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News & Analysis

Erdogan On The Wrong Side Of History On Israel-Palestine And Syria

Ahmet Mehmet

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan claims to be a staunch supporter of the Palestinian cause yet he continues to cultivate close relations with the zionist entity. On the sidelines of the UN General Assembly session in New York, Erdogan met Israeli prime minister Yair Lapid on September 20. A day earlier, Turkish sources announced that he would travel to Israel to meet the new prime minister following the November 1 parliamentary elections.

Is it possible to be both a supporter of the Palestinians and have strong relations with Israel that oppresses, kills, maims and imprisons Palestinians on a daily basis? Erdogan seems to think so but evidence suggests otherwise. Take the Arabian regimes’ so-called normalization with the zionist entity in September 2019 that all Palestinian groups—barring none—denounced as a betrayal of their cause.

The Arabian rulers offered the lame excuse that it was meant to help stem Israel’s expansion of settlements in the occupied West Bank. No such restriction has been observed. Instead, the zionist regime has expanded construction of illegal settlements on land stolen from the Palestinians.

Turkey not only maintains diplomatic relations with Israel but on September 3, a Turkish frigate, Kemalreis also docked in Haifa as part of NATO exercises. For the record, Israel is not a member of NATO.

In reporting the docking of the Turkish frigate at Haifa harbour, the Turkish newspaper, the Daily Sabah wrote that improved ties between the two countries are ‘motivated by energy needs’. Relations established since 1949, were downgraded (but not severed) following a brutal attack by Israeli commandos on the humanitarian boat, the Mavi Marmara in May 2010.

It was leading a flotilla of boats carrying relief goods and medicines for the besieged people of Gaza Strip and such dangerous items as toys for Palestinian children. Israeli commandoes attacked the ship in international waters in clear violation of international law and murdered 10 unarmed Turkish aid workers in cold blood.

Erdogan joined in the funeral prayers of those martyred in the Mavi Marmara attack. He also made stirring speeches against the zionist aggressors. However, when the Turkish Humanitarian Organization, IHH that had organized the flotilla, launched legal cases in court against Israeli military and political leaders, Erdogan tried to force them to not pursue the legal avenue.

Instead, he told them to accept financial compensation. If Erdogan is not prepared to seek justice for Turkish citizens murdered by Israeli commandos in international waters, how realistic is it to expect that he would seek justice for the Palestinians?

His erratic conduct has caused much embarrassment to Turkey. In addition to his headlong pursuit of deepening relations with Israel under the pretext of enhancing energy cooperation, Erdogan has also surrendered to Saudi demands over Jamal Khashoggi. Brutally murdered in the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul in October 2018, Turkey held a widely publicized trial-in-absentia of Saudi officials involved in the grisly murder. The Turkish president accused Muhammad bin Salman (MbS) of ordering the murder, a claim also upheld by the American CIA.

In recent months, however, Erdogan has furiously back-peddled. With a tanking economy, runaway inflation of 80% and presidential elections next year that he desperately wants to win have forced him to go in reverse gear. His erratic policies have resulted in foreign investors fleeing the country.

Last April, Erdogan agreed to a Saudi request to transfer the Khashoggi murder trial to Riyadh. This was MbS’s condition for mending fences with Ankara and the potential flow of Saudi funds to a beleaguered Turkish economy. Not surprisingly, human rights groups were appalled. They condemned the move, saying Saudi Arabia could not be expected to hold a fair trial.

On June 22, 2022, MbS flew into Ankara warmly received and embraced by Erdogan. They kissed and made up. Justice for Khashoggi will have to wait for another day, if at all. Realpolitik and self-interest always triumph justice.

It is, however, Erdogan’s reversal on the Syria front, especially dropping the demand that Syrian President Bashar al-Asad must go that has potentially opened up the door for peace talks in the war-torn country. Russian President Vladmir Putin has played a major role in this development.

