Ankara’s Mostly Discarded Quest for a Greater Role in the Israel-Hamas Conflict

Ankara’s Mostly Discarded Quest for a Greater Role in the Israel-Hamas Conflict

The October 7 terrorist attacks perpetrated by Hamas have led to unprecedented consequences, including shifting political dynamics in the Middle East and opening the doors for a potentially broader conflict in the region. The attacks and Israel’s subsequent response put regional countries’ ability and will to react to the test. Turkey’s initial response to the crisis was surprisingly prudent, with President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan having pursued a more restrained and carefully calibrated policy than some might expect.[i] While political Islamist ideology may be a crucial factor for Erdoğan and the ruling Justice and Development Party’s (AKP) approach to the war—and the broader conflict between Palestinians and Israelis—they have for long embraced a pragmatic and domestically driven policy posture.

In the process, however, Ankara’s response to the October 7 attacks and the ensuing war has gone from a cautious position to gradually escalating rhetoric against Israel. This was followed by bolder efforts to become involved, including attempts to take a leading role in mediating a ceasefire and offering to become a guarantor in post-war Gaza, which have failed to produce any tangible outcomes so far.

The AKP’s policy approach toward the Israel-Hamas war has three noticeable characteristics. It is predominantly pragmatic and rhetorical, includes domestically driven decisions, and proposes initiatives without building substantive support from other actors invested in the matter.

Pragmatism and a Rhetorical Approach

For Erdoğan, support for the Palestinian issue is ideologically important.

Turkey-Israel relations have been dominated by pragmatism and a more rhetorical approach than President Erdoğan’s usual decisions in foreign policy. For Erdoğan, support for the Palestinian issue is ideologically important, signifying his political Islamist stance. His image of being personally invested in the matter is expressed through his passionate rhetoric and display of strong emotions.

While Erdoğan’s tougher stance against Israel—and especially Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu—in public caters to the AKP’s traditional Islamist support base and public opinion on the Arab street, Turkey’s economic relations with Israel have never been severed.

Throughout Erdoğan’s famous “one-minute rage” speech at the Gaza debate during the World Economic Forum in Davos in 2009 and the Mavi Marmara flotilla incident in 2010[ii], which led to the death of eight Turkish activists and a freeze in diplomatic relations with Israel, Turkey’s economic partnership with the country survived. During and after the 2009 Gaza war, and after Mavi Marmara[iii]—Erdoğan falsely claimed that trade with Israel was halted while even his son continued doing business with Israeli companies.[iv] After what many have referred to as a “lost decade” in Turkish–Israeli relations[v], the prospect of a new chapter between the two countries emerged[vi] as Israeli President Isaac Herzog visited Ankara in early 2022. President Erdoğan then described the visit as “a new turning point”[vii] to improve the relationship between Turkey and Israel. Interestingly, even despite the most recent shift in rhetoric in the wake of the Israel-Hamas war, the volume of trade has not been affected between the two countries.[viii] On the contrary, according to reports, Turkey’s export volume destined for Israel saw a 35% increase[ix] while Erdoğan’s family has continued doing business with their Israeli counterparts during this period.

Ankara’s initial reaction in the aftermath of the October 7 attacks was [...] maintaining its advocacy of the Palestinian cause, while at the same time distancing itself from Hamas and trying to avoid another public clash with Israel.

As a reflection of pragmatism, Ankara’s initial reaction in the aftermath of the October 7 attacks was “to carefully calibrate its stance in the face of the war … maintaining its advocacy of the Palestinian cause”[x], while at the same time distancing itself from Hamas and trying to avoid another public clash with Israel. According to Hasim Tekines, who formerly worked at both the Turkish Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Prime Ministry, Erdoğan’s “balanced stance means that Ankara does not want to risk normalization with Israel for a temporary crisis.”[xi]

As the number of civilian casualties in the Gaza Strip increased, however, Ankara’s measured and restrained approach shifted towards escalating rhetoric against Israel. Erdoğan voiced tougher critique against Netanyahu, likening the Israeli prime minister to Hitler.[xii] Turkey also decided to join South Africa’s bid at the International Court of Justice, which alleged that Israel was committing genocide in Gaza. Despite repeated statements made by both Erdoğan and Turkish Foreign Minister Hakan Fidan, no official steps have been made in this direction, although, according to Fidan[xiii], this may happen in June.

