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Turkey Has Unique Potential to Mediate in Israel-Hamas Crisis

The world awoke on the morning of October 7 to a significant and potentially intractable crisis. This crisis, which has pushed even the long-standing focus on Russia’s Invasion of Ukraine into the background, has its roots in the military operation initiated by Hamas’ military wing, the Izzuddin Qassam Brigades, named the “Aqsa Tempest”. In response, Israel invoked Article 40 of its constitution, a provision left dormant since 1973, effectively declaring war.

This operation, launched by Hamas, which somehow maintains de facto control over the Gaza Strip, and joined by the Islamic Jihad and the Palestinian Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, has the potential to alter the regional power dynamics and the rules of the game that have been in play for some time.

The developments following this operation could potentially serve as the catalyst for broader global changes, extending from the region to the international stage. In other words, there is huge potential for the export of the regional conflict via different transnational apparatuses. However, some external actors could play a role as a mediator, and Turkey is one of the strong candidates. This is not only my opinion; some of the world leaders are sharing the similar ideas, such as the German Chancellor, Olaf Scholz. Scholz spoke in the Bundestag about the conflict between Israel and Palestine and underlined that President Erdogan could play an important role in mediation.

Complex web of regional power dynamics

Before examining Turkey’s potential role in the ongoing crisis, it is essential to consider the broader context and power dynamics at play. Firstly, it is unrealistic to view this event as a scheme to prolong the political career of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, achieved through the tacit approval of Mossad or Israeli security agencies. Netanyahu, at 73, faces limitations on the extension of his political career and will likely suffer politically, regardless of the outcome of this crisis. Or, directly related with this complicated issue.

Moreover, the event highlights the fact that there are no longer uncontested powers in the new millennium that are impervious to external influence within their geographic spheres. Numerous diverse elements intersect from various angles, enabling them to create new playing fields for themselves. This means that there is no single dominant actor in many different regions of the global world and the Middle East is one of them.

In considering the aftermath of this event, it is evident that several interconnected issues are at play at the same time. Iran, a state with a contentious relationship with the global world order, and some of the other Muslim-majority countries, and global groups, stand in opposition to Israel’s normalization agreements with Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Sudan, and Morocco through the Abraham Accords. Due to their inability to disrupt this diplomatic normalization process, they may have turned to Hamas as a tool, but a very brutal one. For the actors in the Muslim world, distinguishing between Hamas and Palestine is not an easy task, politically and sociologically. After such an event, it will be challenging for them to stand alongside Israel, and these kinds of preferences may escalate the current conflict.

The event further demonstrates that issues in the Arab world are far from being black and white. For instance, Saudi prince Mohammed Bin Salman‘s remarkable public diplomacy efforts in the West could be influenced by his role in trying to quell the violence in this crisis. Similarly, the revelation of Qatar’s open financial support for Hamas, despite its successful image transformation through events like the FIFA World Cup, have dealt a severe blow to its reputation. In sum, the “soft power” practices that Gulf states have been attempting for years have crumbled in the wake of this crisis.

Damage done to image of Muslims in world

From a human rights perspective, this event has the potential to further tarnish the already negative perception of the Muslims in world. Starting with the assumption that Hamas and Palestine are one and the same can lead to branding anyone who is Muslim or supports Palestine as “bad”. Similarly, Israel’s potential victimization in the 2023 events does not necessarily imply that they have not violated international law or committed crimes against humanity in the past. Moreover, if a ground operation in Gaza targets civilians, the situation could escalate to a point of no return. This would not be confined to the region alone; considering the transnational nature of conflicts, it would almost inevitably result in terrorist attacks or social unrest in the streets of London, Paris or Berlin. Therefore, a quick reconsolidation is a must for everyone and some of the external actors should play a mediator role.

Turkey has an interest in reducing tensions

Despite the challenges and complexities outlined, Turkey is in a unique position during this crisis. On the day the events unfolded, opposition parties in Turkey seemingly failed a significant test in their history. Parties like the Future Party, the Felicity Party, and the Welfare Party allowed their Islamic reflexes to override rationality, not realizing, or choosing to disregard the fact, that the events could undermine the historical justifications of the Palestinian people. Similarly, both the current leader of the Republican People’s Party, Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu, and the leadership candidate, Özgür Özel, made statements that will likely go down in history as irrational.

Surprisingly, President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and the Foreign Ministry of issued balanced statements, calling for reconciliation on both sides. This was surprising because Erdogan’s Justice and Development Party overtly sided with Palestine in the past. President Erdoğan hosted leading figures from Hamas in his palace in 2023 and appeared alongside them in front of cameras without reservation. Furthermore, the base of the ruling party in Turkey is deeply anti-Israel on this issue. Despite these challenges, Turkey’s call for calm signals its intention to reduce tensions in the region. It seems that the United States is also aware of this, given the ongoing dialogue between the foreign ministers of both countries.

The current political actors in Turkey have, seemingly, refrained from repeating the mistakes of the past and have demonstrated a rational approach to the region and its manoeuvring capabilities. Hakan Fidan, who was appointed Foreign Minister after the May elections, can foresee the regional dynamics, the manoeuvring abilities of regional actors, and the aftermath of potential events due to his past experience. Similarly, Feridun Sinirlioğlu, who held a prominent position in the ministry before Fidan, and his former team have shown their adaptability to complex situations in the past.

These individuals, who currently hold decision-making authority in the ministry, undoubtedly influence Turkey’s policies. Moreover, the religious dimension of the issue should not be overlooked, as the intelligence agency led by Ibrahim Kalın, an intellectual from the Islamist camp, is likely to have a different perspective. These two components, combined with the long-standing goals of secular elements in the region that support peace, can lead to a rational stance on this issue.

One crucial advantage is President Erdoğan’s capacity to engage in dialogue with both leaders of the conflicting parties. Nonetheless, there is a significant obstacle in the form of public opinion in Turkey. The masses that gathered in front of the Fatih Mosque, chanting “Mehmetçik to Gaza” (referring to the Turkish Armed Forces), and the opposition’s futile attempts to take sides in a way that contradicts their party policies, have created a public opinion that cannot distinguish between the wrongdoings of both Israel and Hamas. Consequently, due to the pressure from public opinion, Turkey’s role as a mediator becomes increasingly challenging.

In the context of the ongoing conflict, Turkey’s potential role as a mediator would be consistent with its post-2023 election strategy of pursuing a balanced foreign policy. Turkey appears to recognize the disadvantages of both economic and sustained confrontation, leading it to make efforts to maintain good relations with both Western and Eastern powers. Despite the substantial effort required to address the shifts in its geopolitical alignment over the years, this intention is evident in the profiles and statements of its senior foreign affairs officials.

Turkey is a strategically significant country with a Muslim-majority population, capable of establishing relations with the West. Additionally, it holds historical ties to the region. Thus, its involvement in this issue is almost inevitable. In this context, Turkey must take a rational approach, both for its own benefit and for the broader regional and global stability. One can only hope that the current policy, pursued until now, remains intact and that Turkey makes a significant contribution to itself and the world. At the least, it should make efforts to do so.

Ahmet Erdi Ozturk is a Senior Lecturer in Politics and International Relations at the London Metropolitan University

The opinions expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of BIRN.

Source : Balkan Insight