ANALYSIS: Erdogan sets Turkey on a crash course with Israel and others

While Israel forges closer ties with Greece and Cyprus, Turkey eyes moves which could destabilize the region - and spell trouble for Israel.

Yochanan Visser ,

Recep Tayyip Erdogan
Recep Tayyip Erdogan

While Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu was in Greece to sign a deal with his Cypriote and Greek counterparts about the construction of a gas pipeline which will bring Israeli gas to Europe, Turkey made a number of moves that could further destabilize the Middle East and spell trouble for the alliance between Greece, Cyprus, and Israel.

Last November, Turkey and the international recognized Libyan government signed a controversial deal that would link their exclusive economic zones in the Mediterranean Sea.

The signed agreement was clearly meant as a signal to Israel, Egypt, Greece, and Cyprus that Turkey would act against the plan to build the gas pipeline and secure its interests in the gas-rich sea.

The deal also gave new evidence to the idea that Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has Ottoman aspirations after he mentioned, shortly after signing the agreement, that Libya had been part of the Ottoman Empire.

Erdogan’s Ottoman aspirations were again on full display this week when the Turkish dictator sent two frigates to the coastal waters of Algeria to take part in a naval exercise that commemorated an Ottoman governor while also joining NATO’s Sea Guardian drill in the Mediterranean Sea.

The discussion about Turkey’s double role in the region and about its NATO membership will no doubt further heat-up after Erdogan sent four planes with Syrian Islamist fighters to Libya after the Turkish parliament approved the deployment of ‘Turkish troops’ to Libya.

The Syrian fighters arrived at the Mitiga Airport in Libya on board of four planes belonging to the Libyan Afriqiyah Airlines company and Ajniha company, owned by Abdel Hakim Belhaj who’s residing in Turkey,” the Syrian Observer reported.

The deployment of the ‘Turkish’ fighters constitute a clear breach of UN resolutions 1970 and 1973 which are binding for UN member states and which forbid giving military aid to the parties in the prolonged conflict in Libya.

The presence of the ‘Turkish’ troops in Libya will no doubt prolong the endless conflict since the army of the Government of National Accord (GNA) was on its way to lose the war with the rival Libyan National Army (LNA) headed by Gen. Khalifa Haftar.

The LNA controls most of Libya’s territory and was on the verge of an assault on the capital Tripoli which is controlled by the GNA.

Russia, via mercenaries, Egypt, the United Arab Emirates and to a lesser degree France support Hafter’s LNA while the GNA is only backed by Turkey and its ally Qatar, and to a lesser degree by Italy.

EU officials think the deployment of the ‘Turkish’ troops was one of Libya’s conditions for signing the deal about the exclusive economic zones which the EU deems a “violation of international law.”

Chances are high now that the Russian ‘Wagner’ mercenaries will engage in battle with Erdogan’s troops thereby aggravating already high tensions in the region and upsetting Turkey’s relations with Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Such a situation is a nightmare for the regime of Egyptian President Abdel Fatah al-Sisi who is strongly opposed to Turkey’s quest for regional hegemony since he cracked down on the Muslim Brotherhood (MB) which is now led by Erdogan since the fall of the MB’s Morsi government in Egypt.

After winning the 2018 elections in Turkey, Erdogan announced that he would now concentrate on turning Turkey into an international superpower and since then he launched three interventions in the Syrian war.

In addition, the Turkish tyrant let his army operate in northern Iraq where he targets bases of the outlawed Kurdish PKK and has established Turkish bases in Qatar and Somalia.

The Turks also illegally frustrate Cypriote drilling in Cyprus’ territorial waters and even chased an Israeli vessel from Cyprus territorial waters, which was doing research into possible new gas fields.

Turkish warplanes, furthermore, breach Greek airspace on a daily base when they deliberately fly over areas in the Aegean Sea that Erdogan regards part of Turkey since they were once part of the Ottoman Empire.

Erdogan also dispatched Turkish attack drones to northern Cyprus, internationally recognized as illegally occupied territory, apparently to intimidate Greece and Cyprus ahead of the pipeline agreement with Israel.

Chances are high that Erdogan will also act against the three countries whenever they start with the construction of the pipeline to Europe because he claims the pipeline will partly be constructed in Turkey’s territorial waters.

This is the reason Israeli commentator Tzur Shezaf called for strengthening Israel’s navy as soon as possible.

“With all the regional conflicts taking place across the Middle East, Israel has to strengthen its naval weapon, with its primary mission to protect its territorial waters, making use of its alliance with Egypt, Greece and Cyprus,” Shezaf wrote this week.

Turkey’s increasing hostility toward Israel could set the country on a crash course with the Jewish state.

Virtually no week passes without a new Turkish hostile act against Israel.

Erdogan is openly supporting Hamas and allows Hamas’ leaders to roam freely in Turkey where they have a permanent headquarters. At the end of December he met with Hamas’ leader Ishmael Haniyeh and other Hamas’ leaders who are trying to cement new support for the Sunni terrorist organization.

The Turkish firebrand now also tries to help the Palestinian Authority with its disputes about lands in Jerusalem, Judea and Samaria.

The Israeli free-copy paper Israel HaYom reported on Thursday that Erdogan has handed over a copy of the Ottoman archives that deal with land registration in pre-Israel.

Palestinian Authority lawyers now use the archives in disputes over land and also plan to use them to implement the (non-existing) ‘right of return’ the effort to flood Israel with Palestinian refugees and all their descendants, Judge Musa Shakarneh, chairman of the PA's Lands Authority told Israel Hayom.