In less than 24 hours, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan vowed to escalate military operations in Kurdish-controlled areas of Syria and offered Turkey’s mediation in the ongoing Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Erdoğan also criticised the United States’ support for the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), who are allied in the fight against ISIS.
Erdoğan argued that countries identifying the PKK as a terrorist group should also classify its affiliated groups similarly, saying, “Calling the PKK the SDF is no different from calling America the United States or Great Britain the United Kingdom.” He added, “We will continue to carry out operations against the terrorist organisation and the places under its control with more determination, more violence and more effectiveness.”
Prior to that, Erdoğan called for “restraint on both sides” regarding the conflict that erupted with Hamas’ sudden raid on Israel, which appears to undermine the normalisation process between Israel and Turkey.
The statement indicates that Erdoğan is keen on a mediation role similar to that of the Russia-Ukraine war, while raising the question of whether the Turkish president would take on this role.
Since the outbreak of the Russia-Ukraine war, Turkey has repeatedly attempted to mediate, eventually taking diplomatic roles in hostage swaps and grain deals.
However, Turkey’s confrontational history in the Middle East, including its ongoing military aggression against the Kurdish-majority regions of Syria and Iraq, suggests any mediation in the region may prove to be more difficult.
The Hamas attack came just three weeks after Erdoğan met with Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu for the first time in 20 years, and only days before Netanyahu’s expected visit to Turkey this month. According to the BBC, the visit was primarily to seek ways of energy cooperation between Turkey and Israel.
However, after the Hamas attack, it has become very difficult for Turkey to return to the same point, as the AKP government has historically taken a pro-Hamas stance, allowing some of the leading figures of the Islamist organisation, designated as terrorist by many countries around the world, to travel freely in Turkey.
Israel’s ambassador to Ankara, Irit Lillian, said it was too early to talk about Turkey’s mediation. “We are still counting our losses and trying to heal the wounds. First of all, we want to see the abducted people return home.”
Although Lillian told Milliyet newspaper on 8 September that he did not believe Turkey had any relations with Hamas, President Erdoğan met with the head of the organisation’s Political Bureau, Ismail Haniyeh, last July.
Meanwhile, in telephone conversations with Israeli President Yitzag Hertzog and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas on Monday, Erdoğan repeated his initial statement that Turkey was “making every effort to end conflicts in the region”, according to a statement issued by the Communications Ministry on Monday.
Throughout its long rule, the AKP has not shied away from taking sides in the internal affairs of Middle Eastern countries or in their wars against another country or group. In its first year in power, the party decided to institutionally support the United States’ intervention in Iraq and succeeded in passing a parliamentary resolution authorizing the use of Turkish air bases by the occupation forces.
Syria has suffered the most from Erdoğan’s policies. The Turkish government gave direct support to the anti-government movements that started in Syria under the influence of the Arab Spring in 2010, and when the conflicts inside the country rapidly turned into a civil war, it did not hesitate to provide support to the Assad regime or to the anti-Rojava organisations, mostly Islamic and jihadist, that were established in the autonomous north-eastern Kurdish-majority region.
The AKP also tolerated the rise of the Islamic State (ISIS), and in 2014, when the terrorist group reached the peak of its power and the borders of Turkey, it did not support the SDF in their fight against the group, preferring to instead clash with the SDF forces.
In Libya, where two conflicting administrations emerged as a result of a protracted civil war, the AKP passed a parliamentary resolution in 2020 authorising military intervention in the country in favour of the Tripoli government it supported.
While Erdoğan continues to occupy certain areas in north-western Syria as he prepares for a mediation role, his cross-border military aggression against the Kurdish-populated northeast of Syria and northern Iraq continues at an accelerated pace.