This story originally appeared on themedialine.org.
Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan said on Tuesday he can prove that Israel is responsible for the recent overthrow of Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi and the subsequent assumption of power by the military.
“Israel is behind the coup in Egypt, we have evidence,” Erdogan told members of his party in Ankara, citing the words of an unnamed French Jewish intellectual who said in 2011 that the Muslim Brotherhood will not take power even if they were elected since “democracy is not in the ballot box.”
Abdullah Bozkurt, the Ankara Bureau Chief of the Turkish newspaper Today’s Zaman, where Erdogan’s remarks first appeared, told The Media Line that the prime minister was apparently referring to a 2011video by Bernard-Henri Levy which included remarks by then-Israeli opposition leader Tzipi Livni.
“If that’s the only evidence, he has a weak case; but if he has other documents or evidence, that might be another story,” Bozkurt told The Media Line. “He has been trying to mobilize his own troops in Turkey. The Turkish government has aligned itself with the Muslim Brotherhood and Mohamed Morsi. Erdogan sees himself alone in the region when the Saudis and UAE and other Gulf countries are supporting very strongly the interim government in Egypt backed by the military.”
Israeli officials reacted cautiously to Erdogan’s statement.
“There’s a lot of turmoil going on the Middle East and Israel is trying to be the responsible adult, so we’re not going to respond,” Paul Hirshson, Israel’s deputy foreign ministry spokesman, told The Media Line.
But privately, Israeli officials expressed bewilderment and anger over Erdogan’s comments.
“He supports the Muslim Brotherhood so fervently and so ardently and so faithfully that he cannot conceive of the possibility of good Muslims and good Arabs overthrowing a Muslim Brotherhood president. It has to be Israel,” one Israeli diplomatic official told The Media Line on condition of anonymity. “Many leaders lie to the public, but this one lies to himself,” he added sarcastically.
Turkish journalist Bozkurt said Erdogan may be forced to retract his remarks or at least say they were taken out of context as he did a few months ago when he said that Islamophobia, like Zionism, must be condemned.
In any case, the remarks seem likely to further strain relations between Israel and Turkey, which reached a nadir after Israeli commandos boarded a Turkish-flagged ship, the Mavi Marmara, which was trying to break Israel’s naval blockade of the Gaza Strip. In the ensuing clash, eight Turkish citizens and a Turkish-American were killed.
Earlier this year, President Obama orchestrated an Israeli apology for the raid and a promise to pay compensation. After two meetings, there is still no agreement on the amount of compensation or how it will be paid.
“The only issue is the definition of the incident -- the Israelis don’t want any legal liability because it might set a precedent for other claims against Israel,” Bozkurt said. “From the Turkish side it needs to be defined as an illegal attack and a crime.”
The issue plays into Turkish politics, with Erdogan not wanting to appear weak in advance of elections next year, Bozkurt explained.
Before 2010, Turkey was one the most popular tourist destinations for Israelis. Every year, tens of thousands of Israelis would fly to places like Antalya and Istanbul for package holidays that were cheaper than similar deals offered inside of Israel. Tour operators were just beginning to market Turkey again as a destination prior to the upcoming Jewish holidays which begin next month, but Israel’s counterterrorism bureau has warned Israelis against traveling to a number of countries. Turkey is included along with Azerbaijan, Nigeria and Kenya as places where nonessential travel should be avoided because of terrorist threats.