Turkey recalling ambassador; Erdogan: We’ve written Netanyahu off

Still, Turkish president admits complete severing of ties with Jerusalem ‘not possible’; says Ankara’s intelligence chief trying to mediate end to war between Israel and Hamas

Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan speaks during a rally organized by his AKP party in solidarity with the Palestinians in Gaza, in Istanbul on October 28, 2023, amid the war between Israel and Hamas terror group. (Yasin Akgul/AFP)
Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan speaks during a rally organized by his AKP party in solidarity with the Palestinians in Gaza, in Istanbul on October 28, 2023, amid the war between Israel and Hamas terror group. (Yasin Akgul/AFP)

Turkey said Saturday it was recalling its ambassador to Israel for consultations due to Israel’s refusal to agree to a ceasefire in Gaza. The Turkish foreign ministry said Sakir Ozkan Torunlar was being recalled “in view of the unfolding humanitarian tragedy in Gaza caused by the continuing attacks by Israel against civilians, and Israel’s refusal [to accept] a ceasefire.”

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said he was breaking off contact with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu due to Israel’s actions against the Hamas terror group in Gaza.

“Netanyahu is no longer someone we can talk to. We have written him off,” Turkish media quoted Erdogan as saying.

Erdogan’s remarks came a week after Israel said it was “re-evaluating” its relations with Ankara because of Turkey’s increasingly heated rhetoric about the Israel-Hamas war.

Israel had earlier withdrawn all diplomats from Turkey and other regional countries as a security precaution.

Erdogan said that Turkey was not breaking off diplomatic relations with Israel.

“Completely severing ties is not possible, especially in international diplomacy,” he said.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, wearing a scarf with the Palestinian and Turkish flags, stands on the stage during a rally organized by his ruling AKP party in solidarity with the Palestinians in Gaza, in Istanbul on October 28, 2023. (Handout/Turkish Presidency Press Office/AFP)

Erdogan said his country’s national intelligence agency chief was spearheading Turkey’s efforts to try and mediate an end to the war.

“Ibrahim Kalin is talking to the Israeli side. Of course, he is also negotiating with Palestine and Hamas,” he said.

He added that Netanyahu bore the primary responsibility for the violence and had “lost the support of his own citizens.”

“What he needs to do is take a step back and stop this,” Erdogan said.

Earlier this week, Erdogan said that Israel was “completely out of its mind,” accusing it of crimes against humanity over its ongoing war against the Hamas terror group.

He 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.

Illustrative: A grab from a UGC video posted on the Telegram channel ‘South First Responders’ on October 9, 2023, shows a Palestinian terrorist walking around the Supernova music festival, near Kibbutz Re’im in southern Israel on October 7. (South First Responders/AFP)

Erdogan, whose government only recently restored full diplomatic ties with Israel, has massively stepped up his criticism of the country during the war.

He also asserted that Hamas was not a terrorist organization but a liberation group of “mujahideen” fighting for its lands and people.

Last week, in an address to a mass pro-Palestinian rally in Istanbul, Erdogan said that his country was making preparations to proclaim Israel a “war criminal” for its actions in Gaza.

File: Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, speaks to attendees during a rally to show their solidarity with Palestinians, in Istanbul, Turkey, October 28, 2023. (AP Photo/Emrah Gurel)

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 9,200 people in its campaign, mainly civilians. The figures cannot be independently verified and are believed to include slain terrorists, as well as victims of misfired Palestinian rockets.

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.

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.

File: Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu meets Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly in New York on September 19, 2023. (Avi Ohayon/GPO)

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 Eli 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.

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