After Syria, Palestine: The talented Erdogan is the new Sultan of Turkey, dominating the Middle East chessboard (3/3)

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By Elijah J. Magnier:

From the Syrian dossier that is coming to a relative close, the Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has another objective to reach in order for him stay on top of the Middle Eastern throne: Palestine.

“There is no difference between the atrocities faced by the Jewish people in Europe 75 years ago and the brutality that our Gaza brothers are subject to”, said Erdogan at the Islamic summit leaders’ meeting in Istanbul last month.

The Turkish President has decided to stand against Trump’s declaration of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. He defined Israel as a “Terror State” and said that “with the will of God, Jerusalem is ours and is the capital of Muslims as long as the (Islamic) Ummah exists”.

Erdogan’s political stands have always been in a way surprising. In 2006 he supported Hezbollah during the second war with Israel to the point that the secretary general Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah said:”al-Tayyeb (the Good) al-Tayyip Erdogan”.

But before jumping to any conclusions, Turkey is not going to cut its relationship with Israel, nor will it declare war on Tel Aviv. The relationship between both countries dates back to 1949, when Ankara recognised Israel as a state. It evolved in 1990/2000 when the Israeli Air Force conducted training on long missions from the Turkish airports.

Israeli prime minister Ehud Barak visited Turkey in 1999 and the same Erdogan visited Israel in 2005. Ehud Olmert, as Prime Minister, also visited Turkey in 2007 and 2008 and the Israeli President Shimon Perez addressed the Turkish parliament in 2007. The exchange of Israeli and Turkish delegations between the two countries has never ceased.

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However, the Mavi Marmara incident was a real turn in the Israeli-Turkish relationship. This is when Israel realised it was time to look for other Middle Eastern partners among the Muslim countries. Erdogan stopped a 1$bn deal with Israel for it to update 170 tanks. Nevertheless, over two million Israeli tourists continue to visit Turkey yearly and, in a Muslim country, enjoy the beach safely!

Israel has found new friends (not only Egypt and Jordan but also Qatar, Bahrain, the Emirates and Saudi Arabia) but has kept the contacts with Turkey, who renewed the relationship after the Mavi Marmara attack. In 2012 at Eurovision, Turkey sent Can Bonomo, a Turkish Jew, to represent his country. In 2013 Turcas petrol offered a $2.5 bn project in conjunction with the Israeli Leviathan gas field.

In 2015 and later in 2017 the biggest commerce and trade Turkish delegation visited Israel, representing thousands of Turkish companies, boosting the exchange of commerce between the two countries.

But Israel is looking for new Muslim partners, particularly when Turkey is no longer the biggest force in the Middle East, following the arrival of Russian forces in the Levant. Tel Aviv fears the continuous changes of mood of the Turkish president particularly as he islooking  with such determination for a leading role in the Middle East, now that the war in both Syria and Iraq is coming to an end.

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Indeed, in May this year, both President Erdogan and Prime Minister Netanyahu exchanged accusations on social media and expelled respective diplomats following the violence which erupted in Gaza in response to Trump’s decision to consider Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and moved the US embassy to the Palestinian Capital. Erdogan said Netanyahu “has the blood of Palestinians on his hands and will not be able to cover up crimes by attacking Turkey”.

But again, the Turkish President doesn’t take the matter to extremes with Israel, the “US’s spoiled baby”. He has rejected a proposition by the Turkish Parliament to suspend all commercial and military contracts with Israel. This clearly indicates that Erdogan is an Islamistpresident leading a pragmatic secular state, trying to lead the Middle East, in the absence of Saudi Arabia. Erdogan is not committed to an ideology or personal reactions when dealing with the commercial and trade interests of Turkey.

He maintains his relationship with Israel, but also with Iran where his yearly exchange of commerce reached $20bn yearly. He has also rejected the US request to stop any trade with Iran, mainly in relation to energy and has decided to challenge the US embargo on Iran, which is considered an important business partner, and too precious to spoil the relationship just to please Washington. In fact, throughout the years of embargo before Trump’s era, Turkey never stopped exchanging Oil with Gold and has always challenged the US decision.

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When dealing with commerce, Erdogan doesn’t distinguish between Iran and Israel or between Russia and the US. The Turkish president, despite the US protest, struck a deal with Moscow buying four S-400 batteries worth $2.5 billion each to be delivered mid 2020. However, Turkey found a balance: The S-400 is not expected to be run by Russians but by Turks. And he stood against the US decision to create a Kurdish state in Syria and against the US decisions in relation to Palestine.

This is why Palestinians always return to Turkey and count on Erdogan, even if they are far from the Israeli-Palestinian borders- because he is the only leader capable of a stand against the US and Israel without being directly attacked. Of course the “axis of the resistance” stands by the Palestinian cause, nevertheless, it is widely attacked by the countries of the region, including Israel, and also by the US.

The Turkish President will remain the centre of attention in relation to Syria where Turkey occupies over 10,000 sq km. He will work for the withdrawal of the US from Syria so that the Kurds are left without protection (unless they return to Damascus on time). Turkey is a key in the Russia-Iran energy flow, for domestic use, to Europe, and to the rest of the World. It will remain an important player in Gaza where Turkey is offering medical and supplies to the Palestinians and has its own way of addressing the Israelis. Erdogan is expected to stay for long time at the top of his country- but only if he manages to boost the economy and play his cards well with the neighbours.

Proof read by: Maurice Brasher

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