Israel elections: Turkey used to hope Netanyahu would lose, now what?

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Turkey still has fantasies of playing a great role in Palestinian affairs. It wants to advance Hamas in the West Bank and have a role in Jerusalem.

Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan speaks during a news conference following a cabinet meeting in Ankara, Turkey, December 14, 2020 (photo credit: PRESIDENTIAL PRESS OFFICE/HANDOUT VIA REUTERS)

Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan speaks during a news conference following a cabinet meeting in Ankara, Turkey, December 14, 2020

(photo credit: PRESIDENTIAL PRESS OFFICE/HANDOUT VIA REUTERS)

Turkey used to put forward a narrative that foresaw a reconciliation with Israel if Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu were to be replaced.

Ankara had high hopes for this in 2019 and 2020 when it appeared Benny Gantz’s Blue and White Party might emerge victorious. Turkey’s messaging on “reconciliation” was always one-sided. It wanted to lure Israel into ditching Jerusalem’s close partners in Athens and Nicosia.

Last year, when Israel was moving toward a pipeline deal with Greece and Cyprus and seeking to join the new East Mediterranean Gas Forum, Turkey was energized. If it could influence a few voices in Israel, it might be able to slow down the emerging ties the Jewish state was making with Greece. But Turkey was disappointed and frustrated in its goals.

Turkey’s ruling AK Party of Recep Tayyip Erdogan has been one of the most hostile to Israel in the world. Hosting Hamas terrorists and threatening to break relations with the UAE over the new Abraham Accords, it has sought to isolate Israel. Netanyahu knows this well and he has stood up to Erdogan on numerous occasions.

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Turkey still has fantasies of playing a great role in Palestinian affairs. It wants to advance Hamas in the West Bank and have a role in Jerusalem. It also wanted in the past to even broker a deal between Israel and Syria. But a lot has changed. Israel and Turkey drifted rapidly apart under Erdogan, especially after the 2009 war and the Mavi Marmara affair.

The elections today don’t promise Ankara much. Turkey has been singing the song of reconciliation again, but mostly with Egypt and Saudi Arabia. In December 2020, it sought to influence Israel. Seeing Ankara’s close ally in Trump leaving office, it knew it would be isolated.

But Ankara’s choice for a new envoy to Jerusalem was rejected and its overtures turned from sugar to salt as it moved on from Israel to try to entice Egypt and others. Nevertheless Ankara has toned down its rhetoric and Hamas leaders haven’t had a red carpet reception there since last summer.

Turkey’s lack of interest in Israel’s elections this time can be judged by its state media’s lack of reporting. There are no analysis pieces, no opinion pieces and no in depth reports.

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There appears to be a lack of interest because it can read the electoral map and expects more of the same from Israel.

Ankara’s dreams of finding a new prime minister in Israel with whom it might try some kind of “reset” will be dashed if Netanyahu remains in office.

This is a far cry from the days when Ankara would meet with the Syrian regime and then speak to Israel about what it learned. Back in 2004 when Syria’s President Bashar Assad visited Turkey, it then urged Syria to stop supporting anti-Israel terrorists groups and, according to foreign diplomatic cables, even raised the “issue of accounting for missing and dead Israeli citizens in Syria and Lebanon.”

Such discussions illustrate that there was a time when Ankara’s regime was less anti-Israel and played a constructive role in peace, rather than seeking to sabotage Israel’s relations with Greece and the Gulf.

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