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The Turkish regime supports terrorism
By Yoni Ben Menachem
Israel's Foreign Minister Eli Cohen announced on October 29, 2023, that he recalled Israel's diplomatic representatives in Turkey after President Recep Erdoğan's statements against Israel during the war against Hamas.
According to Cohen, Israel will reevaluate its relations with Turkey.
Cohen's message has declarative significance. Israel is outraged by the Turkish president's censure. He once again revealed his true face as an ardent supporter of the terrorist organization Hamas. Erdoğan heads the "Justice and Development" Party, a branch of the "Muslim Brotherhood" movement, Hamas's parent movement.
President Erdoğan ignored the ferocious mass massacre committed by the Hamas organization in the Israeli communities near the Gaza Strip on October 7. He insisted, "Hamas is not a terrorist organization, but a liberation movement that is waging a war to protect its land."
Erdoğan added, "We don't have a problem with the State of Israel, but we have a problem with its policy regarding the Palestinians. Israel took advantage of Turkey's good intentions; I will not visit Israel as planned."
In recent days, there have been massive demonstrations in Turkey in support of Hamas and the Gaza Strip. Videos are circulating on social networks in which Turks are seen stepping on the Israeli flag.
The Israeli embassy in Ankara was evacuated immediately after the Hamas massacre for fear of damage to the embassy employees by radical Muslims.
The Israeli Mistake
Israel and Turkey announced last year a full normalization of their relations and the return of the ambassadors after 15 years of murky relations.
President Erdoğan was also scheduled to visit Israel for the first time since May 2005.
Although he moderated his statements against Israel in recent years, out of political considerations only, during the previous round of combat against the Islamic Jihad in the Gaza Strip in August 2022, he again labeled Israel a "child killer."
Explaining President Erdoğan's motives and strategy, perhaps he sought to break his country's isolation through renewed normalization with its old regional rivals: Israel, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates. The Turkish economy is in poor shape, and Erdoğan was trying to encourage foreign investment and tourism in his country.
The energy issue was also important in Turkey's rapprochement with Israel; President Erdoğan expressed willingness to cooperate regarding the natural gas pipeline in the Mediterranean Sea. This is an essential issue because European countries are trying to reduce their dependence on Russian natural gas against the background of the Russian military invasion of Ukraine.
As far as Israel is concerned, a full normalization with Turkey contributes to regional stability and the economy. Intelligence cooperation between the Israeli Mossad and the Turkish intelligence "MIT" foiled plans for attacks by the Iranian "Revolutionary Guards" on Israelis in Turkey and undoubtedly contributed to the rapprochement between the two countries.
But it was a mistake: Israel was too quick to hug Erdoğan, a supporter of the terrorist Hamas, which proved to be as bad as ISIS.
For more than ten years, President Erdoğan steadfastly refused to close the offices of the military wing of Hamas in Istanbul that direct terrorist actions against Israel.
The Israeli Foreign Ministry said at the time that Prime Minister and Foreign Minister Yair Lapid agreed to full normalization of relations with Turkey when it was possible to exert more political pressure on Turkey to close the Hamas office in Istanbul.
Hamas Branch in Istanbul
Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh moved his family members from the Gaza Strip to Istanbul more than a year ago. He lives alternately in Turkey and Qatar.
The military wing of Hamas has a large office in Istanbul, which is staffed, among others, by "Shalit Deal" deportees who were deported from the territories as part of the prisoner exchange deal in 2011. Their activities include directing terrorist attacks in the West Bank and recruiting Israeli Arab students studying in or visiting Turkey into the ranks of Hamas, Hizbullah, and Iranian service.
The London Times newspaper reported two years ago, citing international intelligence sources, that a secret Hamas counterterrorism and cyber unit also operates in Istanbul separately from the Hamas office. It is subordinate to the Hamas military wing. It reports directly to senior Hamas official Samah Sarraj, who receives instructions from Yahya Sinwar, the leader of Hamas in the Gaza Strip.
At the same time, Hamas implicated Turkey in the case of laundering and smuggling money to the military wing in the Gaza Strip through two large money exchange offices in Istanbul.
As a result, a court in Saudi Arabia convicted some 60 Hamas operatives who were members of this network of money laundering and smuggling.
They were arrested on the orders of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman after Israel and the United States provided Saudi intelligence with accurate information about their activities in Saudi Arabia and Turkey.
They were sentenced to prison terms of up to 15 years.
The person officially in charge of the Hamas office in Turkey is Saleh al-Arouri, number two in the organization, who serves as the head of the military wing of Hamas in the West Bank and the contact person for Hizbullah and Iran. However, according to sources in the Gaza Strip, the secret branch in Istanbul is a personal project of Yahya Sinwar, who uses it mainly for the military wing in the Gaza Strip.
According to Hamas sources, the organization operates a sophisticated listening room in Istanbul for bugging communications in Israel and provides intelligence to Hizbullah and Iran.
Security officials in Israel say that there is evidence that it was the Hamas branch in Turkey that recruited and armed Sheikh Fadi Abu Shkhaydam from the Shoafat refugee camp who murdered an Israeli citizen in the Old City of Jerusalem in November 2021. In a tragic misperception, Israeli security sources believed he was active in Hamas' so-called political camp and not a "militant."
Erdoğan's Assurances to Hamas
According to sources in Hamas, after the renewed normalization with Israel, Erdoğan conveyed messages to the leadership of Hamas that his new page with Israel does not constitute support for Israeli policy and its Zionism. His warm attitude towards the "resistance" movements will not change, and he will not close down the offices of the military wing of Hamas in Istanbul despite Israel's demand.
The time has come for Israel to sober up. President Erdoğan is a lost cause, and he will not change. He will continue to support Hamas. Israel must cool down relations with Turkey and preserve its honor and the honor of the Jewish people.
Erdoğan continues to make false claims that the Hamas operatives in the offices in Istanbul are only political operatives, despite the evidence that Israel has provided to Turkish intelligence that they are terrorist operatives.
Israel must take advantage of the international momentum against Hamas terrorism to put pressure on Turkey to close the offices of Hamas' military wing in Istanbul.
Yoni Ben Menachem, a veteran Arab affairs and diplomatic commentator for Israel Radio and Television, is a senior Middle East analyst for the Jerusalem Center. He served as Director General and Chief Editor of the Israel Broadcasting Authority.