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After winning the presidential elections in the Republic of Turkey earlier this year, Recep Tayyip Erdogan took several steps aimed at restoring basic trust and pragmatic cooperation with the United States and the European Union. Following this trajectory, Mehmet Simsek was appointed as Minister of Treasury and Finance, and Hafize Gaye Erkan as the Governor of the Central Bank of Turkey.[1] During the NATO summit in Vilnius, Erdogan approved Sweden’s entry into the Alliance, and the formal ratification of this decision was submitted to the nation’s legislative body. In contrast to the conditions for their transfer from Russia to Turkey, Ankara subsequently returned commanders from the “Azov” battalion to Ukraine, reaffirming its support for Ukraine’s membership in the Alliance during the visit of the head of state, Volodymyr Zelensky, to the Turkish capital. There was also a bilateral meeting between the Turkish president and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, marking their second encounter following their first one at the UN General Assembly in September.

However, the war between Hamas and Israel that began in early October led to certain maneuvers in Turkish foreign policy. Factors that emerged independently but concurrently with the escalation between Palestinians and Israelis played a role in the resurgence of Ankara’s anti-Western rhetoric. These factors include the downing of a Turkish drone by a US fighter jet in Northeastern Syria and the critical report by the European Commission on the EU enlargement policy, examining Turkey as a candidate country.[2] Azerbaijan’s establishment of control over Nagorno-Karabakh and the corresponding threats to Armenia also led to disagreements between Turkey on one side and the EU (mainly France) and the US on the other.[3]

These fluctuations in the relations between Turkey and the West are well-known, often stemming from Ankara’s desire to act as an independent regional center, emitting its own geopolitical waves and maintaining its strategic autonomy. Experts are accustomed to characterizing this specific Turkish foreign policy as balancing between the various Leviathans on the international stage. A classic example of juggling different interests by Ankara is its position on the war in Ukraine: Turkey supports Ukraine politically and with military hardware, while simultaneously refusing to adhere to the economic sanctions imposed by the EU and the US against Russia.[4]

However, the war between Hamas and Israel is an example not only of strategic but also of instrumental maneuvering in Turkish foreign policy. A metaphor can better illustrate this process. Let’s imagine that Turkish foreign policy is an airplane that balances its movement on the map of the international stage thanks to its two wings: one ideological, the other pragmatic. Depending on the coordinates of each geopolitical event, Captain Erdogan tilts the machine, situationally leaning it more towards the ideological or the pragmatic wing, and restoring its horizontal balance at the first opportunity. The pilot, of course, knows that to keep the passengers in their seats, he must comply with the limit of tilt, beyond which he would lose control of the machine. Nevertheless, specific air currents – exemplified by charged events like periodic conflicts between Palestinians and Israelis – possess the ability to induce turbulence in the aircraft.

At the very beginning of the war, when Hamas attacked several Israeli settlements and other facilities located tens of kilometers from the Gaza Strip, Turkey adopted a balanced position.[5] However, subsequently, the tone and messages from Ankara quickly hardened. The verbal climax occurred at the organized Great Palestine Meeting in Istanbul, where Erdogan accused Israel of committing war crimes, and described the West as the “main culprit for the massacre in Gaza.”[6] Meanwhile, the Turkish president had already stated that Hamas is not a terrorist organization but a “liberation group, mujahideen, fighting to protect their lands and citizens.”[7] Parallel to Erdogan’s rhetorical commitment, active engagement peaked with the recall of the Turkish ambassador from Israel. This minimized Turkey’s chances of participating as a leading mediator between Israel and Hamas in negotiations for the release of hostages taken by the Palestinian group. Two factors contributed to thwarting Ankara’s ambition. One is the much-developed ties of Hamas with Qatar, Egypt, and Iran. The other is that representatives of the political wing of the said terrorist organization left Turkey at the beginning of the war.[8]

Turkey’s position on the Gaza conflict contains the following three elements: the conclusion of a ceasefire between the warring parties, the release of detained hostages, and the provision of humanitarian aid to the affected population in Gaza. Each of these elements is in line with the UN General Assembly resolution[9] calling for “an immediate, durable, and sustainable humanitarian ceasefire,” “the immediate and unconditional release of all civilians held in captivity,” and “the immediate, sustained, sufficient, and unhindered provision of basic goods and services to the civilian population throughout the Gaza Strip.” Although the resolution was introduced by Jordan, it was, in fact, a collective Arab effort, supported in the chamber by Russia, China, and some EU states such as France and Spain.[10]

