April 14, 2016
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Turkish President Erdogan has now called on the International Criminal Court to go after Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu for war crimes, as the clash between the two regional powers has reached a new low.
Since the arrival two decades ago of now President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Turkey’s relationship with Israel has been a mix of deep ideological conflict and cover-your-eyes realpolitik .
On the one hand, Erdogan has positioned himself as a kind of global spokesman for the Palestinian cause . His Justice and Development Party has long publicly and financially supported Hamas, which shares similar roots in the 20th-century Muslim Brotherhood movement.
And yet, since 2001 when Erdogan first came to power, trade between Turkey and Israel has multiplied from $1.41 to $8.9 billion in 2022. Moreover, both countries see major potential in transporting newly discovered Israeli natural gas to Europe, via Turkey.
The logic of shared interests clashes with the passions and posturing of high-stakes geopolitics. Diplomatic relations have been cut off, then restored, and since October 7, the countries’ respective ambassadors have been recalled, with accusations flying between Erdogan and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
Still, over the past 48 hours, Turkish-Israeli relations may have hit an all-time low.
Repeating a claim that Israel’s war is a “genocide,” Erdogan vowed to seek the trial of Israel political and military leaders before the International Criminal Court, according to a report by the London-based Asharq al-Awsar daily.
“We will do our best to get the International Criminal Court to punish (Israel) for this genocide,” Erdogan told reporters on his return Sunday from the COP28 summit in Dubai, the United Arab Emirates.
“This is a black mark not only on Netanyahu's government but also on those countries that unconditionally support it,” Erdogan said. “And they too will pay for their silence for years to come. The world will not forget this indifference.”
"This is state terrorism . We cannot stay silent against this state terrorism,” he said. “We expect that these butchers of Gaza , the authors of genocide, especially Netanyahu, who were caught red-handed, will receive the necessary punishment.”
The Turkish leader also repeated over the weekend that Hamas is a movement fighting for the liberation of its lands and people from the Israeli occupation . The group is designated a terrorist group by the U.S. and many European governments.
Netanyahu last month lashed out at the Turkish leader over similar comments.
“He (Erdogan) calls Israel a terror state, but in his actions, he supports the terror state of Hamas,” Netanyahu said on Nov. 15 . “He himself shelled Turkish villages within the borders of Turkey — we will not accept his preaching.”
Turkey and Israel had named ambassadors to their respective countries for the first time since 2018.
Israel has put removing Hamas from power in Gaza as one of its main targets of the war, which was triggered by Hamas’ unprecedented raid on southern Israel on Oct. 7. Hamas’s attack, which killed 1,200 people, prompted Israel to launch a wide-scale air, naval and ground invasion of the coastal strip.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at the Turkish House in New York in September 19, 2023
The fallout threatens to take ties between the two countries to a new low, just a year after diplomatic relations were finally restored as part of Turkey’s recent efforts to mend its ties with regional powers , including Egypt, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, and Israel.
Last year, Turkey and Israel had named ambassadors to their respective countries for the first time since 2018.
In March 2022, Israel’s President Isaac Herzog became the first Israeli leader to visit Turkey in 14 years, a visit described by Erdogan as “historic” and “a turning point” in Turkish-Israeli relations.
In 2010, the relationship reached a breaking point after Israeli forces raided a Gaza-bound flotilla. Nine Turkish activists were killed.
Six months later, Erdogan met at the United Nations with Israel’s then prime minister, Yair Lapid, who hailed the restoration of full diplomatic ties between the two countries.
The rapprochement came after years of frayed ties between the two countries, notably in 2010 when the relationship reached a breaking point after Israeli forces raided a Gaza-bound flotilla carrying humanitarian aid for Palestinians that broke an Israeli blockade. Nine Turkish activists were killed in the raid.
In 2018, Turkey recalled its ambassador from Israel and kicked out Israel’s envoy to protest the killing of dozens of Palestinians by Israeli gunfire in protests along the Gaza border . The protests were largely prompted by the U.S. 's moving its embassy in Israel to Jerusalem.
Can Turkish-Israeli relations recover from the current conflict in the Middle East ? Though recent years have shown there’s always an interest for both in maintaining ties, the ideological and historical weight of this conflict may squash realpolitik.