Just two weeks prior to the Hamas terror attack against Jewish civilians, Turkey reportedly tried to supply the militant Islamist group with 16 tons of missile components. Then, in the wake of the largest slaughter of Jews since the Holocaust, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan not only refused to call Hamas a terrorist organization, but he rallied to ship emergency supplies to the group.
Erdogan’s embrace of Hamas is ideological. So is his animosity toward Israel. Erdogan is not simply an Islamist; he comes from the same Muslim Brotherhood pedigree that birthed Hamas. This explains why, after he colluded with Fethullah Gülen to sideline Turkey’s secularists, he immediately turned on Gülen, who represented a more traditional Anatolian Sufi strain of Islamic thought, rather than Erdogan’s rigid Muslim Brotherhood strain.
Erdogan’s tight relationship with Hamas predates his presidency. I was on air in CNN Türk’s Istanbul studio in February 2006 when word broke that Hamas leader Khaled Mashal was in Turkey on an official visit. The news surprised almost everyone. Just days before, Erdogan, then the prime minister, had promised European leaders he would not welcome Hamas until it agreed to recognize the Jewish state and to abide by the Oslo Accords’ prohibition on terror. Erdogan justified his dishonesty by arguing that it was his political party rather than he himself who issued the invitation — never mind that Erdogan already held dictatorial control over his party at the time.
Erdogan’s support undermined efforts to get Hamas to shed its rejectionism. It also signaled to other politicians, including then-Senator John Kerry, that they could normalize Hamas. After all, Turkey was a NATO ally.
Later, Erdogan and the Justice and Development Party would use similar bait-and-switch tactics to support a flotilla to supply Hamas outside the confines of international inspections. That ended in tragedy, as Israeli commandos killed nine Turks to defend what the UN later acknowledged was a legal embargo. And for more than 15 years, Turkish state television has fed the public a steady diet of anti-Israel and anti-Semitic incitement.
Erdogan might offer rhetorical olive branches to Israel from time to time, but these are never sincere. He feigns an interest in reconciliation only when he needs to project a more moderate face in order to get loans or bailouts. He fools no one, except perhaps the U.S. State Department and my friend Michael Doran at the Hudson Institute.
It is time for Israel to realize that Erdogan’s Islamist ideology will always trump any pragmatic compact that could serve the interests of both Turkey and Israel. Nor is Erdogan himself the only problem. Twenty years of Erdoganism have fundamentally transformed Turkey and Turks.
Israel should therefore embrace Plan B, just as the United States did when Turkey was caught repeatedly assisting both al Qaeda and the Islamic State in Syria. It should openly support and, perhaps in conjunction with the United States, supply any Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) offshoots that forswear terrorism.
In 1999, Israel’s Mossad reportedly helped Turkey capture PKK founder Abdullah Öcalan. But not only Turkey has changed in the past quarter century, so too has the PKK. While there is no excuse for the recent militant offshoot that attempted to bomb the Interior Ministry in Ankara, the PKK long ago abandoned its separatist goals. Three Belgian courts agreed that Turkey’s calumny against the group, characterizing it as a terrorist organization, was false. Syrian Kurds were at the forefront of the fight against the Islamic State. The battle for Kobane was the turning point in the war and demonstrated the vulnerability of the Islamic State, even when it had resupply and logistical depth through Turkey.
As the world watches events in Gaza, Turkey has used its F-16s and drones to bomb civilian targets and infrastructure across northern Iraq and the Autonomous Administration of North and East Syria. Israel should support the Kurds not only out of anger at Turkey, but also because it is the right and moral thing to do. The Kurds are largely secular and tolerant. Öcalan’s past support for the Palestine Liberation Organization is on the record, but Israel deals with the same group in the form of the Palestinian Authority.
Kurds need anti-aircraft missiles and counter-drone technology. Israel should provide it. The alternative is to allow a Hamas-sponsoring, Islamist, and increasingly anti-Semitic country to grow stronger, bolder, and more proactive in its support of terrorism against Jews, Israelis, Americans, and the West more broadly.
Now a 19FortyFive Contributing Editor, Dr. Michael Rubin is a Senior Fellow at the American Enterprise Institute (AEI). Dr. Rubin is the author, coauthor, and coeditor of several books exploring diplomacy, Iranian history, Arab culture, Kurdish studies, and Shi’ite politics, including “Seven Pillars: What Really Causes Instability in the Middle East?” (AEI Press, 2019); “Kurdistan Rising” (AEI Press, 2016); “Dancing with the Devil: The Perils of Engaging Rogue Regimes” (Encounter Books, 2014); and “Eternal Iran: Continuity and Chaos” (Palgrave, 2005).