Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan hosted a large Hamas delegation on Saturday on the eve of US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo's visit to Israel.
The meeting was the latest in a series of high-profile Hamas meetings in Turkey that have all been pushed by Erdogan and his team. Ankara is a supporter of Hamas, which has been accused of plotting attacks on Israel in Turkey. The country has given Hamas members citizenship, according to media accounts in the United Kingdom.
Both Hamas and Turkey's ruling party have roots in the Muslim Brotherhood, a far-right religious, extremist organization. Members of the Muslim Brotherhood have been accused of having antisemitic views.
Hamas praised the meeting with Erdogan on Saturday in a press release. The delegation included Hamas deputy chief Saleh al-Arouri, chief of Hamas abroad Maher Salah, Hamas head of Arab and Islamic religions Ezzat al-Rihiq and Hamas representative in Turkey Jihad Yaghmor, it said. Arouri is a wanted terrorist.
Hamas head Ismael Haniyeh "congratulated Erdogan on the advent of a new Hijri year, discovery of a new natural-gas field and the reopening of the Aya Sofia Mosque." The mosque was opened in what had been a museum and historic church. It is one of two ancient churches the Ankara regime recently turned into mosques.
Hamas said it briefed Erdogan on the "Palestinian cause" and complained about Israel's annexation plans. Those plans are now on hold after Israel and the UAE agreed to normalize ties. Hamas, Iran and Turkey oppose the Israeli peace deal with the UAE. Hamas said it was working against Israel's "Judaization of Jerusalem."
Sitting at Erdogan's right at the meeting was Arouri, a designated terrorist in the United States with a $5 million bounty on his head, Raf Sanchez of NBC wrote on Twitter. Erdogan has slammed the US in recent years, claiming it works with "terrorists" in Syria because Washington has backed Kurdish fighters against ISIS. But it appears it was Ankara's government hosting wanted terrorists on Saturday.
Turkey has been granting citizenship to senior operatives of a Hamas terrorist cell, The Telegraph reported on August 13. Last December, the paper reported that Hamas planned attacks from Turkey. A recent article at The Times in the UK argued that Israel increasingly views Turkey as a threat. An IDF annual assessment last year reportedly mentioned Turkey for the first time as a "challenge."
The meeting with Hamas in Turkey took place at the Istanbul mansion of Ottoman Sultan Vahdettin. The monumental mansion was the home of the last Ottoman Sultan and was renovated in 2014 for Erdogan to host meetings while in the historic city. The meeting was symbolic of Turkey, a NATO member, attempting to embrace its Ottoman heritage as Erdogan increasingly challenges Greece, France, Egypt and others in the Mediterranean.
Israel recently backed Greece as Turkey increased pressure. In addition, Israel has signed a pipeline deal with Greece and Cyprus, and Egypt and has also signed a deal with Greece. Turkey has in turn sent a fleet under the cover of a research ship to the Mediterranean and sent Syrian mercenaries to fight in Libya as part of a deal with Libya to lay claim to the sea between the two countries, angering Greece.
The UAE and Egypt support the Benghazi-based faction in Libya against the Turkish-backed factions in Tripoli. Turkey's overall goal is to unite Hamas, Qatar and the Government of National Accord in Tripoli in a coalition that looks increasingly anchored in parties linked to the Muslim Brotherhood as part of a grand coalition against the UAE, Israel, Egypt, Greece and other countries.
The Hamas delegation was treated as if it represented all Palestinians.
The Hamas visit to Turkey and the high-level delegation it included was intended to treat the terrorist group as a government equal to the regime in Ankara, as if Hamas was representing the Palestinians at a time when Israel and the UAE have signed an agreement. It came on the eve of Pompeo's visit to Israel, likely as part of a message.
While Turkey has been a historical ally of the US and was once also close to Israel, the meeting was intended to show that Ankara is now working hand in hand with Hamas as part of Turkey's increasingly close relations with Iran and its purchasing of air-defense systems from Moscow.
Hamas receives backing from Tehran. No other country in the world gives Hamas the large, high-level welcome that Turkey regularly does – not even Iran, Qatar and Malaysia. The meeting appears to be intended to increase Hamas's appearance of legitimacy and raise its stature at a time when Israel and the UAE are making peace.
Seth Frantzman is a Ginsburg-Milstein Writing Fellow at the Middle East Forum and senior Middle East correspondent at The Jerusalem Post.