On August 5, Putin met Erdogan at Sochi. Aware of the latter’s dilemma, the Russian president offered a face-saving formula to his Turkish counterpart. He suggested that the best way to address his concerns vis-à-vis the Kurdish problem will be by engaging with Asad.

The Turkish ruler had warm relations with Asad. Their families vacationed together. Then the Americans and the Saudis tricked Erdogan into joining the anti-Asad campaign in 2011. The Saudis came with cash while the Americans played on Erdogan’s ego telling him he will become the strongman of the region, with American support of course, once Asad is overthrown.

More than 11 years of blood-letting, hundreds of thousands of Syrians dead and millions turned into refugees including a large influx into Turkey, Asad is still firmly in power. Following his Sochi visit, Erdogan publicly stated that destabilising Asad’s government was not Turkish policy. With rising unemployment and debilitating inflation, the Turkish public has turned against Syrian refugees, and Erdogan.

Opposition parties have capitalized on the anti-Syrian sentiment in Turkey and Erdogan is forced to follow suit in hopes of retaining some support among the people. He has vowed to return the Syrians to their country.

Let us, however, return to Putin’s role in promoting reconciliation between Erdogan and Asad that also has Iran’s blessings. Tehran has called for the rebuilding of relations between the two countries. Like Russia, Iran has good relations with both Ankara and Damascus.

Building on his reconciliation efforts, there were reports that Putin invited both Erdogan and Asad to the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) summit in Samarqand, Uzbekistan on September 15-16. The sophisticated player that he is, Putin had the Uzbek host, President Shavkat Mirziyoyev fully in the loop. Leading to the summit, Putin had spoken to his Uzbek counterpart several times with whom he has developed a very good rapport.

Neither Turkey or Syria is a member of the SCO. They do not even have observer status. Turkey is a “dialogue partner” meaning that it is interested in becoming a member at some future date. At the SCO summit in Samarqand, only Erdogan showed up; Asad was a no show.

“The visit of Syrian President Bashar al-Asad to the summit of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization in Samarkand was not discussed or raised. Rahmatulla Nurimbetov, Uzbekistan’s national coordinator for SCO affairs, told reporters at a briefing on August 26.” This was reported by Tashkent Times.

Three days earlier (August 23), Türkiye’s Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu had ruled out a meeting between Erdogan and Asad at the SCO summit. He was speaking to the Haber Global news broadcaster in the capital Ankara.

Cavusoglu, however, left the door open for some kind of dialogue with Damascus. He said, “from the very beginning, Türkiye said that the most important process is the political one.” Ankara’s conduct, however, does not bear this out. It has supported, together with the US, zionist Israel and a number of Arabian regimes, the Daesh terrorists that have caused havoc in Syria.

The Turkish foreign minister also made another statement that raised eyebrows. He said that the [Syrian] regime (sic) should “not see the opposition as terrorists”. He stressed the importance of the country’s territorial integrity and the need to clear terrorist organizations from it.

“There are no preconditions for dialogue [with Syria], but what is the purpose of the talks? The country needs to be cleared of terrorists, our border security is important, and Syria’s territorial integrity and political integrity are important. It is important that people can return to the country safely. It’s not necessarily a requirement, but what are its purpose and goal? Our Syria policy is always solution-oriented,” Cavusoglu added.

If Cavusoglu had said the Syrian government should not see all opposition groups as terrorists, that would be acceptable. There are genuine political opposition groups within the Syrian opposition. Daesh, however, is not one of them. Both Turkey and the US as well as zionist Israel and Saudi Arabia are backing these terrorists in one form or another.

Without clarifying Ankara’s position on Daesh terrorists, Cavusoglu’s statement raises serious doubts. Further, when he refers to ‘terrorist organizations’ in Syria, he means the Kurdish groups, especially the PKK.

So, why is the PKK considered a terrorist organization but not Daesh? It is such contradictions that Erdogan and his government have not been able to explain clearly. Not surprisingly, these policies raise serious questions about Erdogan’s sincerity.

Article from

Crescent International Vol. 51, No. 8

Rabi' al-Awwal 05, 14442022-10-01

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