Turkish President Recap Tayyip Erdogan accused Israel Wednesday of being “a terrorist state” and of implementing a strategy to wipe out the population of Gaza, during a parliamentary address in which he vowed to bring Israel’s political and military leaders to trial in international courts.
Asserting that Israel “receives the full backing of the US and the West” in order to “commit war crimes,” Erdogan told the Turkish parliament that “the Israeli government has been continuously committing war crimes for the last 40 days, they are bombing hospitals, streets and mosques, and are aiming for all these places intentionally, implementing a strategy of total destruction of a city and its people.”
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu hit back at Erdogan hours later.
“He calls Israel a terror state, but in his actions he supports the terror state of Hamas,” said Netanyahu, in comments released by his office. “He himself shelled Turkish villages within the borders of Turkey — we will not accept his preaching.” Netanyahu was likely referring to Turkish military action against Kurdish areas of the country in recent years.
Israel’s diplomatic ties with Turkey, only recently restored, have deteriorated significantly since October 7, when Hamas terrorists burst through the Gaza border into Israel, killing at least 1,200 people, taking some 240 hostages and triggering a war in which Israel has vowed to eliminate Gaza’s ruling terror group.
“I would like to speak very bluntly. Israel is a terrorist state,” Erdogan said, to raucous applause. “They consider Hamas to be a terrorist organization, but Hamas is a political party that won the collective vote in Palestine, and after they won the election, you have seized and usurped their rights. Israel and the US have seized those rights.”
Hamas won the last Palestinian elections in 2006 by a narrow margin. It didn’t win a majority, and formed a unity government with Fatah for several months, before ousting Fatah entities in the Gaza Strip and taking over the territory.
Erdogan turned his attention to the death toll reported by the Hamas-run health ministry in Gaza, which claims over 11,000 people have been killed in the war.
The numbers supplied by the Gaza health ministry cannot be independently verified and are thought to include terror operatives, as well as civilians killed by hundreds of misfired Palestinian rockets.
“Two-thirds of the 12,000 people who have been murdered by Israel in Gaza are women and children,” he said. “Israel is carrying out the most heinous attack against women and children in all of history.
“Even war has limits and boundaries and morality. The first rule of war is not to harm women, children and medical patients,” he added, accusing Israel of intentionally leaving babies to die without food or fuel.
Israel says it is seeks to avoid harming civilians, but that this is unavoidable while fighting a war with terrorists embedded deeply and extensively within the civilian population and using hospitals, schools, playgrounds and more as a cover for its vast network of tunnels, rocket launching positions, weapons caches and more.
Under Erdogan’s leadership, Turkey has been diplomatically and militarily involved in the Syrian civil war since its earliest days. In 2019, Amnesty International found Turkey to have displayed “a shameful disregard for civilian life, carrying out serious violations and war crimes, including summary killings and unlawful attacks that have killed and injured civilians.”
Turning his attention to remarks made in recent days by Israeli far-right Minister Amichai Eliyahu, who suggested that Israel could drop nuclear weapons on Gaza (before being reprimanded) Erdogan addressed Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu by name.
“They [Israel] have been speaking about murdering all those people using nuclear weapons, so let me call on Benjamin Netanyahu — do you have nuclear weapons or not? Explain this, if you have the courage.”
“You are threatening people with atomic bombs, nuclear bombs. It does not matter what you have, you are a goner,” he said.
While foreign sources have estimated Israel has an arsenal of dozens to hundreds of nuclear weapons, the Jewish state has neither publicly confirmed nor denied such reports in keeping with its policy of so-called nuclear ambiguity.
Later in his speech, Erdogan returned to the topic of nuclear weapons and asked why the International Atomic Energy Agency had not stepped in after Israel’s supposed admission of possessing nuclear weapons.
Following Erdogan’s fiery address, the latest of several anti-Israel speeches delivered by the Turkish leader, Israeli Opposition Leader MK Yair Lapid (Yesh Atid) took to X, formerly Twitter, to declare that Israel “won’t take lessons in morality from President Erdogan, a man with an appalling human rights record.”
“Israel is defending itself against brutal terrorists from Hamas-ISIS, some of whom have been allowed to operate under Erdogan’s roof,” he added.
Turkey often hosts top Hamas officials in its territory and Erodgan has repeatedly met with the terror group’s leaders. Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh has split his time between Qatar and Turkey after moving away from the Gaza Strip years several years ago and has been in close contact with Turkey since October 7. Hamas has been allowed to flourish inside Turkey for over a decade and has run operations from an office in Istanbul, although Turkey insisted it only hosted the group’s political wing.
Hamas has been accused of plotting terror attacks against Israel from Turkish soil.
Following Hamas’s October 7 onslaught, a report published by the Washington-based Al-Monitor claimed that Haniyeh was in Istanbul at the time of the attack and that he, along with other senior Hamas officials, was asked to leave the country. However, the report was never confirmed.
During Lapid’s brief tenure as prime minister between July and December of 2022, Israel and Turkey resumed a full diplomatic relationship, and in September 2022, Erdogan met with Lapid, marking the first meeting between Turkish and Israeli leaders since 2008.
However, since the outbreak of war, Turkey has declined to condemn the murder of 1,200 Israelis, most of them civilians, at the hands of Hamas terrorists, repeatedly stressed that it views Hamas as “resistance fighters,” and recalled its ambassador once more. Israel, too, has recalled its diplomatic staff.