Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu reportedly told the foreign ministers of Greece and Cyprus last month that he is deeply pessimistic about Turkey’s future as a democracy under President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and said he believes its economy is destined for further decline.
“Turkey is becoming undemocratic,” Netanyahu said, according to a Wednesday Channel 10 report that cited Israeli officials familiar with the September meeting.
“Erdogan calls me ‘Hitler’ every two weeks. It’s a systemic problem – I don’t see light at the end of the tunnel,” he said, also noting his concerns that Turkey may take delivery of the advanced F-35 fighter jets.
“Erdogan is making economic decisions that make no sense,” he said. “The situation there is getting worse.”
Netanyahu warned the Greek and Cypriot officials the Turkish leader may act to sabotage their natural gas drilling operations in the Mediterranean, according to the report.
“Erdogan is unpredictable and reckless. We’re worried and watching to see if he does something in the region [about the gas] … I’m pessimistic.”
Netanyahu and Erdogan have gone head to head a number of times this year over the deadly clashes along the Gaza border and a controversial law passed by the Knesset earlier this year defining Israel as the nation-state of the Jewish people.
After dozens of Palestinians — most of them members of Hamas or other Gaza terror groups — were killed in border clashes with Israeli troops in May, Erdogan branded Israel a “terrorist state” and claimed it was committing genocide against Palestinians.
Turkey recalled its ambassador and expelled Israel’s ambassador, Eitan Na’eh, and consul in Istanbul.
Israel responded in kind, expelling Turkey’s consul-general in Jerusalem and summoning the country’s deputy ambassador for a dressing down.
In July, Erdogan again lashed out at Israel after the Jewish nation-state law was passed, calling it the “most fascist, racist state” in the world, and said that the “spirit of Hitler… has found its resurgence among some of Israel’s leaders.”
He claimed there was “no difference between Hitler’s obsession with the Aryan race and Israel’s understanding that these ancient lands are meant only for Jews.”
Netanyahu promptly hit back at the Turkish leader, accusing him of ushering Turkey into a “dark dictatorship” under his rule. The prime minister also slammed Turkey’s ongoing “massacres” in Kurdish regions in Syria, and Erdogan’s response to a 2016 failed coup that saw tens of thousands of Turks jailed.
Though Erdogan has firmly positioned himself as a champion of the Palestinians since coming to power in 2003, Israel and Turkey in recent years have increasingly found themselves sharing vital interests on several fronts, especially Syria.
As the Syrian civil war grinds to an end, Sunni Turkey is fearful of Shiite Iran’s domination of its southern neighbor, a concern shared by Israel. Often the first in line to lambaste Israel, Turkey has remained silent over purported Israeli airstrikes against Hezbollah and Iranian weapons shipments and military installations in Syria.
But according to the Channel 10 report, Netanyahu said the recent flare-up in tensions has ended the bilateral intelligence coordination between the two countries.
“Turkey wanted to advance reconciliation with Israel two years ago because of the situation in Syria,” he said. “Now [after the removal of the Israeli ambassador in Ankara] there isn’t even intelligence cooperation with Turkey on Syria.”
Last month, Hebrew-language media outlets reported Israel and Turkey were holding back-channel talks in a bid to restore the all-but-severed diplomatic relations between the two nations.
Meanwhile, Turkey is facing an economic crisis and a collapsing currency amid a diplomatic falling out and trade dispute with the United States over Ankara’s detention of an American pastor on espionage and terror-related charges.
Netanyahu told the Cypriot and Greek officials he did not expect tensions between Washington and Ankara to improve until after the US midterm elections because President Donald Trump would continue to heavily pressure Ankara to release Andrew Brunson to appease his Evangelical constituents.
“Trump won’t ease up the pressure,” he told the ministers, adding that he had agreed to help repair the fraying ties between the two countries.