Despite Ankara’s slow-motion walk through the crisis, AKP officials will continue to portray Turkey as a willing and able actor, touting it as “the only country showing the strongest reaction to the massacre in Gaza and taking concrete measures against Israel.”[xiv] No matter how the situation on the ground develops, they will try to capitalize on it.

Ankara looks at the overall Palestinian issue with the Palestinian Authority as a notable actor included. However, given the AKP and Erdoğan’s affinity to the Muslim Brotherhood, Erdoğan favors Hamas. Connected to this are the AKP government’s decisions to let Hamas open an office in Istanbul and grant Turkish citizenship to about a dozen of its members.[xv] According to Al-Monitor, the AKP government was hosting Hamas leadership in Turkey at the time of the October 7 attacks. All the same, one should not take this umbrella of protection for granted. Part of an agreement between Erdoğan and Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi cost members of the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood in Turkey this kind of support and nothing can reassure that Hamas members that they can avoid the same outcome.

Nevertheless, Erdoğan went a step further in his rhetoric by stating that “Hamas is not a terrorist organization[xvi], [but] it is a liberation group[xvii]mujahideen waging a battle to protect its lands and people”, which is very similar to the voices of Iran and a significant deviation from the United States, the European Union, and NATO’s position on the matter. US Secretary of State Antony Blinken’s skipping Turkey in his first trip to the Middle East in the aftermath of the October 7 attacks was indicative of this division. In contrast with the above, however, when asked about the prospect of moving Hamas’s office from Qatar to Turkey, Erdoğan responded that he didn’t believe that Hamas would leave Qatar[xviii], implying Erdoğan’s disapproval of such a move.

Overall, Erdoğan’s seemingly contradictory pragmatism mixed with a public diplomacy campaign indicate that Ankara plans for the longer term and wishes to buy some time before putting itself at odds even further with Israel and the US.

Domestically Driven and Personalized Policy Decisions

Ankara’s changing tone toward Israel is in large part due to domestic pressure.

Another characteristic of the AKP’s policies toward Israel and Hamas is they are heavily affected by domestic considerations and reflect Erdoğan’s personalized and often rushed decisions. Accordingly, Ankara’s changing tone toward Israel is in large part due to domestic pressure rather than a true ideological affinity with Hamas.[xix] The economic crisis, rising dissatisfaction with the AKP’s domestic policies as well as their inability to deliver tangible mitigating results have led to the biggest election loss for the party in over two decades, causing significant troubles for Erdoğan.[xx] Moreover, the New Welfare Party’s (YRP)—formerly the flagship political Islamist Welfare Party—resurgence in local elections coupled with the AKP’s increasing tensions with its coalition partner, the National Movement Party (MHP), forced Erdoğan’s hand to ramp up criticism of Israel. During the 2024 local election campaigns, the YRP decided to run as a single party[xxi] and stipulated several conditions to rejoin the AKP’s coalition, urging the AKP government to halt trade with Israel.[xxii] This is something that pro-Palestinian voters, mostly from the party’s Islamist base, also echoed.[xxiii] The YRP won over 6% of the votes in the local elections, proving that it would be a potential alternative for the political Islamist base in Turkey. This is a concerning development for Erdoğan, who has been portraying himself as the champion of the Palestinian cause.

Erdoğan’s rhetoric regarding Hamas and Israel does not resonate with the rest of the general public, however. According to a survey conducted by Metropoll in late October 2023[xxiv], most voters (34.5%) “wanted the government to remain neutral in the Israel-Hamas war,” and 26.4% of the respondents favored a mediating role in the conflict. Interestingly, according to the same poll, while only 11.3% wanted the government to support Hamas, 18.1% favored backing the Palestinian cause by keeping their distance from Hamas.[xxv]

Seeing a rival party getting substantial support from the AKP’s traditional voter base, Erdoğan decided to halt its trade with Israel, “worth $7 billion a year, until a permanent ceasefire and humanitarian aid are secured in Gaza,”[xxvi] which became effective on May 3, 2024.

