By Selcan Hacaoglu
December 25, 2018
Calling each other “baby killer” and “antisemitic dictator” might not be the best way to join forces against a shared threat, but that’s the level of discourse between Turkey and Israel these days.
Both countries stand to lose from the anticipated widening of Iranian influence in Syria after U.S. President Donald Trump announced last week he was pulling American forces out of that country. But Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan reignited a war of words against Israel and its army’s treatment of the Palestinians over the weekend, and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu wasn’t left wanting.
“You are the voice of the oppressor, you are waging state terrorism,” Erdogan said of Netanyahu in a speech in Istanbul on Sunday. “You are kicking women and children as your police drag them.” Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu ratcheted things up on Monday, calling Netanyahu a “baby killer.”
The Israeli leader defended his country’s army on Sunday, and called Erdogan “an antisemitic dictator who’s “obsessed with Israel.” Turkey’s army, he said, “massacres women and children in Kurdish villages,” and its government “is becoming more dictatorial day by day.”
While broadsides between Erdogan and Israeli leaders are nothing new, the context makes this latest volley stand out.
The prospective U.S. withdrawal from Syria has Israel more worried about possible assaults from military forces of arch-enemy Iran and its proxies propping up Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
Turkey’s alliance with Syrian Arab opposition forces and its preparation to launch a new offensive against Kurdish fighters in Syria could test relations with regional rival Tehran as they vie to fill the power vacuum that will be left by the U.S. pullout.