Nuances in Turkey’s position come from elsewhere. Firstly, the country links the release of Hamas-held hostages with the release of Palestinian prisoners by Israel, provided that they are people with a fundamentally different status and detained for fundamentally different reasons. Secondly, Ankara’s position regarding the final resolution of the conflict between Palestinians and Israelis continues to be the creation of a Palestinian state alongside Israel, with the specific aspect that Turkish Foreign Minister Hakan Fidan proposed the idea of a guardianship format, where guarantor states, including Turkey, would be responsible for enforcing an agreement already reached between the warring parties.[11] Thirdly, although not alone in considering such a move, Turkey allows for the creation of an international peacekeeping force in Gaza.[12] Fourthly, in an attempt to counter support for Israel from the US and other Western countries, Ankara pays special attention to the role of regional states in resolving the conflict.[13] Last but not least, Turkey ties the events in the Gaza Strip to the violence observed against Palestinians by Jewish settlers in the West Bank (a point noted by the G7 states at their latest forum in Tokyo). Turkey sees the Organization of Islamic Cooperation as a successful platform for expressing this position,[14] and Ankara’s active diplomacy since the beginning of the war has been focused on finding support in both the shared and specific elements of the country’s position mentioned above.[15]

The similarities and differences between Turkey’s position and that of other interested parties regarding the conflict between Hamas and Israel deserve special attention. For example, parallel to Arab states, Ankara also insists on the imposition of an urgent ceasefire, pursuing both short-term goals—providing humanitarian aid to Gaza—and long-term ones—resolving the conflict according to the “two-state” formula. However, unlike most Arab states, Turkey recalled its ambassador from Israel (a move also made by Jordan and Bahrain). In contrast to Iran, Ankara does not call for an economic embargo on Israel. President Erdogan also stated that Turkey does not have a conceptual problem with Israel. However, in contrast to Tehran, Ankara critically addresses (as having the potential to destabilize the situation further) the deployment of two American strike groups in the Eastern Mediterranean, led by the aircraft carriers “Gerald Ford” and “Dwight D. Eisenhower.” There is a consensus in the positions of Turkey and Russia, explaining the escalating events as a result of the failure of American foreign policy towards the Middle East peace process. In this situation, Turkey even shares a common interest with Israel and the US in not wanting the conflict to expand further in the region. In contrast to Tel Aviv and Washington, Ankara maintains a stance advocating for a ceasefire and is not content with merely instituting “humanitarian/tactical/temporary pauses.”

The continuously increasing number of civilian casualties in the Gaza Strip is one reason why Turkey quickly abandoned a more moderate approach and radicalized its position. Israel’s actions are interpreted in Ankara as “disproportionate and ruthless,” equating to “mass slaughter.”[16] However, Ankara’s humanitarian considerations are not the only ones that materialize Turkey’s stance on the war between Hamas and Israel. Recep Tayyip Erdogan believes that the turbulence, along with the risks, also brings opportunities for Turkish foreign policy. These opportunities can be sought in several directions.

Firstly, the Turkish president wants to use the Gaza conflict to establish his country as a leader in the Islamic world in direct competition with states like the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (KSA). The conflict between Hamas and Israel puts Riyadh in a complex situation. On the one hand, the Kingdom—whose legitimacy in the Islamic world stems from its status as the guardian of the two holiest places, Mecca and Medina, as well as the weight of the said Arab state in the Organization of Islamic Cooperation—is subjected to populist pressure from the Arab-Muslim street. On the other hand, such pressure comes from the US, which continues to be the main external security guarantor for the country. Along with this, it is a problem for KSA to support Hamas, whose genesis is linked to the Muslim Brotherhood and that brand of political Islam, which, as organized horizontally and from bottom to top, poses a risk to the established caesaropapism in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.[17] The direct political and economic interest of Riyadh is also linked to the formalization of relations between the capital and Tel Aviv. In other words, Saudi Arabia is subject to opposing “pushes”—from the regional Islamic conglomerate and from its Western partners—that paralyze the Kingdom’s ability to react, limiting its freedom of action.

