Turkey, an ally of the United States and a member of NATO, has conducted itself appallingly in the aftermath of Hamas’s terroristic, genocidal invasion of Israel this past weekend. One despicable example: Its deputy education minister, Nazif Yilmaz, threatened Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s life on social media, writing, “One day they will shoot you” and “You will die.”
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan said on Wednesday that Israel’s bombardment of Gaza in response to the weekend’s horrific terrorist attacks was disproportionate and a “massacre” of the Palestinians, “devoid of any ethical foundation.” He previously had stated, in response to the United States’ dispatch of an aircraft carrier strike group to the eastern Mediterranean, “What will the aircraft carrier of the U.S. do near Israel; why do they come? What will boats around and aircraft on it will do [sic]? They will hit Gaza and around, and take steps for serious massacres there.”
Erdoğan also said on Wednesday, “Israel should not forget that if it acts more like an organization, rather than a state, it’ll finish by being treated as such,” calling Israeli strikes on Gaza “shameful.”
Erdoğan has indicated that he is interested in serving as a mediator between Israel and Hamas. But in this fight, there is nothing to mediate. Israel has just experienced the proportional equivalent of more than fourteen 9/11s. Hamas terrorists showed the world who they are when they murdered thousands (including babies), raped women, and abducted children and the elderly and took them to God knows what fate in Gaza.
But the Turkish leader enjoys close relations with the Hamas leadership. Just a couple of months ago, Erdoğan hosted Hamas’s leader, Ismail Haniyeh, who splits his time between Qatar and Turkey. Erdoğan’s immediate reaction after the Oct. 7 terrorist invasion was to say, “It is our responsibility to stand with the oppressed,” atrocities committed by Hamas. A partner in Erdoğan’s governing coalition, Huda-par, held a rally outside of the Israeli consulate in Istanbul, shouting, “Israel be damned!”
Saleh al-Arouri, who leads Hamas in the West Bank, has met with Erdoğan several times. Arouri himself celebrated the attack. The U.S. State Department condemned Erdoğan’s 2020 meeting with Arouri, who has a $5 million bounty on his head, as well as Haniyeh, noting that this was the second meeting with Hamas that Erdoğan had that year.
Turkish officials’ nastiness toward Israel is nothing new. In 2018, Erdoğan said that Israel “is the world’s most Zionist, fascist and racist state.” For those who despise Israel, “Zionist” is an epithet akin to “Nazi,” rather than a neutral descriptor.
Erdoğan continued on that occasion, “There is no difference between Hitler’s obsession with the Aryan race and Israel’s understanding that these ancient lands are meant only for Jews. The spirit of Hitler … has found its resurgence among some of Israel’s leaders.”
The same year, Turkey’s foreign minister called Netanyahu a “baby killer.” In 2009, Erdoğan stormed out of a debate in Davos, Switzerland, after he ranted to Israel’s then-president Shimon Peres, “When it comes to killing, you know very well how to kill. I know very well how you killed children on the beaches.”
This is unacceptable behavior for a state that is an American ally and a member of NATO. The United States should leverage all of its political, military and economic capability to bring Turkey in line. As a member of NATO, and as a state that has suffered its own terrorist attacks, Turkey should be standing alongside the United States and European states, which have strongly condemned Hamas’s terrorist attack and expressed moral support for Israel — and, in the case of the U.S., intelligence and military support as well.
Turkey’s behavior, on the other hand, has been shameful. Unfortunately, as discussed, this is far from the first contemptible position Erdoğan and his government have adopted over the past several years.
Before Erdoğan and his Islamist Justice and Development Party came into power in 2002, Turkey was an avowedly secular state with strong strategic ties with Washington and Jerusalem, a linchpin of NATO. Turkey’s downward trajectory into a supporter of Hamas is truly appalling.
Gregg Roman is director of the Middle East Forum