Expert: Hamas policy crux of dispute with Ankara

Israel, Turkey likely to become main adversaries in Levant, US think tank program director tells 'Post'; "Turkey sees Hamas as legitimate partner."

September 14, 2011 01:25
3 minute read.
EGYPTIANS GATHER to greet Turkish PM Erdogan

Egyptian in support of Erdogan 311. (photo credit: Mohamed Abd El-Ghany/Reuters)


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Israel’s refusal to deal with Hamas is at the center of the country’s deteriorating relations with Ankara, a leading Turkey expert told The Jerusalem Post on Tuesday.

Soner Cagaptay, director of the Turkish Research Program at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, said the animosity of Turkey’s ruling AKP party toward its erstwhile ally is not necessarily rooted in baseline anti-Israel feeling in Ankara, but in a fundamental divergence over whether and how to deal with the Palestinian Islamist group. “What we’re seeing is not rooted in the so-called ‘apology’ issue,” he said, referring to Jerusalem’s refusal to apologize for the Mavi Marmara raid in May that left nine Turks dead.

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“This is a fundamental disagreement between Turkey and Israel over how to deal with Hamas,” he said by phone from the US capital.

“Israel refuses to deal with Hamas, which is present in Gaza, while Turkey, under the AKP, sees it as a legitimate partner in the Palestinian theater,” Cagaptay said.

“As long as that disagreement doesn’t go away, we’ll see Turkey and Israel confronting each other all the more vocally over the coming years.”

“Over the last ten years, Turkey’s Israel policy has gradually been indexed to Israel’s Hamas policy. That indexing has now been made complete,” he said.

“In my view, the Israelis missed this correlation between their Hamas policy and Turkey’s relationship with Israel.”

Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan has consistently refused to describe Hamas as a terrorist group, and invited the radical group to Ankara.

Appearing on the Charlie Rose program in May, he said, “I don’t see Hamas as a terror organization. Hamas is a political party – it emerged as a political party that appeared as a political party... it is a resistance movement trying to protect its country under occupation.”

Some analysts have said the AKP’s own Islamist roots – it emerged a decade ago from the reform wing of the nowbanned Virtue Party – led Erdogan to see Hamas as a Palestinian analog to his own party.

Others see Erdogan as fundamentally anti-Israel, noting the apparent double standard to which Turkey holds its former partner.

While Erdogan decried Israel’s raid on the Mavi Marmara as “Turkey’s 9/11” and expelled the Israeli ambassador from Ankara, he has remained mum when other countries commit similar or worse acts of bloodshed. Some fifteen Turkish shepherds were killed by Iran’s border guards over the last year for accidentally straying into Iranian territory, critics noted, but Ankara has issued no condemnation.

“Turkey is increasingly becoming an active side in the Arab-Israeli conflict,” Cagaptay said. “Turkey and Israel are likely to become the main adversaries in the Levant. Not only has Turkey changed under the AKP, but it’s increasingly becoming the chief adversary to Israel in the region.”

In recent months, Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu referred repeatedly to his administration’s aim of becoming a “game-setting” or “order-setting” state in the region. But Cagaptay said Ankara’s recent actions go far beyond that relatively modest ambition.

“With all of this confrontational rhetoric, Turkey is becoming less like France – that is, a ‘game-setter’ country – and more like Gamal Abdel Nasser’s Egypt – a revisionist country that challenges the international order.”

In its decade in power, the AKP Party has sought to expand its soft power by improving grass-roots relations with the peoples of the Arab and Muslim worlds. The Arab Spring, Cagaptay said, has finally allowed that policy to bear fruit.

“This could not have happened a year ago,” he said.

“Erdogan’s visit would not have created such a sensation on the streets of Cairo.”

“He’s not going to Algeria or Jordan, because he wouldn’t be welcome there. But if Bashar Assad fell tomorrow in Syria, Erdogan would be the first leader to go and speak with the ‘Arab street,’” he said.

“In a way, Turkey’s ambition to lead Muslim public opinion in the Middle East is being realized.”

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