The Many Reasons Erdogan Plays The Palestinian Card

Even as other Muslim leaders were treading more carefully on the Palestinian question, Turkey's leader knows no better way to express his global ambitions than a frontal assault on Israel.

Erdogan’s words fueled pro-Palestine protests in Turkey
Erdogan’s words fueled pro-Palestine protests in Turkey
Marion Sendker


ISTANBUL — Throughout last week, thousands of people demonstrated against Israel in Turkey. In a country where protests are often brutally shut down, the police did not attempt to break up the demonstrations. Because Erdogan supports Hamas, the Palestinian nationalist and Islamist movement that de facto governs Gaza. There are religious reasons for this that also fit right into his geopolitical strategy.

When it comes to the Middle East conflict — both before and after Thursday night's ceasefire — Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan knows no compromise. He is currently inciting against anyone who speaks out for Israel, as if he were at war himself. U.S. President Joe Biden felt the wrath too: "We are forced to say that you are writing history with your bloody hands," Erdogan grumbled on Monday evening. He was alluding to Washington's allegedly planned, but as yet unconfirmed, arms sale to Israel worth $735 million.

Erdogan's words are unlikely to have any effect at the White House. The U.S. has been selling weapons to Israel for years and is aware of Ankara's pro-Palestinian orientation. So far, the U.S. assumed it could take advantage of the situation. For example, a report published three years ago by the US-affiliated think tank "Rand Corporation" says Turkey was brought into play in the Middle East conflict as an important mediator, largely because of its support for the Hamas.

Erdogan feels connected to Hamas through its mutual closeness to the Muslim Brotherhood. It's about religion, about political power and about the fear of Western dominance.

And to corner Israel, Erdogan has considered a move that could sound threatening to the political West. As the Turkish right-wing conservative newspaper Yeni Safak reports, Ankara is considering an agreement on a joint exclusive economic zone with Hamas.

The idea is that if the waterway across the Mediterranean between Turkey and Gaza becomes a common zone for Turkey and Palestine, Ankara can use it to deliver weapons or other aid without interference. An added advantage for Turkey is that such an economic zone would also hinder the planning of a rumored joint gas pipeline between Israel, Greece and Cyprus to go ahead.

So far, however, this agreement is only Ankara's castle in the air. Because there is a problem with the project: A contract signed with the Hamas, which the United Nations lists as a terrorist organization, is unlikely to find international recognition.

I curse the Austrian state.

Erdogan's curses and insults, on the other hand, are different. In the eyes of the Bavarian Interior Minister Joachim Herrmann, the brutal rhetoric of the Turkish President is partly responsible for the pro-Palestine demonstrations on German soil that occasionally turned violent. "Most of what we are experiencing is not right-wing extremism, but rather people with a Muslim background who, incited to some extent by Erdogan's brutal speeches, think they have to fight these conflicts on German streets," Herrmann said.

There were also tensions with Austria. As a sign of solidarity with Israel in the Gaza conflict, the Chancellery and the Foreign Ministry waved an Israeli flag on Friday. "I curse the Austrian state," raged Erdogan. "The Austrian state is probably trying to bill the Muslims for the Jews who subjected it to genocide."

Austria quickly summoned the Turkish ambassador in Vienna to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. "The Middle East conflict will not be resolved with foam from the mouth," Foreign Minister Alexander Schallenberg said about the incident.

Destruction in Beit Hanoun, Gaza on May 21 — Photo: Ashraf Amra/APA Images/ZUMA

For Erdogan, the escalation in the Middle East is also useful domestically. While he has recently faced growing pressure, among other things because of Turkey's ailing economy, anger against Israel can reunite people behind him. At least in the short term, the calculation seems to be working: Erdogan's words fueled pro-Palestine protests in Turkey by his supporters.

In Istanbul, for example, several thousand people took to the streets about a week ago despite the coronavirus curfew. They waved Palestinian and Turkish flags, chanted religious and anti-Israeli slogans and set off fireworks. Protesters held signs with sentences like "al-Quds belongs to Muslims', with al-Quds being the Arabic name for Jerusalem.

A centuries-old religious dispute gives him new energy each time.

In fact, the city, claimed by Israelis and Palestinians alike, is also Erdogan's central concern in the conflict. It is not just about solidarity with the Palestinian people, but above all about Jerusalem. The city is the third most important holy place for devout Muslims like the Turkish president.