Against this backdrop, expressing solidarity to a large extent with the Arab position on the war, Turkey is simultaneously doing two things. One is to demonstrate solidarity with the countries that have been economic partners of Ankara in the last two years (UAE, KSA, and Qatar before). The other is to take advantage of the lack of broad freedom of action of these same states, accumulating competitive advantages over them. Turkey can afford a broader scope of diplomatic action, as demonstrated by the experience of the last 13 years, where Ankara’s economic relations with Tel Aviv have not fallen victim to their political disagreements. Additionally, Turkey does not depend on the mediating role of the US in its relations with Israel (not to the extent of Riyadh, as the Saudis seek additional security assurances from the US and support for the development of their nuclear program). Last but not least, the transcription of democracy through the instruments of political Islam, directed against centralized political systems like those of KSA, UAE, and Egypt,[18] is an approach that works in favor of Turkey in its attempt to establish itself as a leading influence in the Islamic world. If not necessarily to the Muslim leaders, then to the Muslim streets.[19]

Secondly, beyond the regional constellation and Turkey’s positioning in it, Ankara acknowledges the global transcription of the escalation between Hamas and Israel. Two key elements of Turkey’s position—the disproportionality of the Israeli response and the imperative need for an immediate ceasefire—are shared by Russia and China. This consensus between Ankara, Moscow, and Beijing manages to increase pressure on the US, considered the country that most greenlights Israel’s actions against the Gaza Strip. In this case, this thematic bloc between Turkey, Russia, and China yields results, as Secretary of State Antony Blinken’s words indicate the importance not only of the goal of destroying Hamas but also of the way Israel achieves this.[20] This refers to both the multitude of civilian casualties in Gaza and the need for at least temporary pauses in the conflict to facilitate the relocation of the civilian population in the Palestinian enclave.[21] However, if Turkey’s support for the Palestinians serves the criticism of US foreign policy by Russia and China, the problems of the two aforementioned states with their own Muslim populations mean that Ankara’s support has a limit beyond which it will not be tolerated by Moscow and Beijing.

Thirdly, Turkey’s position on the war between Hamas and Israel may serve as a convenient excuse for some of Ankara’s failures. For example, the aforementioned critical report by the EC has already been interpreted as a function of Turkey’s “principled position” on the war between Hamas and Israel.[22] The same excuse can be used if the US Congress ultimately does not advance the sale of F-16s to Turkey.

The turbulence caused by the war in the Gaza Strip to the region and Turkey is complex enough and requires a reciprocal approach. Therefore, Turkey’s position on the conflict we are discussing serves more as an exemplification than a contradiction to Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s balancing approach. This is a double balance: between East and West and between ideology and pragmatism. While ideologically aligned with Russia and China, pragmatism compels Turkey to persist in pursuing diplomatic engagements with the US and Western nations, to the extent that they can influence Israel’s actions. Meanwhile, Turkey will continue to support Hamas and the Palestinians as long as it brings Ankara legitimacy within the Islamic world, while not sacrificing its long-term economic relations with Israel.[23] Turkey will be resilient in its anti-Western rhetoric, as long as the popularity of the latter provides it competitive advantages in the region, given the inability of KSA, Egypt, and the Emirates to use such rhetoric.

To the West, Turkey will present itself as a potential contact partner in attempts to resolve the issue. However, despite its rhetoric, Ankara is not a party to the conflict like Iran and to the extent of Qatar. To the East—Russia and China—Turkey will depict itself as a country that can withstand American and European pressure, unlike Arab states whose limitations and interests do not allow such freedom. To the Arab South, Ankara will materialize its position as that of a consistent and principled partner, unlike Riyadh, Cairo, and Abu Dhabi, which are perceived as willing to compromise on the Palestinian cause. And when the turbulence from the war between Hamas and Israel subsides, Recep Tayyip Erdogan knows that a successful landing requires a horizontal balance between the wings of the aircraft.

[1] The appointment of Şimşek and Erkan, individuals with proven careers in prestigious banking institutions, is linked to Turkey’s return to the “rational economy”, aimed at combating the country’s inflation through an increase in the base interest rate. This, in turn, serves as a signal to Ankara’s Western partners.

[2] Türkiye 2023 Report [Accessed on 09.11.2023]. Although the report acknowledges progress in the country’s migration and refugee policies, it remains critical of the state of democracy, human rights, and the judicial system in Turkey. The document explicitly highlights the existing divergence in positions between the EU and Turkey regarding the events in the war between Hamas and Israel. In this case, it is crucial to assess how this report may impact the perspective of the Majlis in ratifying Sweden’s NATO membership. ‘First, come and pave the way for Turkey’s accession to the European Union, and then we will pave the way for Sweden, just as we did for Finland,’ stated Recep Tayyip Erdogan. See here: Erdogan links Sweden’s NATO membership to Turkey’s EU accession [Accessed on 09.11.2023]

[3] The culmination of events occurred in early October when Azerbaijan refused to meet with Armenian counterparts in Spain, facilitated by France and Germany under EU observation.

[4] Turkey goes beyond this, assisting in circumventing sanctions imposed on Russia. US sanctions 5 Turkish firms in broad Russia action on over 150 targets [Accessed on 09.11.2023]. The transfer of semiconductors that could be used in Russian military equipment has drawn special interest from the United States and its allies.

