April 30, 2024 | Townhall

Turkey Cannot Be a Mediator in the Gaza War

April 30, 2024 | Townhall

Turkey Cannot Be a Mediator in the Gaza War

The Turkish government led by Recep Tayyip Erdogan is not shy about its enthusiastic support of Hamas. Last month Erdogan shocked observers after declaring “Turkey is a country that stands firmly behind Hamas.” This month he further embraced Hamas by comparing it to Turkey’s revolutionary Kemalist forces, that helped establish modern Turkey in the 1920’s. 

Erdogan’s comparison of Hamas-a murderous terrorist organization to Ataturk’s inspirational revolutionary movement was intended to shock listeners. It is also part of Erdogan’s plan to further normalize Hamas in the minds of Turks, as his wider goal is to declare Turkey as the main operating base of Hamas, in place of Qatar. If this undertaking succeeded, Erdogan would seek to project Turkey as a mediator between Hamas and Israel. Such an ambition is unlikely to succeed, but Washington must not work to enable Erdogan’s fantasies. 

The reason is simple: Erdogan is not interested in securing peace between Palestinians and Israelis. He is interested in furthering the terrorism goals of Hamas which seeks to destroy Israel’s very existence. Since the October 7 attacks, Erdogan has fully backed Hamas’ mission and referred to it as a group of “freedom fighters.” The group’s existence inside Turkey is not a recent development, however.

Hamas established a presence in Turkey in 2011 at the direct invitation of the Turkish government. The move was part of an Egyptian-brokered deal that saw Israel release more than one thousand Palestinian prisoners, including high-profile Hamas figures, in exchange for Israel Defense Forces (IDF) soldier Gilad Shalit. 

Since then, Turkey has provided a safe haven for senior Hamas leadership. Saleh al-Arouri, who was sanctioned by the U.S. in 2015 (and recently killed by the IDF), worked as Hamas’s deputy political chief, and played a leading role in establishing Hamas in Turkey. By 2015, Jihad Yaghmour, sanctioned by the U.S. in 2023, embedded Hamas in Turkey. As Hamas’ main representative in Turkey, Yaghmour is a liaison between “Hamas and the Turkish government and the Turkish National Intelligence Organization (MIT).” Most worryingly, Erdogan openly takes meetings with senior Hamas leadership, most recently in April 2024, when he hosted Hamas political chief Ismail Haniyeh. Ankara granted Haniyeh Turkish citizenship in 2020. His deputy, Saleh al-Arouri, also received a Turkish passport. Such high-profile figures likely played big roles in the planning and execution of the October 7 terror attacks against Israel. Turkey’s patronage of Hamas not only tarnishes Ankara’s image as a NATO ally, but arguably undermines the stability of the Palestinian Authority and its legitimate authorite to advocate for the interests of Palestinians. 

Ankara’s support of Hamas is not limited to interactions between leaders. Hamas has built a network of NGO’s that support recruitment and fundraising initiatives. The case of Khir Ummah is instructive. The organization describes itself as a civil service relief organization seeking to assist people regardless of sect and gender but it is actually a Turkey-based Hamas front that partners with like-minded organizations such as the Humanitarian Relief Foundation (IHH) and the Al Wafaa Campaign (part of the ‘Union of Good’). Germany banned the IHH and the Netherlands designated it a terrorist organization for its role overseeing the 2010 Mavi Marmara flotilla. The U.S. Treasury Department, meanwhile, designated the Union of Good in 2008 due to its fundraising for Hamas. In short, these pro-Hamas NGO’s, are committed to planning and carrying out further attacks against Israel and their plans are more than likely being hatched inside Turkey.

For example, IHH recently announced plans to launch another aid flotilla to Gaza, that would bypass established aid delivery channels such as the Cyprus maritime corridor. IHH’s rationale is based on not recognizing Israel’s blockade of Gaza and its desire to deliver aid “directly” to Gazans. Such a move is likely to result in a military altercation between the flotilla and Israeli forces that would intercept the ships. If Erdogan was serious about his desire to provide aid to Gazans, he would work with existing nations and organizations that are facilitating aid. Instead, Turkey is provoking a military confrontation that could see further conflict, resulting in disrupting existing aid flows.

Successive U.S. administrations have coddled Ankara despite Turkey’s long track record of promoting terrorist causes. White House and Pentagon leadership as well as senior diplomats cite Turkey’s strategic geography, NATO credentials, and for the supposed role it plays in counterterrorism as reasons to continue working with Ankara. This is a mistake, and it should be clear to Washington that Ankara is choosing to invest considerable resources to fully embed a U.S.-designated terrorist organization inside Turkey, with the aid of undermining our Israeli ally’s fundamental security concerns.    

It would be far better to hold Turkey to account. At the very least, Washington needs to adopt a stricter set of standards, so that its genuine desire to combat terrorism is not undermined-especially by treaty allies.

Sinan Ciddi is a non-resident senior fellow at FDD and an expert on Turkish domestic politics and foreign policy.


International Organizations Israel Israel at War Military and Political Power Turkey U.S. Defense Policy and Strategy