Turkey's response to the recent Israel-Gaza escalation
by Can Burgaz
In the wake of the recent attack by Hamas and other organizations in Gaza on Israel, the international community's attention again turned to the volatile Middle East. As Israel responded with force, the world awaited various nations' reactions, focusing on Turkey. President Erdogan, who had previously pursued an assertively anti-Israel foreign policy, has recently embarked on a path of normalization in the region, especially with Israel. However, this process was abruptly interrupted by the Hamas attack, leaving many wondering about Turkey's evolving stance. In this article, we explore Turkey's complex response to the Israel-Gaza conflict, the history that led to this point, and the broader implications for the region.
The attack on Israel by Hamas and other organizations in Gaza on October 7 caused significant international repercussions. Israel responded with force, drawing global attention back to the Middle East. While most Western countries emphasized Israel's right to defend itself, others, particularly Iran, blamed Israel.
The stance that Turkey would adopt in this situation has been a subject of curiosity. President Erdogan, who had pursued an anti-Israel foreign policy in the past, had initiated a process of normalization in the region, particularly with Israel, in recent years. Despite his close ties with Hamas, the Erdogan government approached the Hamas attack by urging restraint from both sides.
The attack and its consequences
Recep Tayyip Erdogan, initially keen on fostering good relations with Israel in the early years of his leadership, changed his stance after Israel attacked Gaza. His famous remark, "You know how to kill very well," directed at Israeli President Simon Peres during the 2009 Davos Summit, marked a significant shift. Subsequent events, such as the Mavi Marmara raid and Gaza attacks, led to a complete breakdown in relations between Ankara and Tel Aviv.
Interestingly, the period during which Erdogan's popularity surged in the Islamic world coincided with when relations with Israel hit rock bottom. Later, Turkey pursued an increasingly assertive foreign policy but failed to succeed significantly. Constrained by an economic crisis, Erdogan gradually shifted towards a more peaceful policy with regional countries, initiating a reconciliation process with Israel.
This reconciliation process was interrupted by the Hamas attack.
President Erdogan addressed the issue at his party's 4th Extraordinary Grand Congress. Erdogan called for restraint on both sides in response to the events in Israel:
"As Turkey, we call on all parties to act with restraint in light of the events that took place in Israel this morning and to stay away from impulsive steps that will further escalate tensions."
Erdogan continued to maintain a balanced approach, criticizing both sides in subsequent messages:
"It is clear that the problem in the region cannot be solved by constantly harassing the Palestinian people, disregarding the security of life and property, seizing their homes and lands, destroying their infrastructure, and preventing their development... We are against random actions against Israeli civilians like we are against the threat of terrorism."
In its statement, the Turkish Ministry of Foreign Affairs also highlighted civilian casualties and called on the parties to act with restraint:
"We attach great importance to restoring tranquility in the region as soon as possible, and we strongly condemn the loss of civilian lives. We emphasize that acts of violence and related escalations will not benefit anyone, and we call on the parties to act with restraint and avoid impulsive steps."
Erdogan's ally, the ultra-nationalist Nationalist Movement Party, also called for a common-sense approach:
"Approaching the large-scale crisis between Israel and Palestine with common sense, ensuring normalization quickly, and engaging mediators as soon as possible should be the urgent agenda of the international community."
Fatih Erbakan, leader of the far-right Islamist New Welfare Party, called for sending troops to the region, citing inhumane and disproportionate use of force by the Israeli regime against civilians in occupied Jerusalem, the West Bank, Jenin, and the Masjid al-Aqsa as the cause of the recent violence.
Opposition parties' positions
Opposition parties primarily condemned Israel's actions. Kemal Kilicdaroglu, leader of the main opposition Party, expressed support for the Palestinian people and urged international organizations to ensure peace and the rights of Palestinians through democratic means.
Meral Aksener, leader of the İYİ Party, criticized both Hamas and Israel for their actions, highlighting Israel's use of disproportionate force and the resulting cycle of violence.
“Israel forced Palestine into a region that was becoming smaller daily because of its years of excessive force and "I am strong. Therefore, I am right" mentality. Sadly, terror emerged from this squeeze rather than calm and peace. Laws or rights exist for terrorism. We know this since our nation has battled PKK/YPG terrorism for many years: no cover can be utilized for terrorism. Therefore, regardless of who is responsible, any act that uses women as a vehicle for unsightly and filthy propaganda against civilians is a crime against humanity, a crime against morals, and a crime of terrorism. Hamas and terrorism are what's happening in Gaza; with these deeds, he stained the legitimate struggle of the Palestinian people with a nasty stain.”
The Islamist Saadet Party strongly criticized Israel, emphasizing the need to distinguish between self-defense and oppression and advocating for international intervention.
Ahmet Davutoglu, former Minister of Foreign Affairs and Prime Minister, supported Hamas and called for an immediate ceasefire through diplomatic channels.
The Socialist Workers' Party of Turkey stood by the people of Palestine, emphasizing their right to self-defense while condemning the targeting of civilians under any circumstances.
Will Turkey’s position change?
Erdogan's government aims to remain neutral in the Israel-Gaza conflict. Despite his history of anti-Israel policies, Erdogan is now pursuing a normalization process in foreign policy, leading to more measured statements on recent events.
Sinan Ulgen, director of the Center for Economic and Foreign Policy Research (EDAM), suggests that these moderated statements may result from the ongoing normalization with regional countries and economic expectations. However, if Israel's harsh responses continue, Turkey might be pushed toward a more populist stance. Erdogan's son-in-law, Selcuk Bayraktar, who owns Turkey's leading UAV company and is seen as Erdogan's successor, expressed support for Palestine, alluding to past regional conflicts.
However, Israel's retaliation is becoming increasingly harsh and targeting civilians. If this harshness continues, a populist move can be expected. His son-in-law Selcuk Bayraktar, who is also the owner of Turkey's most important UAV company and is considered Erdogan's heir by many commentators, said, "It was 20 years ago... Bombs were falling on Palestine again. The song asked, "You call me a terrorist; who is the real terrorist? Nothing has changed..." and made a statement of support for Palestine.