Turkey seeks to whitewash Palestinian Islamic Jihad as normal 'group'

The Palestinian Islamic Jihad is an extremist terror group that is widely seen as an Iranian proxy.

TURKISH PRESIDENT Recep Tayyip Erdogan greets Iranian President Hassan Rouhani in Ankara, September 2020 (photo credit: ERDEM SAHIN/REUTERS)
TURKISH PRESIDENT Recep Tayyip Erdogan greets Iranian President Hassan Rouhani in Ankara, September 2020
(photo credit: ERDEM SAHIN/REUTERS)
As part of Turkey’s ruling party hosts Hamas terrorists, it has also begun to try to normalize Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ), an extremist terror group that is widely seen as an Iranian proxy. Israel has put pressure on PIJ in recent years, killing Bahaa Abu el-Atta in November 2019. According to Russian media, Islamic Jihad deputy leader Akram al-Ajouri’s home was also hit with an airstrike last year in Damascus.
On Saturday, Anadolu media in Turkey reported that Islamic Jihad had “paid tribute to the Turkish Republic for defending Islam and Muslims.” The headline was “Palestinian group praises Turkey for defending Muslims.” This presented Islamic Jihad as if it was a normal and important organization, while it is a small Iranian-backed terrorist group. Anadolu is a major pro-government media outlet in Turkey, where almost all opposition media has been closed down and their journalists imprisoned by the regime, and its views represent Turkey’s leadership and their views. The frontpage report on Islamic Jihad’s praise and the reference to the Iranian-backed terrorist organization as a “group” shows Turkey is whitewashing and perhaps cozying up with the group. Ankara refers to the Kurdistan Workers Party as “terrorists” but does not refer to Palestinian groups that bomb Israeli buses and fire rockets at Israelis as “terrorists,” increasingly representing how the Turkish regime has sought to whitewash terrorists using its media.  
Iran is a key backer of Islamic Jihad. It has hosted the leadership and supported it financially and with technical advise to increase the range of its missiles. In December 2018 and February 2020 Iran’s Foreign Minister Javad Zarif spoke with PIJ leader Ziad Nakhala. Last year, PIJ used around 5% of its rocket stockpile to attack Israel, just some of the thousands of rockets fired from Hamas-run Gaza.
Turkey’s regime, led by Recep Tayyip Erdogan, is a key supporter of Hamas and now it appears to be embracing Islamic Jihad, as well. While Turkey has told its lobbyists in the US to try to work with the Trump administration by pretending to be against Iran, in fact Ankara embraces Iran’s regime and works to support the same Palestinian groups. The Times media in the UK has reported that Hamas operates a cyber terror headquarters from Turkey. In addition, the Telegraph has previously revealed that Turkey gave Hamas leaders visas and that Hamas planned terror attacks from Turkey. These revelations came to light in December 2019 and then August 2020 and this week. This appears to be building evidence of Ankara’s hosting of terrorists. The US State Department slammed Turkey for hosting a Hamas leader in August, the second high level red-carpet meeting for Hamas this year. Turkey is leading opposition to Trump’s policies of moving the embassy and has led opposition to Israel-UAE relations.  
The Saturday report at Anadolu appeared to give Islamic Jihad a platform as if the terror organization is just a political legitimate “group.” First of all this is clear from the media reports that framed the group’s praise as supporting Turkey for “defending Islam.” Turkey’s ruler Erdogan has sought to transform Turkey into a political Islamist state in recent years. When he turned Hagia Sophia into a mosque in July, the Turkish presidency said that it was one step on the path to “liberating Al-Aqsa mosque” in Jerusalem. This is the same rhetoric the Iranian regime uses. In addition, on October 1, Turkey declared “Jerusalem is ours,” illustrating how it seeks to try to lead opposition to Israel. Turkey discussed the creation of an “Islamic” currency based on gold along with Iran, Malaysia, Qatar and other states in December 2019 as a way to get around western sanctions on countries like Iran. Turkey’s key allies are Muslim Brotherhood-aligned political parties and states, such as Hamas, Qatar and Tripoli-based Libyan parties. Turkey has sought to push influence in Somalia, Sudan, Tunisia and Pakistan in recent years, as well as pushing northern Cyprus and Azerbaijan to increase tensions with their neighbors.  
The outreach to Islamic Jihad may be linked to this attempt to unify Islamic groups linked to Iran and to challenge Israel. In August the Times in the UK reported that the head of Mossad had said Turkey could be a larger threat than Iran in the future. The substance of the Islamic Jihad report notes that Daoud Shehab, a spokesperson for PIJ, had praised Turkey and that PIJ had slammed Franch President Emmanuel Macron. Macron is one of the toughest critics of Turkey’s regime, opposing its role in Libya, the Eastern Mediterranean and its exporting of Syrians to attack Armenia and its ethnic cleansing of Kurdish areas in Syria. That means that Turkey appears to be highlight Islamic Jihad’s view of Israel and France. Anadolu reported that Islamic Jihad had critiqued France for “neglecting the achievements of Muslims.” It was unclear why, out of many Muslim voices, Turkish media sought to highlight an extremist group known for terror and rocket attacks on Israel to critique France. The overall perception is that Islamic Jihad is just a normal “group” and a legitimate voice for “Muslims.”  
Turkey in the past used to be against Islamic Jihad and Hamas before Erdogan changed Ankara’s role. Israel blamed Islamic Jihad for a rocket attack in August 2015 on the Golan. In 2004 former Egyptian leader visited Turkey to meet Erdogan and discussed how Egypt was confronting Hamas and Islamic Jihad. At the time diplomatic reports noted that Turkey wanted to play a larger role in the Middle East and also welcomed Egypt’s initiatives. Things have changed today. A leaked diplomatic report from January 2004 also notes that Turkey had asked Syrian regime leader Bashar al-Assad, during a visit to Turkey, to “stop supporting Hezbollah, Hamas, Palestinian Islamic Jihad and for the PFLP.”  
Turkey’s pro-government media embrace of Islamic Jihad is therefore symbolic of an attempt by Ankara to whitewash, provide a platform for, embrace and highlight Islamic Jihad as if it is a normal and important group. PIJ has historically been a very small part of the Palestinian political landscape and even though it is a dangerous terror group support by Iran and hosted by the Syrian regime, it is not very large. That means any media that gives its statement front page news and feels its “praise” is important is clearly indicating that Islamic Jihad is important, otherwise why would Ankara highlight the “praise.” The contradictory way Ankara’s pro-government media calls the PKK and other Kurdish groups “terrorists” but does not refer to many other groups as “terrorists” shows that Turkey does not believe firing rockets at Israeli civilians is a terrorist act.
While the media report is only one report, the way it presented PIJ could be symbolic of a larger shift in Turkey. While Turkey sought to portray itself as fighting Hezbollah during clashes in Syria in the spring of 2020, even appearing to feed media reports about how it had harmed Hezbollah’s Radwan unit, Ankara may have been doing this to try to scupper Israel-UAE relations as part of a brief charm offensive to torpedo Israeli work on the East Mediterranean gas forum. In the end Turkey’s embrace of Hamas, and now its media embrace of Islamic Jihad, as well as vows to liberate Jerusalem and claim ownership of Israel’s capital, shows the Turkish leadership’s real intentions.