Out-of-Touch Policy Proposals Lacking Support from Other Actors

The AKP’s policy proposals regarding the Israel-Hamas war have mostly been out of touch, dominated by a public diplomacy offensive, which involves far-fetched and sometimes unrealistic demands and promises, consequently lacking support from governments in the region. Proposals for Turkey to become a guarantor in post-war Gaza, calling on NATO to be involved in the conflict, or overstressing the AKP’s influence over Hamas are examples of Ankara’s policy plans that have not materialized. Turkish diplomatic efforts[xxvii] to promote the idea of guarantor states have yet to receive a single positive response from either governments in the region or the US and the EU.

Equating the Russia-Ukraine war with the ongoing conflict in Gaza, Foreign Minister Fidan called for NATO to have a “principled stance” against the occupation of Palestinian territories.[xxviii] NATO, of course, considers October 7 under the heading of terrorist attacks.[xxix] While the discourse Ankara has embraced amplifies Hamas’s legitimacy, it weakens and marginalizes Turkey’s position in the Middle East.

Ankara's relationship with Hamas exists in the realm of soft power, which has experienced a significant decline.

Another issue that limits Ankara’s capacity to weigh in is its limited influence over Hamas, especially compared to those of Iran and Qatar. Iran’s sway involves financial, logistical, military, and intelligence support, essentially making Hamas a proxy-like group for Tehran. In contrast, Ankara’s relationship with Hamas exists in the realm of soft power, which has experienced a significant decline over the last decade.

Future Considerations

Ankara’s quest to portray itself as a major player in the Israel-Hamas war could have elevated Erdoğan’s position not only on the Arab street but also in the Western world. However, his tone and reflexive decisions diminished the possibility for Ankara to mediate between Israel and Hamas in an impartial manner. In a way, Erdoğan’s very emotional and ever-escalating discourse against Netanyahu and Israel “has self-sabotaged any Turkish role in Gaza in the short term.”[xxx]

Currently, there is no viable road map regarding the future of the Gaza Strip. However, President Joe Biden unveiled Israel’s three-phased plan, a “six-week ceasefire,” the release of hostages by Hamas, and the permanent cessation of hostilities.[xxxi] Turkey’s favorable stance toward Hamas could weaken Ankara’s position in the international community and in the future of Israeli-Palestinian relations. If the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank should find itself wielding more influence in the Gaza Strip in the future, Ankara would benefit from a more balanced position toward Palestinian political groups. More importantly, the AKP should avoid exploiting the war for domestic political purposes, which will inevitably isolate Turkey in the region further.

Domestic and regional dynamics forced Erdoğan’s hand to engage in a charm offensive in the Middle East before October 7, 2023, which included rapprochement with Israel. The ongoing war coupled with Erdoğan and the AKP’s domestic considerations damaged this prospect for the foreseeable future. Ankara could still play a role in facilitating a ceasefire and contributing to efforts to deliver humanitarian aid and a post-war reconstruction plan to the Gaza Strip. However, this would entail committing to policy paths that reflect the consensus of regional governments and the international community, likely coming at costs in the domestic political sphere in Turkey.

