Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan attends the opening session of the World Climate Change Conference 2015 (COP21) at Le Bourget, near Paris.
(photo credit: REUTERS)
President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, whose anti-Israeli and anti-Semitic rhetoric has included calling a protester at the site of the Turkish mine disaster last year “Israeli sperm,” admitted over the weekend that Ankara needs Israel.
On Saturday, Erdogan – returning from an official trip to Saudi Arabia – told journalists that “Israel is in need of a country like Turkey in the region. We have to admit that we also need Israel.”
This mutual need, he said, “is a fact of the region.”
Erdogan’s comments are the latest in the saga regarding the possibility of Israeli-Turkish reconciliation following the breakdown of ties that came in the wake of the 2010 Mavi Marmara incident, during which Israeli commandos killed nine Turks on the ship trying to break Israel’s blockade of the Gaza Strip.
Israeli and Turkish officials met in mid-December in Switzerland, and following that meeting Israeli diplomatic officials said terms were agreed upon that would pave the way for a normalization of ties.
These understandings included Israel establishing a compensation fund for the families of the Turks killed on the Mavi Marmara, and the halting of Hamas terrorist Saleh al-Arouri’s activities in Turkey, as well as barring him from the country. There were reports that the agreement was to be signed by the end of 2015.
Various officials from Erdogan’s AK Party said in the days following, however, that there was no agreement on curtailing Hamas activities in the country, and that Turkey stood by its demand that a lifting of the blockade on Gaza was a prerequisite to normalizing ties.
Israeli officials have made clear that Jerusalem has no intention of lifting the blockade as per Turkey’s demands, but that ways could be found to allow Turkish aid into Gaza.
According to Turkish media reports on Saturday, Erdogan told reporters on his way back from Saudi Arabia that on the issue of the blockade, “Israel said ‘goods, construction equipment can enter [Gaza] via Turkey.’ We will wait for the written text so that they do not back down.”
Today’s Zaman reported that the Turkish president also said that “an end to the violations of the sanctity of al-Aksa Mosque” was another issue important for Turkey.
The Prime Minister’s Office had no reaction to the reports.
Meanwhile, the Turkish media on Friday also reported that Erdogan, who is pushing for executive powers, cited Hitler’s Germany as an example of an effective presidential system.
Asked upon his return from Saudi Arabia late on Thursday whether an executive presidential system was possible while maintaining the unitary structure of the state, he said: “There are already examples in the world. You can see it when you look at Hitler’s Germany.”
“There are later examples in various other countries,” he told reporters, according to a recording broadcast by the Dogan news agency.
The ruling AK Party, founded by Erdogan, has put a new constitution at the heart of its agenda after winning back a majority in a November parliamentary election.
The Turkish presidency said later on Friday that Erdogan’s comments had been misinterpreted and that he had not suggested Nazi Germany was an example of an effective presidential system.
“Erdogan’s ‘Hitler’s Germany’ metaphor has been distorted by some news sources and has been used in the opposite sense,” the presidency said in a statement.
It said his comments were meant to demonstrate that an executive presidency can exist in a unitary state and does not depend on a federal system of government, and that neither a presidential nor a parliamentary system is a guarantee against abuse of power.
“If the system is abused, it may lead to bad management resulting in disasters as in Hitler’s Germany... The important thing is to pursue fair management that serves the nation,” the statement said, adding it was unacceptable to suggest Erdogan was casting Hitler’s Germany in a positive light.
Erdogan wants to change the Turkish constitution to turn the ceremonial role of president into that of a chief executive, a Turkish version of the system in the US, France or Russia.
Reuters contributed to this report.