July 7, 2023 | Washington Examiner

What can we expect from an Erdogan-Netanyahu meeting?

July 7, 2023 | Washington Examiner

What can we expect from an Erdogan-Netanyahu meeting?

What could possibly go right, or wrong, in a meeting between Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Israel’s Benjamin Netanyahu? Recent reporting suggests that the two may soon meet in Ankara. It is no secret that the two aren’t exactly best friends, given the amount of animosity that typifies the Israeli-Turkish bilateral relationship. Since 2010, Erdogan spent his best efforts to destroy arguably the strongest alliance in the Middle East, one that had taken decades to build by his predecessors.

Then, in 2022, Erdogan had a change of heart and decided to mend the relationship. Why? Because in the last few years, Israel lost no time in developing new bilateral relationships in the Muslim world which pretty much left Ankara isolated. One could sit back and reflect that Turkey’s broken relationship with Israel was only one component of its overall deteriorating relationship with its Western allies — all thanks to Erdogan. To overcome this malaise, and in the case of Israel, Erdogan initiated a process of rapprochement that resulted in the re-appointment of ambassadors, and warm handshakes between Turkish and Israeli presidents. So, what can we expect from a possible Netanyahu visit to Ankara?

On the diplomatic track, we have seen warm pleasantries being exchanged by Turkish and Israeli officials for some time, but the reality in Turkey is different, whereby the Erdogan propaganda machine continues to undermine any chance for a substantive and genuine rebuilding of ties. Take for example continued headlines being run by a pro-Erdogan newspaper, the Daily Sabah, which recently ran two stories, alleging that Turkish officials have uncovered the identity of and arrested Mossad agents inside Turkey.

The first of these popped up before Turkey’s May 28 presidential runoff election, and the second in late June, following Israeli security operations in Jenin. Other than Daily Sabah’s “reporting,” there was no other source to corroborate the story and no word from the Israeli government confirming or denying it. In the absence of verification, the veracity of both stories can and should be questioned and are likely part of an ongoing attempt to undermine Israel.

Moreover, these incidents are not isolated, and are part of a wider pattern of inflammatory behavior on the part of Ankara: Following the eruption of violence at the Al-Aqsa Mosque in April, Erdogan, in a phone call with the Iranian president remarked that “the Islamic world should be united against Israel’s attacks in Palestine.” The subsequent story of uncovering an alleged Mossad cell in Turkey that is keeping tabs on Iranian operatives was likely a stunt to fire up Erdogan’s voter base. The release of a similar story following the Jenin security operations by Daily Sabah is indicative of a media campaign designed to discredit Israel.

Let’s assume that Netanyahu can overlook these developments and accept going to Ankara. There remains a huge elephant in the room: The continued and welcome existence of Hamas operatives and leadership on Turkish soil. In recent years, the Turkish government has not only refused to designate Hamas as a terrorist entity but even provided Turkish passports to its leaders, including Ismail Haniyeh and members of his family. Surely, Erdogan is aware that the Israeli government will not continue to accept this accommodation. What would Ankara’s response be if Israel granted diplomatic recognition to the separatist Kurdistan Worker’s Party (PKK) and provided passports to its leaders?

We do know that Erdogan is interested in accessing and transporting Israeli natural gas through Turkey and into Europe. This is becoming even more of a priority as the reliability of Russian gas to Europe is becoming weaker on a daily basis. At present, there is little interest on the part of Israel to enter into a gas agreement with Turkey. Israel is already part of the East Mediterranean Gas Forum, a multinational entity that hopes to develop and monetize reliable natural gas across the region, all without having to take into account Erdogan’s unpredictable and toxic personality.

For the moment, the only good that can come out of a meeting between Erdogan and Netanyahu, would be for Erdogan to think long and hard about what Turkey’s position in the region can and will be.

Sinan Ciddi (@SinanCiddi) is a nonresident senior fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, in which he contributes to FDD’s Turkey Program and Center on Military and Political Power. Follow Sinan on Twitter @SinanCiddi. FDD is a Washington, DC-based, nonpartisan research institute focusing on national security and foreign policy.


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