How Genuine Is Erdogan’s Stance Against Israel?

Developing Just Leadership

Omar Ahmed

Dhu al-Qa'dah 24, 1445 2024-06-01

News & Analysis

by Omar Ahmed (News & Analysis, Crescent International Vol. 54, No. 4, Dhu al-Qa'dah, 1445)

Image Source - Pixabay Free Content.

Amid the growing global condemnation of the zionist entity for its ongoing genocide against the Palestinians in Gaza, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has sought to stand out by suspending all business ties with the occupation state over the “worsening humanitarian tragedy.”

Many of those that simply read the headlines praised Erdogan’s May 3 decision. Others who have a better grasp of Turkish foreign policy even under the supposedly west-challenging Erdogan have expressed their doubts.


President Erdogan and his AK Party has sought to distinguish itself from the strictly-secularist nationalism of Mustafa Kemal to promote itself as a West Asian champion of Islam. This was and still is seen by many around the world as a genuine desire of the new Turkiye to return to its proper Islamic roots.

In the context of this supposed Turkish reconnection with the wider Muslim Ummah and the now-dead Khilafah, the country’s cultural and media arms produced a whole host of entertainment shows about the Ottoman Empire. These started with its beginnings in the 13th century and went all the way to its fall in the twentieth century.

These productions have become popular not only in Turkiye and the neighbouring West Asia region but among Muslim viewers around the world as well, notably in Pakistan and Bangladesh.

What is hidden behind this message of brotherhood under a very obvious Turkish stewardship is this: The realisation of Turkiye’s previously forgotten potential to project itself imperially among its neighbours.

Indeed, many among the Turkish scholarly community on international relations have been pushing for the country to fully embrace the idea that local knowledge and Turkiye-specific strategic needs should take precedence. Turkish state institutions have been honest and sincere about their view of the Ottoman Empire’s history as a shadow to follow.

Turkish strategic interests in oil, gas and its military industrial complex have driven the country to military interventions in northern Syria, Libya, Karabakh, and political meddling in Bulgaria. In the case of Syria and Iraq, violent actions by the Turkish Armed Forces have been pursued with the aim of destroying Kurdish separatism.

Ostensibly, Turkiye has presented itself as one of Israel’s harshest critics over the years, predictably leading to much applause from the wider Muslim community. But is this really the case?

Convenient ally in reality

Turkiye was the first Muslim country to recognise Israel in 1949 and has maintained uninterrupted diplomatic ties with the zionist entity despite the pressure of Arab states. The country sought to distance itself from its Arab neighbours in West Asia during this time as Kemalist secularism reigned supreme.

From the 1980s onwards, relations between Tel Aviv and Ankara bloomed, including strong cooperation in military spheres and the signing of a free trade agreement. It was only after 2008 that under the leadership of President Erdogan, relations were rolled back somewhat.

Israel’s assault on the Mavi Marmara aid flotilla off the coast of Gaza in May 2010 resulted in the death of 10 Turkish activists. Many others were injured. As a consequence, relations between the two countries deteriorated.

The Israeli regime eventually agreed to pay compensation to the victims of the Mavi Marmara. Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu, under US prodding, also offered a tepid apology to Erdogan in a telephone call.

This was at a time when the US-backed war on Syria was in full swing. Washington did not want two of its closest allies in the region at loggerheads when their cooperation was needed for the successful prosecution of the war.

Over the course of the dirty war on Syria and the rise of ISIS, the zionist regime resumed cooperation with Ankara over issues that challenge both countries’ foreign policy objectives.

This was despite the fact that Erdogan simultaneously continued to rail against Israel’s excesses to appease his Islamic conservative voter-base. One must also not forget that opposition to Iran, especially since Turkiye competes with the Islamic Republic for influence in West Asia, also brings the two countries (Israel and Turkiye) together.

Commercially, from 2011 to 2022, Turkiye tripled its total trade volume with the occupation state. It rose from $2.3 billion in 2011 to $7.03 billion in 2022. Providing 5.2% of the country’s imports, Turkiye thus became Israel’s fifth-largest supplier and its seventh-largest customer for 2.2% of its exports.

To many Turkish and Israeli business communities, trade with the zionist entity is vital. However, the real elephant in the room proves that trade income can indeed take a dip in the service of political expediency, albeit temporarily.

The Azerbaijan angle

Nestled in the eastern Caucasus is the Republic of Azerbaijan. The majority ethnic group defining the Republic of Azerbaijan are the Azeris. They are very closely related to the Turks residing in Turkiye, linguistically and culturally, despite being a Shia majority like neighbouring Iran.

Turkiye and Azerbaijan are both part of the larger Organization of Turkic States. These comprise culturally similar Central Asian peoples with Ankara as their head.

Turkiye-Turkic relations form an entirely separate line of foreign policy and it appears that when push comes to shove, Turkiye will prioritise this over the Palestinian cause or anything adjacent to it in West Asia.

How does this relate to Erdogan’s stance on Israel?

The zionist regime is one of Baku’s key military allies. Among the vital commodities traded between Israel and Turkiye, Azerbaijani oil is supplied to Israel through Turkish pipelines. Syrian Arabs and Kurds have been forcibly displaced around those same pipelines.

Even more importantly, while President Erdogan has made a rather large spectacle of his supposed condemnation of Israel, his government has not stopped oil supplies to the zionist entity. Further, it appears that after Azerbaijan’s purchase of Israeli military equipment, Turkiye itself may be using such equipment as well.

In February, Turkiye joined the anti-missile European Sky Shield Initiative, supported by 17 countries and directly modelled after the Israeli Iron Dome. A key component of this project is the Israeli-designed long-range Arrow 3 missiles.

Rhetoric vs reality

Regardless of what the Turkish government may publicly say, the fact that such critical trade products are being exchanged shows that Erdogan’s stance against Israel is not very genuine, notwithstanding his strident rhetoric.

It may be helpful to realise that Erdogan promotes his own brand of nationalism which always places Turkiye above all else, even if it may seem to millions that he has embodied the ideals of a pan-Islamic leader with a strong personality.

The failure to recognise the imperialism of neo-Ottomanism has obscured the reality of a powerful and resurgent Turkiye that draws inspiration from its past.

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