For Hamas, lousy deal exposes Turkey as a paper tiger
AnalysisWill Gaza's disappointed Islamist rulers now push for another round of conflict?

For Hamas, lousy deal exposes Turkey as a paper tiger

Erdogan vowed for years there would be no reconciliation with Israel unless Gaza blockade was lifted. And then he reached an agreement that leaves blockade in place

Avi Issacharoff

Avi Issacharoff, The Times of Israel's Middle East analyst, fills the same role for Walla, the leading portal in Israel. He is also a guest commentator on many different radio shows and current affairs programs on television. Until 2012, he was a reporter and commentator on Arab affairs for the Haaretz newspaper. He also lectures on modern Palestinian history at Tel Aviv University, and is currently writing a script for an action-drama series for the Israeli satellite Television "YES." Born in Jerusalem, he graduated cum laude from Ben Gurion University with a B.A. in Middle Eastern studies and then earned his M.A. from Tel Aviv University on the same subject, also cum laude. A fluent Arabic speaker, Avi was the Middle East Affairs correspondent for Israeli Public Radio covering the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the war in Iraq and the Arab countries between the years 2003-2006. Avi directed and edited short documentary films on Israeli television programs dealing with the Middle East. In 2002 he won the "best reporter" award for the "Israel Radio” for his coverage of the second intifada. In 2004, together with Amos Harel, he wrote "The Seventh War - How we won and why we lost the war with the Palestinians." A year later the book won an award from the Institute for Strategic Studies for containing the best research on security affairs in Israel. In 2008, Issacharoff and Harel published their second book, entitled "34 Days - The Story of the Second Lebanon War," which won the same prize.

Turkey's Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, right, and Palestinian Hamas leader Khaled Mashaal seen during the congress of Turkey's ruling Justice and Development Party in Ankara, Turkey, Sunday, Sept. 30, 2012 (AP/Kayhan Ozer)
Turkey's Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, right, and Palestinian Hamas leader Khaled Mashaal seen during the congress of Turkey's ruling Justice and Development Party in Ankara, Turkey, Sunday, Sept. 30, 2012 (AP/Kayhan Ozer)

Six years after it erupted, the farcical crisis between Jerusalem and Ankara finally came to an end on Monday. And farcical really is the right word.

It was the Turks who were responsible for creating it. It was they, after all, who dispatched that flotilla to Gaza in 2010, knowing full well that the vessels would not reach their destination, and that Gaza was getting aid supplies in any case from Israel and also, during that period, via the tunnels from Egypt. It was the Turks who prolonged the crisis for years, despite Netanyahu’s apology during the March 2013 visit by US President Barack Obama to Israel. And it was the Turks who ultimately capitulated on their key demand, the lifting of Israel’s naval blockade on the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip. Was never going to happen. Didn’t happen.

President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and his Prime Minister Binali Yildirim will doubtless be asserting that, thanks to them, the Gaza crisis has been resolved. The Turks have already announced that they will this week be dispatching an aid ship to Ashdod port overflowing with humanitarian aid. But this is spin. Media manipulation. Aid ships anchor almost every day at Ashdod full of goods intended for Gaza and almost all of them reach their destination. The proof of supplies flowing into Gaza from Israel is there for all to see at the Kerem Shalom crossing.

So why did Erdogan drag his feet for so long over reconciliation with Israel? Maybe he hoped that someone in Israel would give him a more elegant ladder on which to climb down from his demand for the lifting of the blockade. Maybe he now recognized how a possible gas deal and a rise in tourism from Israel can help him with what really matters most to Turkey — its economy.

The bottom line is that the capitulation came from Ankara — which is controlled by the Justice and Development party, which identifies with the Muslim Brotherhood, from which Hamas emerged; which hosts the Hamas leadership in Istanbul and Ankara; and which had reiterated for six years that there would no reconciliation without the removal of the blockade. Erdogan’s Turkey has been exposed as a paper tiger from Hamas’s point of view.

The headlines in the Palestinian media were telling. The Ma’an press agency wrote Monday afternoon that the deal was a case of Turkish-Israeli interests prevailing over principle, and “there is no comfort for Gaza.”

One of Hamas’s leaders in exile, Osama Hamdan, made clear in a Facebook post, “We did not give our agreement to this deal,” and defined it as an internal Turkish matter.

Ankara was Hamas’s most important ally and yet, in the eyes of the Islamist terror group, Ankara abandoned it. The blockade goes on. There’s no airport or seaport. Yes, there are some benefits for Gaza — perhaps even the building of a desalination plant, a power plant and a new hospital. But those could have been arranged without a reconciliation deal with Israel. Israel’s security establishment would have been perfectly happy to grant Gaza such installations in its ongoing efforts to prevent further conflict with the Strip.

There are two crumbs of comfort for Hamas. Apparently its leaders will not be booted out of Turkey. But even that is of limited benefit since Turkish intelligence is expected to more closely supervise the activities of the Hamas military wing in its territory from now on. Second, the agreement does render Turkey a possible new mediator between Israel and Hamas. Egypt has long been regarded as Jerusalem’s ally and takes as dim a view of Hamas as the Islamist group does of it.

Where does this mean Hamas will now head? An optimistic scenario is that bolstered humanitarian aid to Gaza will reduce Hamas’s motivation to initiate a new war with Israel in the near future. Moreover, perhaps the realization that Turkey is not dependably at its side will encourage Hamas to move toward reconciliation with the Palestinian Authority and Fatah.

Unfortunately, in the Middle East, such optimistic scenarios tend not to prove realistic.

If the wider status quo between Israel and Gaza does not change and the humanitarian improvements prove marginal, the reverse may happen: Feeling failed by Turkey, there could be growing pressure from Hamas’s military wing, which is moving increasingly close to Iran, to launch a fresh round of violence against Israel, in order to fundamentally remake the current reality.

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