Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said Tuesday that Israel was “completely out of its mind,” accusing it of crimes against humanity over its ongoing war against the Hamas terror group.
Erdogan vowed to bring Jerusalem to justice over “crimes committed in the Gaza Strip,” and accused the United States and Europe of being complicit in them, while making no mention of Hamas’s deadly onslaught on October 7.
“I believe that we should stop Israel — which looks as if it’s completely out of its mind and lost it — as soon as possible. We will ensure that those responsible for war crimes in Gaza will face justice,” he said in a statement following a cabinet meeting.
Erdogan, whose government only recently restored full diplomatic ties with Israel, has massively stepped up his criticism of the country during the war. Earlier this week, he asserted that Hamas was not a terrorist organization but a liberation group of “mujahideen” fighting for its lands and people.
In an address to a mass pro-Palestinian rally in Istanbul Saturday, Erdogan said that his country was making preparations to proclaim Israel a “war criminal” for its actions in Gaza.
Israel said Saturday it was pulling its diplomats out of Turkey to “reassess relations” amid Erdogan’s inflammatory statements.
“In light of the escalating rhetoric from Turkey, I have instructed the return of diplomatic representatives from Turkey in order to reassess Israel-Turkey relations,” Foreign Minister Eli Cohen said in a statement.
Erdogan took a more cautious line in the first days after Hamas terrorists staged its October 7 massacre, during which they murdered more than 1,400 people in southern Israel, the majority of them civilians, and seized at least 245 hostages. Four have since been released by Hamas and one has been rescued by security forces.
But Erdogan has become much more vocal as the reported death toll from Israel’s military response has grown. He has not officially condemned Hamas’s slaughter of civilians — an attitude that has drawn ire from Israeli ministers.
The Hamas-controlled health ministry in Gaza says that Israel has killed over 8,500 people in its campaign, mainly civilians. The figures cannot be independently verified and are believed to include many slain terrorists, as well as victims of misfired Palestinian rockets. Israel says some 1,500 terrorists were killed in Israel following the October 7 attack.
Anti-Israel banners and graffiti, along with Palestinian flags, have become commonplace across Istanbul, as many of its citizens fume over Israel’s response to the massacre. Antisemitic incidents have also spiked in the country, too.
Israel was a long-time regional ally of Turkey before Erdogan came to power, but ties imploded after a 2010 Israeli commando raid on the Gaza-bound Mavi Marmara ship, part of a blockade-busting flotilla, that left dead 10 Turkish activists who attacked IDF soldiers aboard the ship.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Erdogan repeatedly aimed brickbats at each other in the ensuing years, including mutual charges of genocide. In July 2014, Erdogan accused the Jewish state of “keeping Hitler’s spirit alive” during a war with Gaza.
Ties later saw a moderate improvement, but both countries withdrew their ambassadors in 2018 amid violence in Gaza and the Trump administration’s relocation of its embassy to Jerusalem.
Facing hardening diplomatic isolation and economic woes, Erdogan began to publicly display an openness toward rapprochement in December 2020. In August of last year, Israel and Turkey announced a full renewal of diplomatic ties.
In late September, Erdogan met with Netanyahu in New York for their first known sit-down and the two enthusiastically discussed avenues of cooperation. President Isaac Herzog was hosted by Erdogan last March in Ankara — the first high-level Israeli visit since 2008 — and Foreign Minister Cohen met the Turkish leader in February. Then-prime minister Yair Lapid met with Erdogan in New York during last year’s General Assembly.
At the same time, Turkey maintains deep ties with Hamas. Erdogan has been in close contact with the Hamas leadership since the start of the war, and has allowed the terror group to operate from an office in Istanbul for over a decade, insisting that it only hosts the group’s political wing. However, in 2020, Israel provided Turkish intelligence with evidence that members of Hamas’s military wing operate in the office, under the supervision of Beirut-based Saleh al-Arouri.
From that office, Hamas terrorists have allegedly planned terror attacks against Israel and devised ways to transfer funds to the terror group’s activists in the West Bank.
In an interview with Turkish TV earlier this month, Qatar-based former Hamas leader Khaled Mashaal said he has “great respect for Turkey,” adding that “Turkey should say ‘stop’” to Israel, according to Al-Monitor. The former leader has repeatedly met with Erdogan over the years, and in an address to members of Erdogan’s party in 2014, he said he hoped to “liberate Palestine and Jerusalem” with them.
A recent poll showed that the majority of Turkish citizens want Erdogan to remain neutral or to mediate in the war.