Gaza. Israel then demanded that the Turkish consul in Jerusalem should leave.
In response to Netanyahu’s claim that “Erdogan is among Hamas’s biggest supporters”, the Turkish President stressed that Hamas is a resistance movement that protects the land of Palestine against the Israeli occupiers. “Israel has the blood of Palestinians on its hands and can’t cover up crimes by attacking Turkey,” Erdogan added on Twitter. He also noted that Israel is an Apartheid state that continues to occupy Palestine in violation of UN resolutions. This is actually a response to everyone who describes Palestinian resistance as terrorism, although it was apparently directed at the Israeli leader.
Turkey’s response to Israel’s Gaza killing fields is escalating daily, not only at the official level; tens of thousands of Turkish citizens also took part in demonstrations in Istanbul and other Turkish cities to condemn Monday’s massacre and the moving of the US Embassy to Jerusalem. On Friday, a million-strong protest is expected to take place in Istanbul’s Yenikapi Square, with another on Sunday in Diyarbakir, in solidarity with the Palestinian people.
Turkey is leading a campaign against Israel, moving in all directions to confront Donald Trump’s “deal of the century”, which aims to liquidate the Palestinian cause and surrender Jerusalem and Al-Aqsa Mosque to the self-declared Jewish state. Erdogan called on the leaders of the Islamic countries, in his capacity as the president of the 13th Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) Summit, to hold an extraordinary session on Friday in Istanbul to discuss the grave developments in the Palestinian territories. There has also been intensive communication with world leaders to discuss the situation in Gaza. However, the level of participation in the summit is expected to be low, because of some regional countries’ support for the Trump deal.
The deterioration of Turkey-Israel relations once again is not surprising, because the previous revival under Obama was a result of pressure from Washington. Today, the US administration is headed by a man more Israeli in outlook than Netanyahu himself.
The Israeli Prime Minister is thrilled by the political triumph of the embassy move and Arab states rushing to normalise relations with his government. Such states must be disturbed by Turkey’s support for the Palestinian cause and will no doubt try to hinder them through the Arab League, which they control.
Netanyahu can thus afford to ignore the protests by Turkey or any other country against Israel’s terrorism. That, though, is unlikely to deter President Recep Tayyip Erdogan in his quest for justice for the people of Palestine.
This article first appeared in Arabic in Arabi21 on 16 May 2018