With Turkey vs Egypt, Israel should brace for Erdogan unhinged - analysis

With Turkey and Egypt possibly on the verge of war in Libya, an Israeli annexation move is likely to cause Erdogan to spit hellfire.

Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan makes a speech during the re-opening of the Ottoman-era Yildiz Hamidiye mosque in Istanbul, Turkey, August 4, 2017 (photo credit: MURAD SEZER/REUTERS)
Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan makes a speech during the re-opening of the Ottoman-era Yildiz Hamidiye mosque in Istanbul, Turkey, August 4, 2017
(photo credit: MURAD SEZER/REUTERS)
Even if nothing else were happening in the world today, Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan could be expected to react with fury at any Israeli move come July 1 to extend its sovereignty to parts of the West Bank.
That’s just what Erdogan does when it comes to Israel.
But now, with Turkey and Egypt possibly on the verge of war in Libya, as each country is backing opposing sides in the deadly civil war there, an Israeli annexation move is likely to cause Erdogan to spit hellfire.
Why? Because the two Muslim countries will be battling for public opinion in the Arab and Muslim world, and if there is one thing Erdogan has perfected in his 17-year-reign in Turkey, it is to use anti-Israel and antisemitic positions and rhetoric to bolster his stature in both those worlds.
In Libya, very simply put, Turkey and Qatar – two countries sometimes characterized as Muslim “Brotherhood-lite” and who support Islamic groups such as Hamas – are backing Libya’s Government of National Accord (GNA), against the Libyan National Army forces of Field Marshal Khalifa Haftar, supported among others by Egypt, along with Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.
The Muslim Brotherhood has a great deal of sway inside the GNA, while Haftar is opposed to that form of political Islam. Libya, therefore, is just one of the regional theaters where the rivalry between political Islamist forces and the more moderate Sunni states are playing out.
So what does any of that have to do with an Israeli decision to extend its law over Ma’aleh Adumim and Alon Shvut?
If Erdogan can fashion himself with fiery antisemitic and anti-Zionist rhetoric as the champion of the Palestinians, and try to paint Egypt as some kind of Israeli lackey – because of its peace treaty and close security relationship with the Jewish state – then perhaps the Turkish leader can gain points in the Arab world even as he is faces-off militarily – either directly or by proxy – against the Arab world’s most populous and important nation.
What this could conceivably do is force Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi to take a much more strident stand against an Israeli move than he otherwise would have liked to, forced – as it were – to be more Catholic on the Israeli-Palestinian issue than the pope (Erdogan).
If the two countries go head to head in Libya, both will want the proverbial Arab street, and if there is one thing that plays exceptionally well on that street, it is bashing Israel.
Erdogan knows this well, having turned it into a diplomatic art form, having rode his Israel bashing to unprecedented popularity for a Turkish leader in the Arab world more than a decade ago.
The first indication of how Erdogan would use Israel slamming to shore up his credentials in the Arab world was in 2004, after Israel killed Hamas leader Ahmed Yassin during the height of the Second Intifada, a move which Erdogan – who became prime minister a year earlier and president in 2014 – called an act of “state terrorism.”
Five years later, Israel’s ambassador to Turkey at the time, Gabby Levy, was quoted in a cable revealed by Wikileaks as a saying that Erdogan was a “fundamentalist” who “hates us religiously.” And his hatred, Levy said, “is spreading.”
The first big wave of popularity that Erdogan felt for slamming Israel came at the World Economic Forum in Davos in January 2009, when he lashed out at president Shimon Peres for Israel’s actions during Operation Cast Lead a few weeks earlier, and then stormed off the stage. He was widely hailed in the Arab media for “putting Peres in his place.”
And that was only the beginning: he received plaudits for extracting an apology from then-deputy foreign minister Danny Ayalon who upbraided the Turkish ambassador in Israel for an antisemitic Turkish television series while seating him on a low couch. And Erdogan was hailed as a hero for recalling Turkey’s ambassador and expelling Israel’s envoy from Ankara, after the Mavi Marmara incident in 2010.
Following that incident, Erdogan hinted that he would send warships to accompany “aid” ships to Gaza to relieve the blockade of Gaza, threatened to make a triumphant visit to Gaza, and claimed on Ankara billboards to have brought Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu to his knees after Netanyahu apologized – at the behest of US President Barack Obama – for “operational errors” during the Mavi Marmara raid.
The harder Erdogan hit at Israel, the higher his popularity soared – at least in the Arab world.
The instances where Erdogan has used antisemitic and vitriolic anti-Zionist rhetoric are too numerous to list, so here are just a few highlights:
  • In 2011, he accused “the Israeli people of genocide.”
  • In 2013, he blamed Israel for orchestrating the July 3 coup that brought Sisi to power in Egypt. That year he also called Zionism “a crime against humanity.”
  • In 2014, following Operation Protective Edge in Gaza, Erdogan compared Israel’s military actions in Gaza to Hitler, saying, “They kill women so that they will not give birth to Palestinians; they kill babies so that they won’t grow up; they kill men so they can’t defend their country... They will drown in the blood they shed.”
  • In 2015, a day before an election extended his executive powers in 2015, Erdogan said “Jewish capital” was behind The New York Times and The Guardian, which had written negative editorials about him.
  • In 2017, he tried to delegitimize the independence referendum in Iraqi Kurdistan by alleging the Mossad was involved. That same year he was also the leading voice in the Muslim world against US President Donald Trump’s recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, calling Israel a “terrorist state.’’
  • In 2019, he said at a meeting of Muslim leaders on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly meeting that “we view the Holocaust in the same way we view those besieging Gaza and carrying out massacres in it.”

Not only did those comments not detract from Erdogan’s standing either at home or in the Muslim world, but an argument can be made that they actually enhanced it.
It is a given, therefore, that he will slam Israel in the harshest terms for annexation. And whatever he would have said in normal circumstances, he will now surely say with even more vitriolic as Turkey stands at the brink of a military confrontation with Egypt in Libya. Because if there is one thing Erdogan has learned, it is that one way to gain popularity in the Arab world – popularity he will need if battling Egypt – is to bash Israel and the Jews without restraint.
Get ready for an Erdogan on Israel unhinged and ugly, Roger Waters style.