Is Turkey joining war against Israel?

By Peter LaBarbera

President of the Republic of Turkey Recep Tayyip Erdogan at the G20 Japan Summit Saturday, June 29, 2019, in Osaka, Japan. (Official White House Photo by Shealah Craighead)

Turkey’s Islamist President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is blasting Israel as a “war criminal to the world” that is committing an “open and despicable massacre” against Gazans, in a fiery, pro-Hamas speech at a massive rally in Istanbul organized by his AKP Party.

Erdogan, a longtime defender of Hamas who rejects the Western powers’ classification of Hamas as a terrorist organization, has ramped up his rhetoric against the Jewish state following Israel’s declaration of war and retaliatory campaign against Hamas terrorists, who reportedly killed 1,400 Israelis – including many civilians – in a surprise attack Oct. 7.

Earlier last week, Erdogan called Hamas “freedom fighters” and cancelled a planned trip to Israel.

At the pro-Palestinian rally in Istanbul attended by hundreds of thousands, Erdogan questioned Israel’s historic claim to their Middle East homeland: “Hey Israel, how did you come here? How did you enter here?” he asked rhetorically to the flag-waving throng. “You are an occupier. You are an organization. The Turkish people know this,” he said. “Israel, we will declare you as a war criminal to the world.”

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“What is being done in Gaza is not defense, but an open and despicable massacre,” Erdogan said. “This determined and faithful stance exhibited by Gazans will be written in history as a glorious epic of resistance.”

He issued a seeming threat to thrust Turkey into the Israel-Hamas war, declaring: “Oh Western Powers! – Do you want a New War between the Crescent and you Crusaders again?”

“We can come at any night unexpectantly,” he said, as the crowd chanted, “Turkish military to Gaza!” according to one X post on the speech by @ElephanCivics, who titled it, “WW3 Update.”

Israel responded to the speech by pulling its diplomats from Ankara and calling for a reassessment of relations with Turkey, which Sunday celebrated its 100-year anniversary as a modern secular state.

“In light of the escalating rhetoric from Turkey, I have instructed the return of diplomatic representatives from Turkey in order to reassess Israel-Turkey relations,” Foreign Minister Eli Cohen said in a statement reported by the Times of Israel Saturday.

U.S. Sen. Rick Scott, R-Fla., quickly condemned Erdogan: “Hamas murders innocent babies, burns families alive & is holding Americans hostage. Erdogan has again shown that his interests don’t align with those of the U.S….We need to seriously consider Turkey’s membership in NATO if it’s willing to side with Iran-backed terrorists.”

But the Biden administration’s State Department spokesman Monday refused to condemn Erdogan for his harsh, anti-Israel statements, saying only that the White House “disagrees” with Erdogan’s comments as it has disagreed with him in the past:

Erdogan sanctions anti-Israel rallies

The foreign policy group Foundation for Defense of Democracies, in an article published six days before the huge rally, said the anti-Israel rhetoric “is not an unusual move for Erdogan, as his desire to undermine Israel is becoming clearer by the day.”

The FDD report notes that “since 2011, Erdogan has helped Hamas establish a headquarters in Turkey and harbored its operatives and senior leadership.”

It listed other examples of Erdogan encouraging public anger against Israel:

  • “Since the attacks, the Turkish government has welcomed, and Erdogan personally encouraged, vitriol-filled pro-Hamas rallies in Turkey.
  • “The Israeli Consulate was surrounded by an angry mob of protestors, shooting a barrage of fireworks, with little attempt by Turkish law enforcement officials to ensure the security of the diplomatic outpost.
  • “Huda-Par – a radical Islamist party and a partner in Erdogan’s governing coalition – also held a celebratory rally outside the Israeli Consulate in Istanbul, chanting ‘Israel be damned!’
  • “A day later in Istanbul, IHH – a Turkish ‘aid’ organization known for supporting jihadist causes, held a rally in Istanbul, where some of its supporters vowed to kill U.S. troops deployed in the region, and all denounced the United States as the ‘Great Satan’ for its support of Israel.”

The writer, Sinan Ciddi, associate professor of Security Studies at the Command and Staff College-Marine Corps University and Georgetown University’s School of Foreign Service, notes the protests “are significant developments, as public rallies have largely been banned in Turkey since 2013. Apparently, if they are anti-Israeli in focus, they are permissible.”

Turkey’s “democracy” is far from perfect and heavily favors Erdogan’s long-running rule against his political opponents.

“Some 90% of Turkey’s media is in the hands of the government or its backers, according to Reporters Without Borders, ensuring overwhelming airtime for President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who won re-election on Sunday,” Euronews reported March 30, in an article titled: “Turkish election ‘free but not fair’, say international observers.”


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