President Tayyip Erdoğan took a break from the cabinet meeting on October 9 to hold two important meetings. He spoke with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and Israeli President Izak Herzog about the October 7 Hamas attack on Israel and the subsequent Israeli operation in Gaza. He expressed his regret over the civilian deaths to both of them.
In a statement after the talks, Erdoğan also condemned for the first time the attacks by Palestinian militants on Israeli civilians. His exact words were: “We ask Israel to stop its bombardment of Palestinian territories and the Palestinians to stop their harassment of civilian settlements in Israel.”
Erdoğan also said he was ready for mediation, including prisoner swaps, “if the parties demand it”.
In other words, Türkiye is telling Israel that if it wants to, it is ready to use its once much-criticized relations with Hamas to free Israeli prisoners held in Gaza.
Hamas is reported to have kidnapped some 150 Israeli citizens, including high-ranking military officers, and placed them in different parts of Gaza as human shields against Israeli attacks.
Exchange offer to Israel
Qatar, where Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh lives in exile, has also announced its willingness to step in for the exchange of women and children prisoners. Egypt, which says it warned Israel of a “major attack” but failed to make it listen, is also in contact with Hamas. After these meetings, Erdoğan also called Egyptian President Abdel Fattah Sisi, Qatari Emir Sheikh Temim, Lebanese Prime Minister Najib Mikati and Malaysian Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim.
In fact, Foreign Minister Hakan Fidan has been conducting meetings for this purpose since October 7. US Secretary of State Antony Blinken announced that he had discussed “prisoner rescue” with Fidan, one of the first counterpart he met after the attack; Blinken emphasized that “Israel has the right to defend itself and rescue hostages”.
This “right” includes the use of force (with US support) and prisoner swaps. But would Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, whose seat is on the rocks, risk killing Israeli hostages while punishing Gaza, with its 2 million inhabitants, for Hamas attacks?
Turkey’s right to self-defense
And will Hamas listen to its political rival, Fatah leader Abbas? Still, every political means must be tried to prevent more civilians from being killed and the war from spreading to the entire Middle East.
In Erdogan’s state of the nation address, after offering Israel mediation with Hamas, including prisoner swaps, he devoted a lot of space to Turkey’s right to defend itself. “It is Turkey’s legitimate right to continue cross-border operations until the PKK, with all its names and extensions, is completely eliminated,” the president said, adding that this would be done despite US obstructions.
In Turkey’s latest offensive against PKK positions in Syria and Iraq following the October 1 Ankara attack, which was claimed by the PKK, Erdoğan directly targeted the United States, saying, “We had the biggest problem with our ally who supported the terrorist organization under the pretext of DAESH.”
PKK challenge to the US
“We will never allow a single terrorist to shelter on our borders, nor will we allow a terror corridor to be established,” Erdoğan continued; “In fact, our allies promised us this, but they have not kept their word. Changing the name of the terrorist organization does not only mean that they deceive themselves, they also deceive others. Calling the PKK the SDF, America the United States, Great Britain the United Kingdom does not change anything.”
Making “an appeal to other powers that have been in close relations with terrorist organizations in the region for years,” Erdoğan alluded to the deliberate shooting down of a Turkish UCAV by the US on October 5, saying “we ask them to keep their military and intelligence elements in the region away from terrorists so that they will not be harmed in our operations.” “There is no doubt that this incident is recorded in our national memory and will be dealt with when the time comes,” Erdoğan said, referring to criticism of the government’s failure to react strongly to the incident.
Time will tell what impact the Hamas attack on Israel will have on Turkey’s fight against the PKK. But I guess we will not have to wait long to see the repercussions of this attack on Iran’s influence in the Middle East.