A long with just about every other country in the Middle East, Turkey is going through a period of instability.
So far in 2016, Turkey has been rocked by four major terrorist attacks, including two in Istanbul, both of which have been attributed to ISIS.
One of these, on March 19, left three Israelis and one Iranian dead, and 36 injured, 11 of them Israelis. Israeli Defence Minister Moshe Ya’alon said that Turkey is “awash in terrorism.”
As of this writing, there are unconfirmed reports the suicide bomber, a Turkish national affiliated with ISIS, deliberately targeted the visiting Israelis, following them from their hotel.
If verified, the claim would lend support to what Raphael Green of the Middle East Media Research Institute told the Jerusalem Post: that while war against Israel is not – at least now – a high priority for ISIS, through its official newsletter, Al-Naba, the Islamic State calls on Muslims worldwide, as a matter of religious duty, to support a Palestinian jihad against Israel and to support attacks against Jews wherever they may be.
Meanwhile, as Israel and Turkey lurch toward normalizing relations, Turkish President Recep Erdogan, in a rare gesture, sent Israeli President Reuven Rivlin a letter on March 20 expressing his condolences “to the people of Israel and to the families of Israeli citizens who lost their lives in this treacherous attack.”
For someone well known for his bitter hostility toward Israel, and even for his anti-Semitism, Erdogan’s words came as a bit of a surprise, but they also reveal the seriousness of the situation he and his country now find themselves in, including hostility with Russia.
According to Israeli media, Dore Gold, director general of the Foreign Ministry, praised the Turkish government for its co-operation. “It’s clear that the Turks went above and beyond to coordinate with Israel… We had to transport people over the border without passports, mobilize airplanes and bring the bodies of the dead back to Israel,” Gold said.
If there’s a positive side to this very sad story, it’s the co-operation between Turkey and Israel in this case.
Whether that manifests itself elsewhere in the relationship remains to be seen. There are still difficult issues standing in the way of normalized ties, foremost being Turkey’s hosting, in Istanbul, a major faction of Hamas whose goal, among other things, is to establish cells in the West Bank.
In his correspondence with Rivlin, Erdogan emphasized what he termed “the absolute necessity for the international community to conduct a joint, united and determined fight against terrorism,” but he refuses to acknowledge that that also includes a fight against Hamas – deemed a terrorist organization by the European Union (EU).
Ironically, following the controversial deal Turkey recently reached with the EU, in which Syrian and other refugees will be considered for immigration to Europe, Erdogan believes Turkey’s application for membership in the EU can be expedited, even though, as an increasingly aggressive authoritarian, he violates EU democratic values by jailing journalists and confiscating critical media outlets.
Another irony, which has escaped most western media attention, is that the killing of the Iranian citizen in the Istanbul attack occurred on the very day that Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif was in Istanbul to further solidify ties, mainly economic, with Turkey. Where is the Turkey that once was touted to be the great Sunni counterforce to Shia Iran’s incursions into the region, including foremost its sponsorship of terrorism?
Yet not only does Iran fund and arm Hezbollah, which even the Arab League earlier this month designated a terrorist organization, it also reportedly is back to funding Hamas and Islamic Jihad in Gaza. All are dedicated to Israel’s destruction.
Were Erdogan not so obsessed with attacking the Kurds (whose only demand is autonomy within Turkey), he might long ago have confronted both Sunni and Shia violent extremism. Now it may be too late.