[5] “We attach great importance to the quickest possible restoration of peace in the region and strongly condemn the loss of human life. We emphasize that acts of violence and the associated escalation will not be beneficial to anyone, and we urge the parties to act with restraint and avoid impulsive actions.” For the full text of the position of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Turkey, see here: No: 247, 7 October 2023, Press Release Regarding the Latest Developments in the Context of Israel-Palestine [Accessed on 09.11.2023]

[6] Türkiye to introduce Israel to world as war criminal: Turkish President Erdogan [Accessed on 09.11.2023]

[7] Turkish President Erdogan cancels plan to visit Israel over ongoing Gaza war [Accessed on 09.11.2023]

[8] Although we cannot be hostages to Ankara’s public statements, it still denied the information that appeared in Al-Monitor, stating that Turkey’s withdrawal by Ismail Haniyeh and another part of the political wing of Hamas was a consequence of the host country’s imperative insistence.

[9] Adopted on 27.10.2023 with 120 votes “for”, 14 “against” and 45 “abstentions”. See here: Gaza crisis: General Assembly adopts resolution calling for ‘humanitarian truce’, civilian protection [Accessed on 09.11.2023]

[10] And encountered overt or latent resistance among countries such as Israel, the USA, the UK, and Germany due to the lack of addressing Hamas’s culpability for the events and the omission of Israel’s right to self-defense. Beyond the officially articulated reasons of the countries that did not support the resolution, the actual ones are more related to Washington’s decision to provide sufficient time for Israel to carry out its ground operation in Gaza Strip against Tel Aviv.

[11] Türkiye proposes guarantor formula for Israeli-Palestinian issue: Turkish foreign minister [Accessed on 09.11.2023]. According to Hakan Fidan, the guardianship system in question will still have to be further developed.

[12] Ibid.

[13] President Erdoğan, President of the United Arab Emirates Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan talk over phone [Accessed on 10.11.2023]

[14] OIC Strongly Condemns the Ongoing Brutal Israeli Aggression against Gaza [Accessed on 09.11.2023]. In the OIC’s position, it is stated that the organization “rejects and condemns the escalation of killings, provocation, and organized terrorism committed by extremist groups of settlers and Israeli occupation forces against Palestinian citizens throughout the West Bank, including the occupied city of Al-Quds.”

[15] The Minister of Foreign Affairs of Turkey Hakan Fidan held a number of meetings with his counterparts and heads of state, including those of Egypt, Iran, USA, Qatar, Lebanon, Germany, etc. However, it was noticeable that Recep Tayyip Erdogan was absent from Ankara during the visit of US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken to Turkey, which was a clear demonstration of his reluctance to meet the visiting diplomat. On the other hand, the Turkish president held talks with heads of state from the region such as Ibrahim Raisi and Mohammed bin Zayed.

[16] Türkiye’s Erdogan rebukes Israel’s disproportionate attacks on Gaza [Accessed on 10.11.2023]

[17] While Turkey uses the state to expand the sphere of Islam, Saudi Arabia, especially under Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, takes the opposite approach. The use of Islam is to enhance the state’s control.

[18] Due to their antagonism towards the Muslim Brotherhood, Egypt and the UAE are compelled to limit their support for Hamas, which Turkey utilizes. However, Cairo and Abu Dhabi can convey their support for Palestinians through Arab nationalism, unlike Ankara.

[19] A role which Turkey has been playing, supported by Qatar, since the Arab Spring. However, there is a balance between pragmatism and the ideological discourse of Turkish foreign policy. Ankara restricted the activities of the Muslim Brotherhood when improving relations with the UAE and KSA for economic reasons.

[20] Blinken in Israel: ‘We need to do more to protect Palestinian civilians’ [Accessed on 10.11.2023]. The U.S. support for Israel seems to be gradually softening, taking into account the position of their Arab partners. Internal political reasons in Washington also played a role in this direction.

[21] A position supported also by the G-7. See here: G7 calls for humanitarian pauses in Gaza, hostages’ release [Accessed on 11.11.2023]

[22] No: 291, Avrupa Birliği Komisyonu 2023 Yılı Türkiye Raporu Hk [Accessed on 10.11.2023]. “In fact, we consider it a commendation for the EU’s efforts to criticize Turkey’s principled stance regarding the war between Hamas and Israel. The EU is on the wrong side of history, facing a clique reminiscent of the darkness of the Middle Ages”, says the position of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Turkey.

[23] Especially considering the concept of Turkey as a regional gas hub that would like to carry Israeli natural gas towards Europe.

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