In the escalation with Gaza, a centuries-old religious dispute gives him new energy each time. Jerusalem has been an important symbol of Muslim world power since the rise of Islam. In his view, Israelis want to drive the Muslims out of the city. "For us Muslims, every day that Jerusalem is occupied is a violation," Erdogan said in May 2017.

He sees himself as the de facto leader of the Islamic world and wants to continue the line of great Islamic rulers, such as Selahattin Eyyübi, also known as Saladin the Victorious. The ruler of Kurdish origin united the Muslims of the Middle East in the 12th century and recaptured Jerusalem from the Christian crusaders in 1187.

Jerusalem is not important to Turkey for religious reasons alone. Losing the holy site, which for centuries was under the rule of the Ottomans, to non-Muslims, stirs up fear in the Turkish state and in the population that it will be overlaid and infiltrated by the West.

This concern has deep historical roots: when, for example, after the Russo-Ottoman War in 1878, Jewish settlers came to the Middle East with the support of the West, the Ottoman government saw this as a threat to their power and the existing order. Sultan Abdulhamid I did everything possible to prevent the settlements.

When Erdogan complains about Israel today, he is not addressing the Jews directly. According to his world view, Jews are allowed to live and practice their faith — just not as a dominant power, and certainly not by controlling Jerusalem. Most recently, however, Erdogan had accused Israel, among other things, of terrorism against the Palestinians and said that this was "in the nature" of the Israelis. The U.S. government described his statements as anti-Semitic.

It is not clear whether the ceasefire between Israel and Hamas will hold, but you can be sure Erdogan will continue to have his say.

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In Argentina, A Visit To World's Highest Solar Energy Park

With loans and solar panels from China, the massive solar park has been opened a year and is already powering the surrounding areas. Now the Chinese supplier is pushing for an expansion.

960,000 solar panels have been installed at the Cauchari park

Silvia Naishtat

— Driving across the border with Chile into the northwest Argentine department of Susques, you may spot what looks like a black mass in the distance. Arriving at a 4,000-meter altitude in the municipality of Cauchari, what comes into view instead is an assembly of 960,000 solar panels. It is the world's highest photovoltaic (PV) park, which is also the second biggest solar energy facility in Latin America, after Mexico's Aguascalientes plant.

Spread over 800 hectares in an arid landscape, the Cauchari park has been operating for a year, and has so far turned sunshine into 315 megawatts of electricity, enough to power the local provincial capital of Jujuy through the national grid.

It has also generated some $50 million for the province, which Governor Gerardo Morales has allocated to building 239 schools.

Abundant sunshine, low temperatures

The physicist Martín Albornoz says Cauchari, which means "link to the sun," is exposed to the best solar radiation anywhere. The area has 260 days of sunshine, with no smog and relatively low temperatures, which helps keep the panels in optimal conditions.

Its construction began with a loan of more than $331 million from China's Eximbank, which allowed the purchase of panels made in Shanghai. They arrived in Buenos Aires in 2,500 containers and were later trucked a considerable distance to the site in Cauchari . This was a titanic project that required 1,200 builders and 10-ton cranes, but will save some 780,000 tons of CO2 emissions a year.

It is now run by 60 technicians. Its panels, with a 25-year guarantee, follow the sun's path and are cleaned twice a year. The plant is expected to have a service life of 40 years. Its choice of location was based on power lines traced in the 1990s to export power to Chile, now fed by the park.

Chinese engineers working in an office at the Cauchari park


Chinese want to expand

The plant belongs to the public-sector firm Jemse (Jujuy Energía y Minería), created in 2011 by the province's then governor Eduardo Fellner. Jemse's president, Felipe Albornoz, says that once Chinese credits are repaid in 20 years, Cauchari will earn the province $600 million.

The Argentine Energy ministry must now decide on the park's proposed expansion. The Chinese would pay in $200 million, which will help install 400,000 additional panels and generate enough power for the entire province of Jujuy.

The park's CEO, Guillermo Hoerth, observes that state policies are key to turning Jujuy into a green province. "We must change the production model. The world is rapidly cutting fossil fuel emissions. This is a great opportunity," Hoerth says.

The province's energy chief, Mario Pizarro, says in turn that Susques and three other provincial districts are already self-sufficient with clean energy, and three other districts would soon follow.

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