When last month’s ceasefire was agreed between Israel and Palestinian resistance factions in Gaza, the head of the Hamas political bureau, Ismail Haniyeh, thanked Iran for its support. “The Islamic Republic of Iran did not hold back with money, weapons, and technical support,” he said. Haniyeh also thanked Qatar for its pledge to rebuild Gaza after the latest devastating military offensive by Israel, which lasted eleven days and nights last month.
Similar sentiments were conveyed by the leader of Hamas in Gaza, Yahya Sinwar. “All our thanks go to the Islamic Republic of Iran for its consistent support over the years to Hamas and other resistance factions,” he explained. He also briefly recognised support from Qatar, Turkey, and Kuwait.
Apart from Sinwar’s passing reference to Turkey, expressions of gratitude to Ankara were noticeable by their absence. This was despite the frequent pro-Palestinian rhetoric and denunciations of Israel by President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. The last time that Haniyeh thanked Turkey publically was back in 2016 over its aid efforts in Gaza.
It was clear that, after the latest onslaught on the Palestinian people, the resistance chose to recognise Iran’s help where it matters most, in the field with the armed resistance and, to a lesser extent, Qatar’s assistance for the reconstruction of Gaza.
Why has Turkey been left out, despite being a friend of Palestine? It could be something to do with the uncomfortable truth that despite Ankara’s stance towards Palestinian national liberation, it maintains important diplomatic and trade ties with Israel. The Palestinian factions know this very well. National liberation, as I have written before, will ultimately rest on a military solution, which is why Iranian support has been singularly recognised by the factions.
The status quo of the secular Turkish republic is one that is supportive of Israel. It was the first Muslim-majority country to recognise the statehood of Israel a year after its creation in occupied Palestine in 1948. The rise of Erdogan and the Justice and Development Party (AK Party) over the past two decades has, admittedly, coincided with diplomatic tensions between Ankara and Tel Aviv, especially after the Gaza flotilla attack in 2010.
While political ties have unquestionably deteriorated over the years and reached a new low with Israel’s desecration of Al-Aqsa Mosque last month, business ties haven’t. According to the Turkey-based, pro-Kurdish news agency Mezopotamya Ajansi, “When the AK Party came to power, the trade volume between Israel and Turkey was 1.4 billion dollars, today it is 6.5 billion dollar.
The report cites data from the Turkish Statistical Institute (TUIK) and says that Israel was ranked as the third-highest importer of Turkish goods last year, for a total value of $4.7 billion.
Political ties between the two countries are served by their respective embassies, which remain open. Turkey appointed a new ambassador to Israel after the downgrade in ties and withdrawal of its envoy in 2018 in protest of the deadly attacks on Gaza that year. At the end of last year, Erdogan said that Turkey would like better relations with Israel but claimed that Palestine is the “red line”. The latest and ongoing aggression, however, suggests that this is not the case.
An interesting development last month, though, was the Turkish proposal to establish an international force to protect Palestinians from future Israeli attacks. This was followed by the signing of a security agreement between Turkey and the Palestinian Authority earlier this month, modelled on a similar pact made with Libya’s Government of National Accord (GNA). Some have questioned what support Turkey can offer the Palestinian people beyond charitable donations, and to what extent such a hypothetical international force could really protect them. Hence, it remains to be seen if and how this security agreement will be implemented.
What is clear, is that Turkey won’t risk political, military, and economic consequences in any moves that directly affect the security of Israel. Iran knows only too well that its flagrant support of non-state actors opposed to Israeli and Western interests comes at a hefty price in terms of sanctions and attempts to isolate it. Faced with its own economic problems, Turkey will be reluctant to go down such a lonely route, even if both regional powers are arguably supporting Palestine out of ulterior motives.
In any case, the trade will continue as usual, and the only Turkish boots on the ground in occupied Palestine will be worn by Israeli soldiers. As media outlets in Turkey have reported in the past, Turkish-made military boots have been supplied to the Israeli army: “YDS is a leading supplier of boots, assault vests, and bags to armies across the world. Israeli soldiers are among those who use Yakupoğlu garments.” Tension between Israel and Turkey, said one CEO, does not affect business.
The next Palestinian uprising will inevitably involve more support from Iran, and only Arab states and non-state groups aligned with Tehran are vehemently opposed to the occupation state. Reinforcing this, Haniyeh is reportedly planning visits to both Iran and Lebanon, which will include meetings with Supreme Leader Ayatollah Sayyid Ali Khamenei in Tehran and Hezbollah’s Secretary-General, Sayyid Hassan Nasrallah in Beirut. He is expected to travel after his meetings in Cairo over stalled prisoner exchange negotiations with Israel, owing to the latter’s political uncertainty. With a new Israeli government now in place, though, that may change.