When German Chancellor Olaf Scholz telephoned President Tayyip Erdoğan on May 29 to congratulate him on his re-election and at the same time invited him, what he had in mind was not to further deteriorate, and perhaps even improve, relations with the leader of Türkiye, whom he sees as a “difficult partner” who will lead the country for another five years. Indeed, this was the mood in Türkiye. A new lifeblood was needed to improve relations with Germany and the European Union. The Turkish and German business communities also mobilized. But this goal was shattered on November 17 in Berlin when Erdoğan bombarded Scholz in front of his own media and public with heavy-handed remarks such as “Germany owed Israel a Holocaust debt”.
In fact, it was precisely a picture like yesterday’s that both Turkish and German diplomats wanted to avoid. Erdoğan had used the Holocaust rhetoric before, targeting Scholz without naming him, the German Chancellor called the Turkish President’s remarks that Israel was a fascist and Hamas is a resistance movement “nonsense”, Erdoğan raised his hand by calling Israel terrorist and Hamas a liberation movement, and a crisis was on the verge.
It can be said that the main purpose of Erdoğan’s trip to Germany has shifted in the last week from Turkey-Germany, Turkey-EU relations to persuading Scholz to become a mediator together in the Gaza Crisis. He also said at the press conference with Scholz that he had proposed this to President Frank-Walter Steinmeier, whom he had met before Scholz.
“You convince Israel for a ceasefire and I will convince Hamas,” Erdoğan was saying to Steinmeier, who is going to Israel next week, as if he was holding Hamas’s proxy in his hands. At the press conference with Scholz, he insisted on Türkite’s role in Russia’s war against Ukraine and on the grain deal – right down to the details of the milling problem in Zimbabwe. (Scholz did not dwell on it much, saying that despite Russia’s withdrawal, there were other ways to ship grain. If Erdogan had hoped to get Germany’s partnership in the envisioned Israel-Hamas dialogue by accusing Scholz of being complicit in Israel’s murder of Palestinian children in his own home, this ambitious diplomatic tactic did not work. In fact, the very fact that the press conference was held before the meeting between the Turkish and German delegations, rather than after, showed that there was nothing left to talk about.
It could be said that Erdoğan made Scholz regret it, but perhaps not that he had made the invitation.
In fact, all this would not have happened if Hamas had not attacked Israel on October 7.
Erdogan might have come back from this visit with the promise of some easing of the EU’s Schengen visa system for Turkish citizens, certainly with the good news of new German investments, a new migrant deal in Türkiye’s favor, perhaps a partnership in the reconstruction of Ukraine. He could even have announced that the intention to purchase 40 Eurofighter Typhoon fighter jets, announced by Yaşar Güler, the Minister of National Defense, a day before the trip, had become possible with Germany’s approval. At yesterday’s press conference, he scolded the journalist and said that if Germany does not sell, we will buy from someone else.
On the other hand, when Erdoğan returned to Türkiye, he was greeted with headlines in Sabah, Yeni Şafak, Türkiye and other newspapers that showed his stance of calling Scholz the Holocaust to his face. (Hurriyet was still cautious and put Erdoğan’s offer to hold the Israel-Hamas dialogue together with Germany on the front page.)
It can be argued that Erdoğan’s trip to Germany has achieved in further rallying the anti-Western and anti-Israeli factions in Türkiye around him. It could also be argued that Erdogan saw the appreciation of the opposition groups in Arab countries as a gain, as well as the sympathy of Palestine supporters in Western countries. We should make a comment here: The Turkish people’s sympathy for the Palestinian people cannot be seen as support for Hamas; this would be a serious illusion.
On the other hand, it is hard to say that Erdogan pleased the Hamas leadership yesterday by making Scholz regret his support for Israel in his own home. Hamas is now looking for interlocutors who can talk to Israel. Egypt and Qatar seem more suitable.
But did he convince Germany (and the West in general)?
Let’s read Scholz’s message after Erdoğan, which he posted on his “X” account in both German and Turkish:
“Mr. President Erdoğan and I have very different perspectives on the Middle East conflict. This is precisely why it is so important to meet directly. But let me be clear: Israel’s right to exist is absolute for Germany. Antisemitism has no place in our country.”
Politics is the art of getting results. Erdoğan has demonstrated his mastery of getting results in the elections he has won in his quarter-century in politics. Let’s see what results he will get from the Israel-Hamas expedition to Germany, and what Türkiye will gain from it.
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