Erdogan faces tense trip to Germany after calling Israel a terrorist state

Turkish-German relations are too important to be derailed by Gaza war controversy, analysts say

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, right, also said Israel's bombardment of Gaza was among "the most treacherous attacks in human history". EPA
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Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has recently sharpened his anti-Israel rhetoric but it seems unlikely to hinder his coming visit to Germany, where his comments have been dismissed as absurd, analysts told The National.

Two days before a planned visit to meet Chancellor Olaf Scholz, Mr Erdogan on Wednesday said Israel was a "terror state" committing war crimes and breaking international law in Gaza.

"The two countries are keen to compartmentalise issues and this is signalled by the fact that despite strong statements on both sides, the meeting will still go ahead tomorrow," said Kelly Petillo, programme manager for the Middle East and North Africa at the European Council on Foreign Relations think tank.

Mr Erdogan criticised the West's unlimited support for Israel and described its military campaign against Palestinian militant group Hamas as including "the most treacherous attacks in human history".

He called for Israeli leaders to be tried for war crimes at the International Court of Justice in The Hague, and repeated his view – and Turkey's position – that Hamas is not a terrorist organisation but a legitimate political party that has won past elections.

Britain, the US, the EU and some Arab states consider Hamas a terrorist group, whereas Ankara hosts some members of Hamas and supports a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Mr Erdogan's trip to Germany will be his first to a western country since Israel began bombarding Gaza in response to Hamas's attacks on October 7.

Germany is one Israel's strongest backers within the EU. Mr Scholz has repeatedly said Israel's status as a democracy shields it from criticism.

Israel is “a country that is bound to human rights and international law and acts accordingly. Therefore, the accusations against Israel are absurd”, he said on Tuesday.

He was responding to a question about Mr Erdogan’s comments that Israel’s legitimacy was “being questioned due to its own fascism”.

Defending the imminent visit, Mr Scholz’s spokesman Steffen Hebestreit acknowledged Germany “always had difficult partners whom we have to deal with”.

The sharp contrast in language used to describe Israel is unlikely to derail the meeting between Mr Erdogan and Mr Scholz, Ms Petillo told The National.

"There are very important aspects of German-Turkey co-operation upon which both countries rely on each other, including Nato and migration," she said.

Germany's Scholz and state leaders agree on tougher migration policy

Germany's Scholz and state leaders agree on tougher migration policy

"I see these statements more as a need to respond to respective domestic politics rather than an act to put into discussion their overall co-operation."

Few EU leaders have called for a ceasefire despite the Israeli military deepening its incursion into Gaza in its attempt to destroy Hamas.

But the human toll of its campaign, in which more than 11,400 Palestinians have been killed, has created unease in the West.

EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell on Thursday urged Israel not to be fuelled by anger in its response to last month's Hamas attack, declaring that "one horror does not justify another".

Mr Borrell made his remarks on a visit to Israel, speaking alongside Israeli Foreign Minister Eli Cohen after the two men had visited Kibbutz Be'eri, a focal point of the October 7 assault in which more than 1,200 people were killed, down from Israel's initial estimate of 1,400.

"I understand your rage but let me ask you not to be consumed by rage," Mr Borrell said. "I think that's what the best friends of Israel can tell you."

Updated: November 17, 2023, 4:22 AM