Restoring the frayed ties between Turkey and Israel may be impossible while Ankara hosts Hamas’s overseas headquarters, Israel’s defense minister said Thursday.
“Turkey is hosting in Istanbul the terror command post of Hamas abroad. We cannot accept this,” Moshe Ya’alon told a press conference in Bern, Switzerland, where he is on an official visit.
“The Turks support Hamas, and this needs to be discussed,” he added.
“I am not sure that it will be possible to reach an arrangement of relations with Turkey. Perhaps we’ll succeed, but they will have to address our conditions in order to overcome existing obstacles.”
Ya’alon used the press conference to downplay speculation over a forthcoming restoration of warm ties.
“We didn’t initiate a deterioration in the relationship,” he said. That deterioration “was a Turkish initiative, [Turkish President Recep Tayyip] Erdogan’s initiative to deteriorate the relationship.”
Israel and Turkey “used to enjoy strategic relations, until the elections in which Erdogan was elected in 2002,” Ya’alon charged.
“Since the Mavi Marmara flotilla, we’ve tried hard to settle it. We failed. We tried again and again.”
Israeli-Turkish relations, already troubled enough for Turkey’s president to walk off a stage at the 2009 World Economic Forum at Davos in a protest directed at co-panelist and then-Israeli president Shimon Peres, entered a deep freeze after Israeli troops raided a Gaza-bound flotilla in 2010 that included Turkish activists aboard the ship Mavi Marmara. The activists resisted the boarding. Ten of them were killed in the ensuing fighting and several IDF soldiers were wounded.
In 2013, at the urging of US President Barack Obama, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called Erdogan to apologize for the deaths. But little came of the unusual phone call; Turkey has clung to its demand that Israel end its blockade of Hamas-ruled Gaza as a precondition for restoring relations. Israel, which fears the terror group will import weaponry, has refused.
At the beginning of 2016, Erdogan told Turkish media outlets that both countries needed better ties with each other in the current Middle East. Talks were renewed in recent weeks in the Swiss city of Zurich.
Efforts to rekindle the relationship “have been renewed recently,” Ya’alon acknowledged. “Is it because of the conflict between Turkey and Russia? Maybe.”
Ya’alon also said the Syrian civil war was unlikely to end in a restored Syria.
“Unfortunately, we don’t see an opportunity to unify Syria again. You can make an omelet from an egg; you can’t make an egg from an omelet,” he said.
“The Russian involvement, which actually is to support the Bashar Assad regime, is not accepted by the Sunni elements, and the Sunnis are the majority. That’s why it is so difficult to reach any kind of political settlement in order to cease the fire. We have to be ready for chronic instability in Syria and other countries.”
Syria, he suggested, has already shattered.
“Half of the population are refugees, some of them in their country, some of them in neighboring countries, some of them fleeing to Europe.”
Israel “doesn’t intervene” in the Syrian fighting, Ya’alon insisted. “We do not say publicly whether we support Assad or are against Assad. And we have our red lines. We do not tolerate any violations of our sovereignty whatsoever. And actually our sovereignty has been violated by Iranian proxies perpetrating terror attacks from the Syrian side of the Golan Heights. We haven’t absorbed any Daesh [Islamic State] or al-Qaeda terror attacks, only from Iranian proxies.”
Israel “will not tolerate the delivery of advanced weaponry to rogue elements or chemical weapons to rogue elements. This is the only case in which we act to defend our interests” in Syria, he said.
Israel also offered “humanitarian support” to Syrians suffering across the border, including medical care, food and fuel, he said.