Turkey’s interest in Jerusalem could have the potential to spark a diplomatic explosion with the government of Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, former Foreign Ministry director general Alon Liel told Tazpit Press Service Wednesday on the heels of a report published by the Israel Hayom free sheet outlining 63 Turkish-funded projects in the city’s Arab sector, including funding for Palestinians who are paid to harass Jews on the Temple Mount (known in Arabic as Murabitoun).
The report said that a government subsidiary, the Turkish Cooperation and Coordination Agency (TIKA), has given millions of dollars to Islamic projects in the capital. TIKA president is headed by Dr. Serdar Cam, a close ally of Erdoğan and his former bureau chief in the Turkish Parliament. Last month, Erdoğan leveled a furious attack at Israel for retaining control of Jerusalem, that the prime minister called a “humilation to the Muslim world.”
The paper said that TIKA’s projects include restoring the archive of Muslim Ottoman documents on the Temple Mount, purchasing a large water tank for worshippers on the Mount, financing a salvage excavation on Sharsheret (chain) Street in the Old City, rebuilding the Muslim cemetery at the foot of the eastern wall of the Temple Mount and in several religious and community projects throughout East Jerusalem.
In addition, Turkey also replaced the crescent atop the Dome of the Rock several years ago.
“Turkey has always been interested in Jerusalem and involved in one way or another in what’s going on there. That’s been true for decades, not just in Erdoğan’s time,” Liel, a former chargé d’affaires to Ankara, said. “Even when Turkey was a largely secular society, the Jerusalem issue was enormous. Add into the mix the Islamization of recent years, and the fact that Turkey is in a much better economic place than it was 15 years ago when Erdoğan came to power, and the issue suddenly looks very explosive,” Liel said.
Despite the potential for a diplomatic “explosion,” Liel said that Israel does not place the importance on relations with Turkey that it once did.
“Israel has enough friends in the region today that Jerusalem doesn’t really care too much if they upset Turkey,” he said. “We have developed strong enough relationships around the region that we don’t have to rely on strong ties to Anakara anymore.”
Still, Liel cautioned against provoking Erdogan by moving to curtail Turkish-funded activities in the capital.
“In addition to the Jerusalem issue, the Turks are very, very angry that Israel has not fully implemented the deal to normalize ties, especially in the gas sector. The issue is so sensitive, if you add something else into the mix right now, Erdoğan could well explode. I don’t really see that Israel has an interest in moving against the Turks in Jerusalem,” he said