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Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has said that Ankara will “liberate” Al-Aqsa.
JULY 15, 2020
The rising chorus of anti-Israel statements from Turkey, particularly when it comes to the toxic blending of religious and extreme nationalist rhetoric from the ruling party, is becoming an increasing threat to Israel and regional stability.
After Turkey announced that it would turn the museum of Hagia Sophia back into a mosque, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said that Ankara would next “liberate” Al-Aqsa. In recent months, Turkey’s religious affairs ministry and other voices in the government have repeatedly pushed a message claiming they want to “unite the Islamic community” against the State of Israel.
Ankara’s rhetoric increasingly is a reminder of how Iran’s anti-Israel rhetoric began in the 1970s and later turned into a potential existential threat of a nuclear nature. Iran’s religious leadership, like the Muslim Brotherhood-inspired leadership of the AK Party in Turkey, view the world through a binary lens. There is the “Islamic ummah” and then everyone else. For both Iran and Turkey’s current leaders, the rise in religious extremism points toward a desire to mobilize the region against Israel.
For years, the leading narrative was that while Iran is a threat to Israel, Ankara and Jerusalem have historic relations. But those relations took a radical turn for the worse after the 2009 war in Gaza. Since then, what was once a flowing relationship in the 1990s, has become increasingly hostile on multiple levels. There is antisemitism in Turkey and the active spreading of Jewish-Israel conspiracy theories. There is also more mobilizing of far-right religious networks, such as those behind the Mavi Marmara flotilla that sought to break the Israel-imposed naval blockade over the Gaza Strip.
In addition, Turkey’s current government is a close ally of Hamas. Iran and Turkey both support Hamas, much as they tend to view the US role in eastern Syria through a hostile lens. Turkey and Iran have also both made Jerusalem – or “Al-Quds” as they call it – a center of their foreign policy. For instance, when US President Donald Trump moved the embassy in Jerusalem, it was Turkey that invited Muslim leaders to Istanbul to condemn the move. Turkey has led the opposition to annexation and the embassy move.
This means that Turkey’s threats to Israel are not only verbal, they are also ideological, and part of an increasingly religious campaign that blends support for groups like Hamas with willingness to put into action ideas like the flotilla. Attempts to reconcile with Turkey have failed, and Ankara is now increasingly drunk on militarism a and willingness to use force to get what it wants. Turkey has quietly sought to make inroads via Hamas in Gaza as well as through religious groups in east Jerusalem, to grow its influence. The Jerusalem municipality recently had to remove a plaque that Turkish-backed groups put up in east Jerusalem. The goal of the plaque was a quiet campaign to assert Turkey’s Ottoman-era claims to Israel’s capital city.
The larger threat is also felt in the region. Turkey bombs with impunity in Syria and Iraq. It has now sent Syrian mercenaries and its naval and air force assets to Libya. While this campaign seems far from Jerusalem, Turkey is in fact trying to take over a swath of the Mediterranean to prevent an Israeli-Greek energy pipeline deal signed earlier this year. At home, Ankara has silenced opposition, becoming the largest jailor of journalists in the world, and it uses the lack of dissent at home to push an unchecked agenda in the region.This US administration has so far had a blind spot when it comes to Turkey. Pro-Ankara elements in the State Department have appeased Turkey’s extreme agenda, coddling its embrace of Hamas and other terrorists. Israel has been reticent to say anything. Evidence shows that an unchecked extremist power in the region will always eventually set its eyes on attacking Israel. Gamal Abdel Nasser filled that role in the 1950s, which later shifted to the Iranian ayatollahs. In the long term, this may shift to Turkey – if its increasing attacks on neighbors, crushing of dissent and anti-Israel rhetoric goes unchecked by the Western world.
Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan makes a speech during the re-opening of the Ottoman-era Yildiz Hamidiye mosque in Istanbul, Turkey, August 4, 2017
(photo credit: MURAD SEZER/REUTERS)