Israeli Defense Minister Urges Europe to 'Learn From Putin' When Dealing With Erdogan

Despite recent normalization of ties between Israel and Turkey, defense minister says EU should take tougher stance with Turkish leader.

ברק רביד - צרובה
Barak Ravid
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This file photo taken on September 5, 2013 shows Russia’s President Vladimir Putin (L) welcoming Turkey’s Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan at the start of the G20 summit in Saint Petersburg.
This file photo taken on September 5, 2013 shows Russia’s President Vladimir Putin (L) welcoming Turkey’s Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan at the start of the G20 summit in Saint Petersburg.Credit: Eric Feferberg, AFP
ברק רביד - צרובה
Barak Ravid

Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman has been urging Europe to adopt a tougher policy toward Turkey, saying it should learn a lesson from Russian President Vladimir Putin, European diplomats told Haaretz.

“You need to learn from Putin how to deal with Erdogan,” Lieberman has told several European foreign and defense ministers with whom he met in recent weeks, according to European envoys. Recep Tayyip Erdogan is the Turkish president.

Putin imposed various sanctions on Turkey after Turkey shot down a Russian plane that had strayed into Turkish airspace while operating in Syria last year.

Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman, November 21, 2016.Credit: Olivier Fitoussi

The European diplomats, who asked to remain anonymous, said Lieberman spoke at length about the purges in Turkey since a failed coup attempt in July; the declaration of a state of emergency, which gave Erdogan legislative powers; and Erdogan’s efforts to rein in both traditional and social media, including by arresting journalists and editors. “Why do you keep quiet about this?” they quoted him as saying. “You have many ways to pressure Erdogan.”

Lieberman also said key European states, including Germany, should treat Erdogan and his government the way Putin did after the plane was downed, noting that Putin had kept up the pressure until Erdogan agreed to apologize.

“Within three months, Putin made Erdogan fold,” the diplomats quoted him as saying. “You could learn from him.”

Lieberman’s office declined to comment on this report.

Tension between Turkey and the European Union has been on the rise in recent weeks due to the increasingly harsh steps Erdogan has taken in response to the failed coup. The EU has threatened that if the crackdown gets any worse, and especially if Turkey reinstates the death penalty, it will cut off negotiations about Turkey’s accession to the EU, which have been underway for years.

Turkey has countered by threatening to tear up the agreement under which it committed to stopping refugees from entering the EU via its territory. Should Turkey allow this traffic to resume, hundreds of thousands of refugees from Syria and other countries would likely flock to Europe.

Lieberman bitterly opposed Israel’s reconciliation deal with Turkey, which was sealed in June, about four weeks after he became defense minister. At the cabinet meeting in which the agreement was approved, he voted against it and walked out in the middle of the discussion. Nevertheless, he promised Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu that he would refrain from attacking the deal publicly.

The Israel Defense Forces, the Defense Ministry’s professional staff and the intelligence agencies all supported the reconciliation agreement at the time. But on Sunday, the head of Military Intelligence, Maj. Gen. Herzl Halevi, told a Tel Aviv University conference, which was closed to the public, that he was pessimistic about Turkey’s direction, and that Israel shouldn’t act too eager for warmer relations with Ankara.

““In another five or 10 years the legacy of Ataturk will no longer be prominent,” he said. “We [see] a process of religious radicalization in Turkey.”

“With regard to improving our relationship with Turkey, we should play hard to get and move forward very slowly,” Halevi added.

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