[i] Tastekin, F. (2023). “Eying Gaza Mediator Role, Turkey Cools Hamas Ties, Erdogan Restrains Rhetoric”, Al Monitor, 22 October 2023, retrieved from:
[ii] Booth, R. (2010). “Israeli attack on Gaza flotilla sparks international outrage”, The Guardian, 31 May 2010, retrieved from:
[iii] Sozcu (2014). “The government is ranting, but trade is in full swing”, 19 July 2014, retrieved from:[iv] Eichner, I. (2013). “Erdogan’s son doing business in Israel”, Ynet, 4 November2013, retrieved from:,7340,L-4366091,00.html.[v] Lindenstrauss, G. and Daniel, R. (2024). “Turkish-Israeli Relations at a Dangerous Turning Point”, INSS, 19 May 2024, retrieved from:
[vi] Ozeren, S. (2022). “Could Erdogan’s Charm Offensive Open a New Chapter with Israel?”, Orion Policy Institute, 5 April 2022, retrieved from:[vii] Tarihi, Y. (2022). “Erdogan: This historic visit will be a new turning point in Turkey-Israel relations”, Euronews, 9 March 2022, retrieved from:[viii] Euronews (2024). “What is the status of trade with Israel?”, 2 May 2024, retrieved from:
[ix] Yeniasya (2024). “Exports to Israel increased by 35 percent in December”, 5 January 2024, retrieved from:
[x] Tastekin (2024). “Eying Gaza Mediator Role, Turkey Cools Hamas Ties, Erdogan Restrains Rhetoric”.
[xi] Tekines, H. (2023). “How Turkey Reacted to Hamas Attacks”, instituDE, 9 October 2023, retrieved from:
[xii] Goksedef, E. (2024). “What is behind Turkey’s staunch support for Hamas in Gaza?”, BBC News, 2 January 2024, retrieved from:
[xiii] Berker, M. and Koca, B. (2024). “Turkiye almost only country drawing attention to Gaza conflict: Turkish foreign minister”, AA, 6 January 2024, retrieved from:[xiv] Ibid.
[xv] Bourcier, N. (2023). “Turkey’s Erdogan is no longer mediator in Israel-Hamas war”, Le Monde, 7 November 2023, retrieved from:
[xvi] Gumrukcu, T. and Hayatsever, H. (2023). “Turkey’s Erdogan says Hamas is not terrorist organisation, cancels trip to Israel”, Reuters, 25 October 2023, retrieved from:[xvii] Bourcier (2023). “Turkey’s Erdogan is no longer mediator in Israel-Hamas war”.
[xviii] Reuters (2024). “Turkey’s Erdogan says he does not believe Hamas will leave Qatar”, 23 April 2024, retrieved from:
[xix] Lindenstrauss and Daniel (2024). “Turkish-Israeli Relations at a Dangerous Turning Point”.
[xx] Ozeren, S. (2024). “AKP Election Defeat Signals Shifting Political Landscape in Turkey”, Orion Policy Institute, 14 April 2024, retrieved from:
[xxi] Ozeren, S. (2024). “AKP Election Defeat Signals Shifting Political Landscape in Turkey”, Manara Magazine, 12 April 2024, retrieved from:
[xxii] Anka Haber Ajansi (2024). “Fatih Erbakan Speaks in Sanliufra”, 23 March 2024, retrieved from:
[xxiii] Buyuktans, S. (2024). “Teenager detained for displaying “stop trade with Israel” banner at Erdogan’s speech”, Medyascope, 30 March 2024, retrieved from:
[xxiv] Sencar, O. (2023). “The majority of the public wants the government to remain neutral in the Israel-Hamas war”, Twitter/X, retrieved from:
[xxv] Ibid.
[xxvi] Caglayan, C. and Hayatsever, H. “Turkey halts trade with Israel until permanent Gaza ceasefire”, Reuters, 3 May 2024, retrieved from:
[xxvii] Tekines, H. (2023). “Turkey and Israel: Diplomacy Under the Shadow of Gaza”, instituDEi, 20 October 2023, retrieved from:[xxviii] Berker and Koca (2024). “Turkiye almost only country drawing attention to Gaza conflict: Turkish foreign minister”.
[xxix] NATO (2023). “NATO Secretary General: ‘Israel does not stand alone’”, 12 October 2023, retrieved from:
[xxx] Aydintasbas, A. and Huggard, K. ( 2023). “Understanding turkey’s response to the Israel-Gaza crisis”, Brookings, 7 December 2023, retrieved from:
[xxxi] Euronews (2024). “Biden unveils Israeli three-step plan to end war in Gaza”, 1 June 2024, retrieved from:

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