ANALYSIS: Why Turkey is becoming a regional threat

Turkey's increasing hostility towards Israel, renewed tensions with Greece over Cyprus part of broader Turkish threat to regional stability.

Yochanan Visser ,

Recep Tayyip Erdogan
Recep Tayyip Erdogan
Reuters

Turkey is becoming more hostile to Israel by the day, meddling in internal Israeli matters such as the situation in Jerusalem and Israeli politics in the Jewish communities in Judea and Samaria where it harshly condemned a decision by Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu to build thousands of additional homes in the Jewish towns and villages in Judea and Samaria.

Turkey, furthermore, is quickly becoming a regional threat to many other countries in the Middle East and could cause a major war when the country’s leader, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, will not be reined in.

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo seems to be adjusting America’s strategy toward Turkey after having been appeasing Erdogan for a long time and this is especially true for President Donald J. Trump who maintained friendly relations with the Turkish dictator despite Erdogan’s belligerent actions in a series of countries.

Pompeo was in Greece and Cyprus recently and avoided flying to Istanbul for a meeting with Erdogan and other Turkish officials.

Let’s first take a look at Erdogan’s recent rant against Israel in the Turkish parliament.

During an opening session of the Turkish parliament, Erdogan spent much of his speech bashing Israel and called Jerusalem “our city”. He also claimed that the Palestinian Arabs had lived in “Palestine” for “thousands of years” calling them “an oppressed people”.

By claiming Jerusalem was actually a Turkish city Erdogan meant that because the Turks occupied what is now Israel during the 400 years that the Ottoman Empire existed the Turks still have a claim on the capital of Israel.

His remarks showed again that the Turkish dictator is still dreaming of and actively working to resurrect the Ottoman Empire

“In this city that we had to leave in tears during the First World War, it is still possible to come across traces of the Ottoman resistance. So Jerusalem is our city, a city from us,” Erdogan claimed.

The Turkish leader also stressed that Turkish Muslims pray in the first place in the direction of the Al-Aqsa Mosque and the Dome of the Rock in Jerusalem and only then towards Mecca and Medina in Saudi Arabia.

“Our first qibla (direction of prayer in Islam) is Al-Aqsa and the Dome of the Rock. They are the symbolic mosques of our faith,” said Erdogan, who admitted that there are also holy places for Christianity and Judaism in Jerusalem.

“Another crisis that our country and our nation carefully follow is the oppression of Israel against the Palestinians and the indifferent practices that disregard the privacy of Jerusalem,” Erdogan said at the end of his speech adding that he saw it as honor and obligation to defend the rights of the Palestinian Arabs

At the end of his anti-Israel rant Erdogan called the Palestinian national cause “the bleeding wound of global conscience, and the Jerusalem case to the end” and , furthermore, mentioned the fact that the Ottoman Sultan Suleiman built the current walls of Jerusalem and emphasized that this was proof of the high esteem the Turks hold for Jerusalem.

The Israeli government was silent on Erdogan's incendiary speech, apparently in order not to further escalate tensions with Turkey that has been meddling in internal Israeli affairs for a very long time now.

Under Erdogan's regime in Turkey, relations with Israel have deteriorated dramatically and one can now only speak of trade relations. Many of the goods sold in Israel come from Turkey, while Israelis visited Turkey in droves before the Corona crisis to enjoy a vacation.

The reconciliation between Turkey and Israel in 2016 six years after Israeli marines stopped the Turkish ship Mavi Marmara which was on the verge of breaking the legal maritime blockade of Gaza, came about during a visit by then US President Barack Obama who exerted intensely pressure on Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu.

Nine Turks died in the clashes with members of the Islamist organization IHH after Israeli marines boarded the Mavi Marmara and were attacked with iron rods and knives and then opened fire.

Israeli Defense Minister Benny Gantz finally responded to Erdogan's belligerent politics on Sunday last week, but did so in general terms.

Gantz said during a Zoom conference with reporters from the Gulf States that Turkey has become a “destabilizing power” in the Middle East and gave as an example Turkey's intervention in the Libyan civil war as well as the intervention in northern Syria where Turkey has already invaded twice and supports Islamist rebels who commit war crimes.

Gantz also spoke about Turkey's support for Hamas, saying that Turkey's NATO membership was a problem that should be resolved by the international community.

“We must take all the options that we have in our hands and try to influence it through international pressure to make sure that they are pulling their hands from direct terrorism.", the Israeli minister said about Turkey.

Gantz could also have mentioned Turkey’s recent intervention in the war between Armenia and Azerbaijan where it supports the latter with weapons, drones and by sending Islamist Syrian rebels to the frontlines and refuses to join efforts to reach a ceasefire.

Erdogan, from his side, threatened at the same time a third offensive against the Syrian Kurds whom he consequently calls “terrorists” despite the fact that they have never attacked Turkey.

The Turkish dictator also sends Syrian Islamist rebels to Libya where they fight on the side of the UN-backed army of the Government of National Accord which has ties with the Muslim Brotherhood.

Then there are the renewed tensions with Greece over the Cypriote issue.

Turkey illegally occupies northern Cyprus and last week made another aggressive move when it

decided to open for visitors an approximately 1km stretch of the coastline in the fenced-off area of Varosha in Famagusta northern Cyprus which is against UN Security Council resolutions.

The Security Council on Saturday condemned the Turkish move and called upon Turkey to reverse its decision but chances are pretty low that Erdogan will listen.

There were already pre-existing tensions with Greece over Turkey’s off-shore activities in an area near Cyprus that is expected to have large gas reserves and about overflights of Turkish warplanes in the Aegean Sea.

These overflights violate Greek airspace but Erdogan claims several Greek islands in the sea are Turkish property. In this case too, he bases his claim on the Ottoman occupation.



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