The ongoing Israel-Gaza conflict has reignited Turkey’s urge at supporting the Palestinian cause and backing Hamas, which runs Gaza. To many, this is a part of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s religious leadership ambitions. This is true, but Ankara also has a dream- a strategic one to be precise. It wants to link Gaza by sea for hurting Israel’s interests in the Eastern Mediterranean and avoiding the sheer isolation being caused by Israel’s EastMed pipeline project.
Hamas leaders find protection and refuge in Turkish territory. Erdogan doesn’t condemn Hamas, which means he implicitly supports it. What Turkey recognises is that it can use its own geostrategic location and the location of Gaza for harming Israel’s gas pipeline ambitions in the Eastern Mediterranean and also shoring up its own influence by placing naval assets in the region. The plan makes strategic sense but Israel’s fierce retaliation seems to have demolished it.
Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan is a bully who doesn’t mind collaborating with radical and violent organisations for geopolitical purposes. Remember, he had also signed a deal with Libyan Muslim Brotherhood leader, Fayez al-Sarraj in November 2019 for stealing Greek maritime space by robbing its islands of their Exclusive Economic Zones (EEZs).
Presently, Israel has imposed a very strict blockade on the Gaza Strip both by land and by sea, in order to choke arms and other supplies to Hamas and other militant groups. But Ankara happens to believe that it has the capability to help Hamas escape the strict blockade. This is why the Turkish President keeps Hamas leadership in his good books.
Ultimately, Turkey wants to keep a check on Israel’s maritime activities in line with its sea-grabbing policies in the Eastern Mediterranean. Last year, Turkey’s research vessels regularly intruded into waters traditionally claimed by Cyprus and Greece in accordance with international maritime law. And the next target for Turkey is, of course, Israel.
This is all the more important for Erdogan, because Israel’s presence in the region effectively counters Turkish aggression against Greece and Cyprus, and allows the two countries to confront Ankara.
Turkey visualizes a straight corridor from Gaza to its own coastline, effectively cutting off Israel from Greece and hampering the 1,900-km long EastMed pipeline that is supposed to start from Israel’s Leviathan gas field and move gas offshore via Cyprus to Greece, and other European countries like Italy and France.
The ambitious onshore/ offshore pipeline project brings the entire Eastern Mediterranean minus Turkey together. Clearly, it also enhances Israel’s image in the region at Turkey’s expense. So, Turkey made it a strategic goal to link itself with Gaza.
However, Israel’s response against Hamas provocations has been so overwhelming that Ankara now seems clueless. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has gone into overdrive. The Israel Defence Forces (IDF) are eliminating top Hamas leadership and pushing the terror organisation by at least 10 to 15 years. The Jewish nation is literally turning the block back for Hamas and paralysing its leadership.
A weak Hamas, struggling for survival, is bad news for Turkey. And Israel has made it clear that it will not stop at anything less than the complete annihilation of Hamas. Turkey is therefore reduced to making statements like proposing an international military alliance to protect Palestinians. Yet, such an organisation is not going to find many takers. Radical Islamist nations like Pakistan and Malaysia would perhaps be the only ones to join it, and that would hardly bother Israel.
Turkey’s dream of controlling Gaza made a lot of strategic sense, but Israel’s fierce retaliation has ensured that Turkey’s dream remains a dream.