Erdogan, Sovereignty, and Israel
In the past week, the government of Turkey – understandably – launched military action against Syria in response to mortar fire by the Assad regime, which killed five Turkish civilians in the town of Akcakale. In retrospect, this represents an opportune time for Turkish Prime Minister Recep Erdoğan to consider apologizing to Israel for some of his vitriolic attacks against the Jewish state following their response against Hamas rocket fire from Gaza in late 2008.
Responding to Syria’s unprovoked attack against Turkey, Erdoğan said “Turkey is a country which is capable of protecting its people and borders. No one should attempt to test our determination on the issue.”
Further, in tabling his motion in Parliament on October 4th, seeking approval for military action, Erdoğan added:
“This situation has reached a stage that poses serious threats and risks to our national security. Therefore, the need has developed to act rapidly and to take the necessary precautions against additional risks and threats that may be directed against our country.”
Every sovereign nation has the primary duty, and responsibility, to protect its citizens from foreign agression and acts of terror.
Erdoğan’s decision to send Turkish troops into Syria came after a single mortar attack, which the Syrian authorities claim was accidental, but nonetheless killed five Turkish citizens.
Yet, Israel endured something in the vicinity of 8,000-plus rockets, and many more casualities from Gaza, before retaliating against Hamas in Operation ‘Cast Lead’ in December 2008. Rocket and mortar fire still continues from the Gaza strip today.
At the time of Israel’s response, Erdoğan unleashed a barrage of vitriol against Israel, the likes of which were unprecedented in the history of relations between the two states, calling Israel’s actions against Hamas terrorists in Gaza a “crime against humanity” and saying that “Israel must pay a price for its aggression and crimes”. He even went to so far as to call for Israel to be barred from the United Nations.
At the now infamous Davos conference in Switzerland in January 2009, before storming off stage, Erdoğan, very undiplomatically, scolded Israel’s President Shimon Peres, saying “you are old, and your voice is loud out of a guilty conscience”, adding “when it comes to killing, you know well how to kill.”
This diatribe immediately followed a question by President Peres, in which he asked Erdoğan, almost prophetically now: “What would you do, if rockets fell on Istanbul every night?”
Well, only one mortar fell on Turkey, and we know the response: an immediate artillery counter-strike and authorization of Turkish ground troops into Syrian territory.
Perhaps now Erdoğan may have a slightly better appreciation of the threat of rocket fire faced by Israel and the need to respond against such acts of aggression and terror against your civilian population.
Only a few days ago, during an official visit to South Africa, Erdoğan again accused Israel of “state terrorism”. This came in response to comments from an Israeli diplomat, saying the Jewish state had the right to defend itself and its citizens from the Hamas terrorist organization, who continue to launch rocket attacks into Israeli territory.
Yet, if Turkey can call its actions against Syrian mortar fire “self defense” necessary to prevent “threats and risks” to its national security, it is then the height of hypocrisy to accuse Israel of ‘state terrorism’, in circumstances where by any objective measure, the threat it faces has been more persistent, violent and larger scale.
Likewise, one may apply a similar analogy concerning Turkey’s ongoing dispute with Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), whom the Turkish government consider terrorists. Only today, Erdoğan proclaimed “we do no cry” for the death of “terrorists”, in response to Diyarbakir police chief’s recent expression of sympathy over the deaths of PKK militants.
In this context, it would also be advisable for Mr Erdoğan to consider dropping his persistent demands for an Israeli apology over the 2012 Gaza Flotilla, which resulted in the tragic death of nine Turkish citizens after passengers on the boat viciously attacked IDF soldiers.
Perhaps he ought to be reminded that the Flotilla, which left with the blessing of the Turkish government, under the direction of the IHH terror group, was designed to breach the Gaza Strip, which is controlled by the Hamas as a launching pad for rocket attacks against Israel.
Instead, Erdoğan refuses to acknowledge that Hamas, a group that does not recognize Israel’s right to exist yet still seeks its destruction, is a terrorist organization, embracing their leaders on frequent visits to Ankara.
Just as Turkey has the inalienable right to defend its citizens against acts of aggression and terror from Syria, so too does Israel have the right to defend its citizens from terror attacks by Hamas and those seeking to support them.
Instead of demanding an Israeli apology over the Flotilla, it is Mr Erdoğan who is the one that should be apologizing to Israel for his entirely unjustified and vitriolic attacks in light of his government’s recent actions. Anything less, would be completely hypocritical.