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Turkey’s Erdogan Blames US for Gaza Tragedy, Israel Withdraws Diplomats

In a recent speech, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan sharply criticized Israel for its actions in Gaza and squarely placed blame on the United States for the ongoing crisis. While his sentiments echo those expressed by Russia and China, Erdogan’s statements had a unique twist, suggesting that the West might be instigating a potential holy war. He also labeled Israel as a war criminal.

In response, Israel has withdrawn its diplomats from Turkey, marking a significant downturn in bilateral relations. This move threatens to revert relations back to the lows seen in 2010, following an incident where Israeli forces killed 10 civilians on a Turkish aid ship bound for Gaza. Prior to the recent Gaza crisis, Erdogan and Netanyahu were working towards a rapprochement.

It’s worth noting that Ankara has not yet issued an official response to Israel’s withdrawal of diplomats. Importantly, despite the strained relations, oil continues to flow from Turkey to Israel. A recent oil tanker named Seaviolet, registered in Malta, transported 1 million barrels of Azerbaijani crude from Turkey’s Mediterranean port of Ceyhan to Israel’s Eilat Port.

Erdogan’s strong statements need to be viewed in the context of upcoming local elections in March 2024 in Turkey. He addressed a crowd of approximately 1 million during this critical time, delivering what they wanted to hear.

While Erdogan’s assertive declarations might be seen as political maneuvering, they align with a growing anti-Western sentiment in Turkish public opinion. It would be untenable for Erdogan to side with the West in support of Israel’s actions, considering that about 99 percent of Turkey’s population is Muslim. This conflict is increasingly taking on an East-West dimension, as the US and Europe remain Israel’s primary supporters.

Turkey’s delicate balancing act between the West/NATO and the East has brought economic benefits. However, the Gaza crisis and the potential for US military actions against Iran and Syria could disrupt this equilibrium. Recent polls in Turkey indicate that a significant majority view the EU as biased against Turkey, and over half see the US as the biggest threat to the country.

In an intriguing move, Iranian Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian recently visited Turkey to discuss the Israel-Palestine conflict and regional developments. While the US Secretary of State Antony Blinken bypassed Turkey in his shuttle diplomacy, both Iranian and Turkish officials called for an immediate ceasefire and a peace conference involving Muslim and Arab countries. This demonstrates Turkey’s stance should the US engage in military action against Iran.

Ankara’s decision to meet with Iran and express agreement at this crucial time sends a clear message on where Turkey stands in the event of a US attack on Iran. Notably, large protests are anticipated at the major American air base in southeastern Turkey, Incirlik Air Base, signaling potential domestic challenges to the US presence in the region.

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