Photo: Reuters

Turkey’s rising role in regional issues

The United States has condemned talks Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan held a senior Hamas leaders in Istanbul on 22 August.

The Hamas delegation was led by the terror’s group political bureau chief Ismail Haniyeh and deputy chief Saleh al-Aruri; with discussions focused on the latest developments vis-à-vis Palestinian efforts to confront Israel, among other topics of mutual concern.

The U.S. State Department underscored that it “strongly objects to Turkish President Erdoğan hosting two Hamas leaders,” of whom one has a bounty on his head for his involvement in “multiple terrorist attacks, hijackings and kidnappings.” The statement further warned the Turkish leader that his “continued outreach to this terrorist organization only serves to isolate Turkey from the international community, harms the interests of the Palestinian people, and undercuts global efforts to prevent terrorist attacks launched from Gaza.”

Meanwhile, Haniyeh remarked at a press conference that as an avid follower of Turkish media, it was to be “praised” for its “evident support of the Palestinian cause”… “by standing on our side in the face of the historical injustice that beset the Palestinians for over 70 years.”

When asked about the recent Israeli-Emirati agreement to normalize relations, the Hamas leader insisted the Washington-brokered deal is intended to establish a new balance of power in the region on Jerusalem’s behalf at the expense of Ankara.

“There is even discussion regarding Turkey and these attempted alliances (UAE-Israel) that aim to create a (new) climate to impede Turkey’s regional role, consequently, Israel attains the upper-hand throughout the region. Therefore, these three threats are materialized in the agreement between Israel and the United Arab Emirates. From here we can see that this accord, for the second time, is a stab in the back of the Palestinian nation, which in all of its forms and parts, both domestic and international, rejects this (UAE-Israeli normalization) agreement,” said Haniyeh.

The Hamas bureau chief further revealed that as a means to counter Israel’s growing ties with the Arab world, his Islamist faction is working to resolve differences with its rival Fatah faction led by Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, as well as other leaders who are “abroad” – “for the purpose of ending the division for the purpose of Palestinian unity in order to reach consensus on a comprehensive national strategy to deal with this situation.”

In other developments regarding Turkey that occurred earlier in the week, U.S. Special Envoy for Syria James Jeffrey hailed the Republic as a “very close ally” of the White House, particularly with regard to Syria. Describing their mutual positions as “very closely aligned,” Jeffrey said, “We have an agreement based on the October 17th. Negotiations here on the situation in the northeast, peace spring, we are working to ensure that that is maintained. We have very close coordination on Idlib and on the political process, and we will continue doing exactly what we are doing.”

In light of renewed United Nations-mediated talks in Geneva toward a resolution of the civil war, Ambassador Jefferey declared that that the time has come for Syrian President Bashar al-Assad to “return to the negotiating table and deal with the rest of the international community.”

Moreover, Jefferey insisted that “Turkey must be at the table in any resolution of this conflict.” He pointed out that, “Turkey is central, the neighbors of Syria, Iraq – look what happened to Iraq with ISIS breaking out of Syria in 2014; Israel with an existential threat from Hezbollah and Iran’s long-range missiles; Turkey with the threats you have from Syria; Jordan and Lebanon with almost two million refugees – and of course you (Turkey) have more refugees here… Syria is a huge security and geopolitical threat for all of its neighbors beginning with Turkey.”

Despite the ongoing political negotiations in Switzerland, Syrian regime forces and Iranian-backed militias are conducting heavy artillery shelling in the southern countryside of Idlib Province, where Turkish-backed militias have been amassing over the past several days alongside the Jihadist Tahrir-al Sham.

It remains unclear whether the situation in the northeastern part of Syria could once again escalate into a direct clash between Damascus’ and Ankara’s respective militaries.

This, as Turkish President Erdoğan shows renewed determination to assert his country’s interests in the Eastern Mediterranean amid rising tensions with Greece and its European Allies.

Speaking at an event commemorating the 11th Century military victory by Seljuk Turks over the Byzantine empire at Malazgirt, Erdoğan further called on Europe to avoid mistakes that would bring about their destruction.

“We are determined to do whatever is necessary in military, political and economic sense. We invite our counterparts to get it together and avoid mistakes that would bring their destruction,” he said.

The Turkish President further warned Athens that “the ones who throw Greece in front of the Turkish navy will not stand behind them.”

Europe has seemingly been undeterred by the Turkish threats, although France deployed additional fighter jets and frigates to West of Cyprus where it is conducting a naval exercise with Greece and Italy. A separate joint Greek-US maritime drill was also held near Cyprus earlier this week, and the UAE joined Greece for a joint aerial exercise in the contentious region.

The Greek Parliament ratified its accord with Egypt in an apparent response to the Turkey’s extension of its mission in disputed waters of a heavily guarded seismic survey vessel. Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis insisted that his nation’s accords with Italy and Egypt are valid in accordance with international law and the Law of the Sea, while demanding Turkey end all provocative actions and negotiate a viable settlement.

“The road to reconciliation, for the one, open, pending issue we have with Turkey, that of the demarcation of maritime zones in the Aegean and eastern Mediterranean, is open, and can open for Ankara, but with one single condition, one condition: to stop immediately the provocations. In history the Greeks were the first to establish the olive branch, they know that it cannot have thorns. Six words are enough: stop the provocations, start the dialogue,” said the Greek leader.