2014-08-01

Erdoğan’s instrumentalization of the Gaza conflict

On 21st July Turkish government announced a 3-day national mourning in the country as a sign of solidarity with the civilians in the Gaza Strip[1]. For some supposedly noble reasons Erdogan wanted to show that he is sensitive to sufferings of the Palestinians in Gaza. However if we follow Erdogan’s logic to announce mourning on every suitable occasion, exactly the same moves are to be expected from Erdogan when Turkish civilians are victims of unnecessary violence. At least this was the very case with the tragedy in coal mines in the city of Soma where 301 miners died as result of the explosion. Government announced 3-days mourning in the country.
However no such steps were undertaken by Erdogan in December 2011 when 34 Turkish civilians of Kurdish descent were bombed by the Turkish jets who mistakenly confused them with terrorists crossing the Turkish-Iraqi border. No public apologies were tendered by officials for obvious mistakes made by the Turkish military. Moreover the question should be asked why there was no similar steps during 2008 ground offensives in Gaza when more than 500 people were killed during military operation? It is worth noting though that Turkey due to its good relations with main regional player tried to build at that time a multilateral front to make Israel stop military campaign. Whereas today Turkey is not able to do even this and thanks to its failed foreign policy in the Middle East is trying so far to prevent any cease-fire brokered without Turkey’s involvement.
For outside observers it became very clear that Turkey openly derails any endeavour to settle down the crisis. Even though Egypt is considered to be the best candidate among the regional players to broker cease-fire between Hamas and Israel[2], Erdogan is ready to derail any attempts of the Egyptian government to settle the crisis. By accusing Egypt’s post coup government of using Gaza issue as a tool for legitimizing Sisi’s regime[3] and by convincing Hamas to continue its resistance despite already high casualties among civilians in the Strip Turkish prime-minister tries to spoil Egypt’s game to stop sufferings of civilians in Gaza.
All this suggests that Turkey is not willing to see any cease-fire in the Gaza Strip achieved without its involvement, even though Turkey is not regarded to be fit to be a part of any possible solution where at least neutral relations to Israel are regarded as a precondition for any talks. On the contrary Erdogan openly opposes Israel in the recent years what many observers interpret as an attempt to boost Turkey’s and Erdogan’s popularity himself in the eyes of the Arab public and what is more important domestıcally. The latter’s priority becomes evident if we take in mind that anti-Israel criticism can seen as a part of his political campaign before the forthcoming presidential elections in August 2014.
Apart from this, the ongoing military operation in the Gaza Strip served Erdogan as another occasion to express publicly again his deep antisemitic sentiments. It is worth remembering that during Taksim-Gezi protests in 2013 Erdogan referred to protesters as a part of Jewish plot to destroy Turkish economy. But most prominent example of Erdogan’s antisemitism is his outburst on the Davos summit in 2009 directed at the Israeli President Shimon Peres that in the long run brought Erdogan high popularity rates in Turkey. But antisemitism in the modern Turkey under the conservative Justice and Developement party is not confined to the public conduct of the Turkish prime-minister. The experts of the Middle East Media Research Institute, for instance, also draw attention to rise of antisemitism in the printed media such as newspapers closely connected with the current government[4], who is trying to bolster its popularity in the muslim majority society by implicit antisemitic rhetoric.
Bearing this in mind It becomes pretty clear that Erdogan is exploiting the havoc between Gaza and Israel as a means to get more support prior to presidential elections in august 2014. Actions limited to verbal attacks on Israel and idle rhetoric in support of Palestinians without any tangible actions risk to become a trademark of the Turkish government. And it shouldn’t surprise because it is exactly what Turkish conservative government long ago learned from their Arab counterparts:  to instrumentalize the on-going conflict in the Middle East in purely domestic affairs without even trying to bring about any real changes in it[5].


[1] http://www.aa.com.tr/en/turkey/362480--turkey-declares-three-days-of-mourning
[2] http://www.rand.org/blog/2014/07/with-the-death-toll-rising-in-gaza-is-there-any-hope.html?utm_source=policycurrents&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=policycurrents20140724
[3] http://www.al-monitor.com/pulse/originals/2014/07/idiz-isreal-gaza-turkey-egypt-tension-hamas-sisi-erdogan.html
[4] http://www.memri.org/report/en/0/0/0/0/0/0/1365.htm
[5] lan Pappe, The Modern Middle-East, 2nd ed. (New York: Routledge, 2010), p.32

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