- The Muslim world is not monolithic
- in its position regarding Israel.
In 2020, a number of Arab countries agreed to normalise relations with the Jewish state, despite the fact that their citizens have a great sentiment for the Palestinians. Such actions have already resulted in the decline of the influence of the Persian Gulf monarchies on the Palestinian question. At the same time, the influence of Iran and Turkey in Palestine continues to grow, since both nations claim the role of leaders of the Islamic world. Turkish officials intensified their anti-Israel rhetoric, especially after the new round of hostilities in the Gaza Strip between the Israel Defence Forces and Hamas. But Ankara still maintains relatively good relations with Tel Aviv, primarily in terms of economy. What are Turkey’s interests in the region and why doesn’t Turkey protect its Muslim brothers and sisters in Palestine?In this Blog, we will discuss
why Turkey does not act against Israel.
In March 1949, Turkey was the first Muslim majority country to recognise the State of Israel. During the 1950s, Turkey decided it was time to open the doors of its first diplomatic office in Tel Aviv. Ever since, the two nations developed strong economic ties.
Turkey purchases high-tech defence equipment from Israel, whereas Ankara supplies Tel Aviv with military boots and uniforms. Also, exports from Turkey to Israel include cars, concrete, minerals, textiles, ceramics, plastic, rubber, asbestos and machinery while Israeli exports to Turkey include chemicals, electrical equipment and plastic and rubber products.
In 2013, there were reports of Israel providing advanced electronic warfare systems for aircraft to Turkey. And by 2019, Turkish exports to the Jewish state reached $4.46 billion. In the pre-COVID world, Turkish Airlines was the most frequent airline to fly to Israel, and Tel Aviv was reportedly at talks with Ankara on natural gas deals in the Eastern Mediterranean.
They discussed the future of the EastMed natural gas pipeline project is a 1,900-kilometer natural gas pipeline extending from Israel to Greece then on to Italy. Once completed, the underwater pipeline would be the longest and deepest in the world and would provide Israel an opportunity to export gas to Turkey, which could reduce Turkish energy dependence on Russia.
Energy is just one of the reasons why Turkey abstains from providing military assistance to Hamas, one of Israel’s arch enemies.Since the conflict between the Jewish State and the Palestinian faction erupted in May 2021, Turkey sharpened its rhetoric against Tel Aviv. “Israel, the cruel terrorist state, attacks the Muslims in Jerusalem, whose only concern is to protect their homes and their sacred values, in a savage manner devoid of ethics,” said Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. \
“To the Islamic world, we say: It’s time to stop Israel’s heinous and cruel attacks! To humanity, we say: It’s time to put this apartheid state in its place,” Erdogan’s press aide Fahrettin Altun wrote on Twitter. “We know Israel is an enemy of Islam”, Erdogan continued. “We want all of humanity to follow closely Israel’s hostility against Islam. Surely, as long as Israel maintains this attitude, it is impossible for bilateral relations reach a level we would like,” he concluded. To this day, however, Turkey does not seem to be willing to break diplomatic ties with “the terrorist apartheid state and the enemy of Islam”.
Moreover, Ankara does not even take any serious and practical steps to the Palestinians, which is quite understandable given that Turkey aimsto preserve relatively good ties with the Jewish State and to secure its own geopolitical interests in the Levant.
In 2010, Ankara dispatched its Mavi Marmara flotilla to Gaza, but the vessel was raided by Israel which resulted in the death of 10 pro-Palestinian activists, most of them Turkish citizens. The last thing Turkish leadership needs is another similar incident and an additional deterioration of relations with Tel Aviv.
Thus, Ankara will keep verbally condemning Israeli actions against the Palestinians, but will unlikely do anything that could jeopardise its economic interests in the Jewish state. Relations between Turkey and Israel were strained even before the Israeli police fired rubber bullets and stun grenades at Palestinian protesters at Jerusalem’s Al-Aqsa mosque in May 2021.
In 2018, after the then-President of the United States Donald Trump announced that his country would move its embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, Turkey withdrew its ambassador from Israel, but not from Washington.
It was a clear demonstration of Turkey’s restrained policy towards Israel and its major backer. Had Ankara withdrawn its ambassador from Washington, and broke diplomatic ties with Israel, the U.S. and its satellites would have easily found a way to do a serious harm to the Turkish economy. In order to prevent such negative scenarios,
Turkish leadership decided to implement half-measures vis-a-vis Israel, which is why critics often accuse President Erdogan of hypocritical behaviour. , Turkey’s relatively weak actions may have an impact on the Islamic world’s perception of Turkey as the main defender of the Palestinians. As a result, the most radical groups of the Palestinian resistance could begin leaning towards Iran, despite the traditional divisions between Sunnis and Shiites.
They could simply choose partnership with Tehran against their common enemy. That would allow Iran to position its Axis of Resistance a structure that aims to protect all Muslims, not just Shiites. For both, Iran and Turkey, the protection of the Palestinians is seen as a way to demonstrate a strong willingness to defend not only their own national interests, but all Muslims in general.
However, without a concrete action on the ground, it will be difficult for Ankara to defeat Tehran in a competition for influence over the Palestinian factions. It is worth noting that at the beginning of the Syrian civil war Palestinian Hamas and Iran-sponsored Hezbollah were on the opposite sides of the barricades.
After the mediation of the late Iranian General Qasem Soleimani, relations between the two organisations improved, and Hamas leaders began visiting Tehran. Hezbollah leader Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah said on several occasions that the Lebanese group could use “thousands of missiles” to attack facilities in
Israel, in particular,to destroy the strategically important Port of Eilat. However, in spite of the tense situation on the Palestinian territories, Hezbollah will unlikely start a war against Israel.
It is important to understand that The Party of Godis one of the strategic assets of the Iran-backed Axis of Resistance, which means that it will be used only in the case of a full-scale war. In the meantime, the group will be on hold, ready for joint actions with Hamas against Israel. Unlike Iran, Turkey does not have its own proxies in Palestine, nor have Turkish-affiliated groups in Syria demonstrated any desire to act against the Jewish state.
In addition to that, it remains unclear why the Islamic State and Al- Qaeda never seriously attacked Israel, but have focused on fighting other Muslims instead. Indeed, as long as the Muslim world remains divided, Israel does not have to worry for its safety and existence. (gentle music) Turkey is reportedly interested in sending international peacekeepers to Gaza to help safeguard the Palestinians.
Recently, Turkish President Erdogan spoke with his Russian counterpart, Vladimir Putin, noting that the international community needed to “teach a deterrent lesson” to Israel, and adding that Ankara was working to mobilise this reaction. There were speculations of Erdogan discussing with Putin an option of sending joint Russo-Turkish peacekeeping troopsto the region. In reality however, Israel, as a more or less sovereign state, would never agree to host such peacekeepers.
Erdogan’s proposal was most likely addressed not to Putin, but to his own Turkish voters, as well as to the Muslims around the world that still believe that Turkey could play the role of their patron.
In reality, Ankara, as a regional power, aims to preserve good ties with both Israel and its opponents, while the interests of the Palestinians and other Muslims can be considered of secondary importance.
If history is any guide, Turkish harsh rhetoric is never followed by any serious anti-Israel actions on the ground, which means that relations between the two countries will likely improve once the situation in Gaza stabilises.
remember this: Actions always speak louder than words.