What are Turkish-Hamas relations really worth?

The human price of the Israeli operation in Gaza, Protective Edge, has caused intense debate throughout the world, and it seems as though Turkish leaders and public are some of the most vocal in criticizing Israel. Turkey is trying to assist the Palestinians in Gaza in three main ways: mediation efforts to achieve a cease fire, public statements to raise international awareness, and transfer of humanitarian assistance. Still, despite moving in these three paths, there does not seem to be much positive result to Turkey’s efforts, in terms of improving the lives of the people of Gaza.

While Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu is busy traveling and having negotiations with regional and global leaders, Turkish mediation efforts do not seem to be successful in bringing about a ceasefire. True, Turkey has relatively good communication channels with the Palestinians in general, and especially with Hamas, is closely cooperating with Qatar on the matter, and it does seem as if the US is supporting to some degree these efforts. Still, the combination of the tense relations between Turkey and Egypt and the fact that Turkey and Israel did not manage to get to the point of normalization in their relations before operation Protective Edge are among the main reasons behind this failure. As both Israel and Egypt are the actors that control movement in the crossings to Gaza, inability to communicate with them simply makes some of Turkey’s suggestions lack basic credibility.

Turkish rhetoric, and specifically that of Turkish Prime Minister, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, is extremely harsh towards Israel (and to a lesser extent towards Egypt), and perhaps counterproductive. Using charges such as that Israel’s actions are worse than those of Hitler inevitably raises the claims that there are also anti-Semitic tones to Erdogan’s criticism of Israel. Statements made in Turkey that the Turkish Jewish community should apologize for Israel’s actions only add to this perception. Turkish harsh rhetoric seems to contribute only to convince the convinced (and perhaps to bolster Erdogan’s reputation in the domestic arena and in parts of the Muslim world).  The Israeli-Palestinian conflict has always had high visibility in the international media, especially in time of violent clashes. Using the strongest condemnation already in the earliest stages of the violence leaves little room for escalating the rhetoric when events have passed a certain threshold that justifies stronger reaction.

The only ray of light in the current deterioration of Turkish-Israeli relations is that the two states have learned in the past few years to better coordinate the transfer of humanitarian aid to Gaza. Thus the news report on the transfer by the Turkish Red Crescent of aid in this recent round of hostilities through Ben Gurion airport and Kerem Shalom crossing is encouraging in this sense.  In contrast, the leader of the Turkish NGO, IHH, threatened to send a new naval aid flotilla to Gaza, this time accompanied with Turkish naval ships. While there has been no confirmation from governmental officials to these threats, and it seems unlikely that Turkish-Israeli navies will reach direct confrontation, Erdogan has in 2011 threatened that Turkish navy ships will accompany future aid naval convoys. As the 2010 Gaza flotilla ended with deaths of Turkish citizens and deep tensions between Turkey and Israel,  the chances that this time the sides will better restrain themselves exist but cannot be relied upon. There is fear that the sides might adopt an even more aggressive stance towards one another and that existing problems between Israel and Turkey will become harder to solve.

To sum, the low point Hamas has reached before operation Protective Edge  (in terms of being more regionally isolated and basically bankrupt) was despite the good relations it has with Turkey and Qatar. While it is still not clear whether the current Israeli operation will strengthen or weaken the organization, it is evident that despite its ambition and rhetoric, Turkey has contributed little to truly improve the situation of the people of Gaza in the current round of hostilities.

This piece was written by Gallia Lindenstrauss, a Research Fellow at the Institute for National Security Studies (INSS), and Süfyan Kadir Kıvam, an intern at the institute. 

About the Author
Dr. Gallia Lindenstrauss is a research fellow at the Institute for National Security Studies (INSS) and specializes in Turkish foreign policy. Her additional research interests are ethnic conflicts, Azerbaijan’s foreign policy, the Cyprus issue and the Kurds.