U.S. President Donald Trump and Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan leave the stage after family photo during the annual NATO heads of government summit at the Grove Hotel in Watford, Britain December 4, 2019
(photo credit: REUTERS/PETER NICHOLLS)
The time has come for Western allies to stand up to Turkey
Washington must send a message that hosting wanted Hamas members is not acceptable.
Once an Israeli ally, Turkey today is one of the most anti-Israel countries in the Middle East. It gives a red carpet to the highest level Hamas terrorists, hosts Hamas members wanted by the United States, challenges Israeli allies at sea and compares Israel to Nazi Germany, while using state-controlled media to bash the Jewish state at every opportunity.
Turkey led some of the most virulent opposition to the recent Israel-UAE agreement and threatened to recall its ambassador to Abu Dhabi in response.
It is time that Western allies stand up to Turkey. Washington must send a message that hosting wanted Hamas members is not acceptable. Israel should work more closely with France, Greece, Cyprus, Egypt, the UAE and others to condemn Ankara’s increasingly aggressive and erratic behavior.
The current posture of Turkey is entirely tied to the rise of its leader Recep Tayyip Erdogan. Once seen as receptive to Israeli concerns – even being keen on playing a role in an Israeli-Syria peace process – Turkey under Erdogan has been rapidly transformed into a country that not only hosts extremists but has also worked with Iran and is viscerally hostile to Jerusalem.
Consider, for instance, that Turkey led the charge against the US recognition of Jerusalem and America’s moving of its embassy there. Ankara not only hosted meetings of Islamic countries but also attempts to make Jerusalem an Islamic cause. This is a throwback to the last century’s politics of religion and nationalist extremism merged into one.
Turkey has empowered religious radicals to compare the recent transformation of the ancient Hagia Sophia Church into a mosque as a kind of messianic Islamic cause that is linked to “liberating Al-Aqsa” according to official statements from Ankara. Using terms such as “liberating” to describe taking back Jerusalem from Israeli control is designed not only to encourage anti-Israel views at home, but also to fan flames across the region – and as far away as Malaysia and Pakistan.
At a time when Israel is seeking normalization throughout the region, it is Turkey and Iran that are trying to convince countries not to establish ties with the Jewish state. Ankara’s push for this is fundamentally hypocritical because it has relations with Jerusalem.
On several issues, Turkey is already openly hostile to Israel. It has opposed the Israel pipeline deal with Greece and Cyprus. This is a deal that could have included Turkey had it been more open to working with Israel.
On trade issues, Turkey and Israel have often been close partners. For instance, in 2018 trade was some $5 billion. But when it came to pipeline politics, Israel ended up working with Greece and Cyprus, and Turkey has claimed this is an “anti-Turkish agreement.”
Ankara has laid claim to a wide swath of the Mediterranean astride the pipeline that could eventually evolve into a full blown crisis, potentially with military dimensions.
Last year, Turkey harassed an Israeli research ship near Cyprus; this year, it sent its navy and a research vessel to waters off Greece to illustrate its new claims. In response, the UAE conducted joint air force drills with Athens this week to show the Turks that threats do not deter them.
Western governments need to stand up to Turkey’s increasing destabilization of the Middle East. Ankara threatened Europe with a flood of refugees as recently as February, as a way to pressure the European Union to do more in Syria. In addition, Turkey has threatened France, a fellow NATO-member. It has also decided to purchase additional Russian-made advanced missile systems.
Ankara’s work with Tehran goes directly against US sanctions. It’s time for countries to call out this hypocrisy. Turkey claims that the US has worked with Kurdish militant groups in Syria while Ankara hosts Hamas terror masterminds.
Regimes like Erdogan’s only respond to strength. Appeasing them will only invite more threats throughout the Mediterranean.
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