On Lebanon, Turkey Tries to Place Itself Between Israel and Hezbollah

In the event of a possible direct military conflict between Israel and Lebanon, it is likely that Ankara will try to use this opportunity to try to weaken Israel. This is not at all surprising, given that Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has taken a staunchly anti-Israel stance following the October 7 terrorist attacks. Türkiye’s policy regarding the expanding conflict is starting to become very clear. Last June 25, just days after Hezbollah’s Hasan Nasrallah made televised threats against Cyprus, Turkish Foreign Minister Hakan Fidan responded with a strong warning to Cyprus over the EU country’s continued support for Israel. Fidan accused Nicosia “of acting as an operational center” for Israel. Turkey, as stated in a recent report by the Foundation for Defense of Democracies (FDD), says it has received intelligence reports according to which some countries are using the Greek administration -Southern Cyprus as a base, particularly for operations in Gaza. Fidan then urged Cyprus not to support Israel’s war against Hamas, warning that the conflict could reach Cypriot shores it is not accidental, having certainly coincided with Hezbollah’s threats to militarily strike the member state of the European Union.

Fidan’s words do not clarify Ankara’s concrete position towards Hezbollah, but Turkey’s past actions can provide important clues. In January 2024, the US Treasury sanctioned several Turkish entities “for providing essential financial support,” to a network used by Iran’s Quds Force (IRGC-QF) and Hezbollah in Lebanon. U.S. officials have identified commodity sales as a key source of funding for IRGC-QF and Hezbollah terrorist activities and support for other terrorist organizations in the region. This is certainly not an isolated incident: Turkish entities and individuals have been involved in providing material support to Iran’s IRGC and Hezbollah. In December 2022, the Treasury Department sanctioned Sitki Ayan, a Turkish national with close ties to Erdogan, for facilitating the sale of Iranian oil to buyers in China, the United Arab Emirates and Europe, with the proceeds going to the IRGC-QF .

These well-known instances of Turkey evading US sanctions highlight a NATO member with business ties to designated terrorist entities across the Middle East. Clearly, Ankara is not interested in the broader regional interests of Hezbollah and, by extension, Iran. However, it is interested in weakening Israel and will likely agree to cooperate with any group or power that achieves this goal. Following the October 7, 2023 attacks, Erdogan went public with his phone calls and meetings with the late former Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi, stating that “the Islamic world should stand united against Israel’s attacks on Palestine.”

What Turkey could propose in the coming weeks is to provide Turkish troops to the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL), positioning them along the Israeli-Lebanese border as a “buffer”. This would dissuade Israel from targeting Turkish troops, while Turkey would protect Lebanon and Hezbollah from Israeli forces. It would also help prevent a war, for which Turkey could demand a price. Some analysts believe Ankara would seek concessions in Syria from Iran, allowing the return of millions of Syrian refugees from Turkey, a key political goal for Erdogan who has lost much support at home as seen in recent local elections. A deal like this would strengthen relations between Turkey and Iran and would likely be welcomed by Hezbollah, positioning Turkey as a key regional arbiter. But the question is: does Turkey have the diplomatic authority in Lebanon to broker such an agreement? And to what extent are Iran and Hezbollah interested in avoiding war? Washington which is very concerned about a possible broader conflict in the region through General Charles Q. Brown, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, informed Jerusalem that the United States is not willing to provide military assistance to Israel in the event of a war with the Lebanon even though US Secretary of State Antony Blinken has repeatedly said the opposite. On the other hand, trusting Turkey to maintain peace and security in the region could prove to be unrealistic to say the least and in this sense it must be remembered that Ankara’s objective is certainly not to prevent a war or reach a ceasefire in Gaza. Ankara is only interested in facilitating Israel’s defeat and humiliation on the world stage. And since October 7, he has given very clear signals so beware of believing him.