Turkey: With Gaza Crisis, Ankara Tries to Rebuild Regional Role
The last few years have seen Ankara's regional role in the Middle East become severly diminished as its relations with one neighbor after another went downhill. But could the current war in Gaza between Hamas and Israel offer Turkey a chance to reassert its regional relevance?
The promise of that happening is certainly there, especially after Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu was included in a mini-summit this past Saturday in Paris that brought him together with Secretary of State John Kerry and the foreign ministers of Qatar, France, Germany, Italy and the U.K. in a failed effort to create a ceasefire in Gaza.
The inclusion of Turkey made certain sense, since -- like Qatar -- it is has been a strong supporter of Hamas in recent years and is considered to have an open line to the organization's leadership. Ankara has also been showing its support for Gaza in material terms, recently sending some 17 tons of medicine to the besieged area and also providing funding for fuel for Gaza's only power plant.
But despite Ankara's willingness to play a role in resolving this latest fight Israeli-Palestinian fight, the question now is whether its overt support for Hamas combined with Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan's blistering verbal attacks against Israel -- with which Ankara already had strained relations -- will prevent Turkey from being able to play the regional role it envisions for itself. After having refered to Israel's actions in Gaza as having "surpassed Hitler in barbarism," can Erdogan or the country he leads really be seen as trustworthy interlocutor?
Based on the reaction in Israel to Turkey's involvement to the Kerry-led ceasefire proposal, it's clear that the Israeli government views any Turkish role as suspicious. Reports the Jewish Telegraphic Agency's Ron Kampeas:
Behind the feud between John Kerry and Israel over the secretary of state’s efforts to broker a Gaza cease-fire is a larger tension concerning the role of Turkey and Qatar in Palestinian affairs.
Israeli officials rejected the proposal for a cease-fire advanced by Kerry in part because of what they see as the outsize influence on his diplomatic efforts of these two regional powers with agendas increasingly seen as inimical to Israeli interests. While both countries are traditional U.S. allies, they are also supportive of Hamas.
“Qatar, financially and politically, diplomatically and through Al Jazeera, is supporting a terrorist group,” an Israeli official told JTA. “Instead of contributing to the development of the area, they are contributing to terror in the region.”
Israeli officials point to the anti-Israel rhetoric of Turkey’s Islamist prime minister, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, which has reached new heights during the current conflict, with his suggestion that Israel is worse than the Nazis.
That said, it's not only Israel that is looking unfavorably at a Turkish role in resolving the Gaza war. Egypt, which has had deeply troubled relations with Turkey after last year's military-led coup led to also extremely harsh rhetoric from Erdogan, has also been resistant to Ankara being involved. Likewise, the Fatah-led Palestinian Authority of Mahmoud Abbas has also reportedly been critical of the inclusion in the process of Turkey, which it sees as overly friendly to Hamas to the detriment of the PA.
Turkey, through its connection to Hamas, may ultimately have a role to play in bringing about an end to the bloodshed in Gaza and Israel. But, at this point, it not only has to fight against the violent dynamics that exist between Israel and Hamas but also against the caustic effects of the rhetoric Erdogan has used against his country's neighbors.