Whenever a crisis occurs on the Gaza Strip, the possibility of Turkish troops being deployed on the border between Egypt and Gaza is brought up. In 2007 Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas asked for Turkish troop deployment in Gaza, but Hamas rejected it (Zaman, July 3, 2007). The recent Gaza crisis once again revived the debate about sending Turkish troops to the Gaza border. This time, however, almost all parties seem inclined to opt for some kind of international force. The idea of stationing Turkish troops to police the border crossing so that weapons could not be smuggled to Hamas has finally gained the support of United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, who said, “In the absence of Palestinians manning the crossing, then the idea of having a European or Turkish presence [on the border] has to be discussed” (Financial Times, January 20, Star, January 22).
When the possibility of sending Turkish troops to Gaza was first discussed in public in the first week of January, an overwhelming majority of people supported it, and the Turkish government did not dismiss the idea (see EDM, January 7). Turkish Foreign Minister Ali Babacan said that Turkey would be there if an international peace force were formed to conduct such an operation under the aegis of the UN (Cihan News Agency, January 7). The Turkish press quoting from the Financial Times wrote that Egypt had put pressure on Hamas to accept Turkish troops alongside El-Fetih police to control the Egypt-Gaza border. Hamas, however, rejected the idea of foreign troop deployment because it felt that any foreign troops would not serve its interests but rather those of Israel (Vatan, January 12). The Islamist Vakit quoted the Arab newspaper al-Hayat as claiming that Hamas would only accept Turkish troops on the Gaza border and that all other troops would be considered invaders. In addition, it was claimed that during his visit to Syria, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan had discussed the possibility of Turkish troop deployment with Hamas leader Halid Mesal (www.habervaktim.com, January 13).
Israel’s ambassador to Ankara, Gabby Levy, said that Israel was open to the idea of an international force that would prevent what had happened during the war and that Israel would be happy to see Turkish troops on the border because of its trust in Turkey as a country and, more importantly, its belief that the Turkish military had the capacity to handle such a mission in the Middle East. It could be an opportunity for both Turkey and all parties in the region, he said (Anadolu Ajansi, January 7).
Moreover, Ahmet Davutoglu, a top advisor to Erdogan, claimed that it was Turkey that convinced Hamas to declare its ceasefire” (Zaman, January 20). Given the fact that the Turkish government was harshly criticized for taking the side of Hamas, if what Davutoglu said is correct and if Hamas will somehow agree to stop terrorizing Israeli territory, it would be a plus for Turkey’s diplomatic efforts to achieve peace in the region.
Turkish troop deployment without a strong international commitment could, of course, be disastrous to Turkey. Turkish troops policing the Gaza-Egypt border to prevent Hamas’s weapon smuggling into Gaza could come into confrontation with Hamas in the long run. It would be even worse if Hamas at some point resumed its rocket fire into Israel placing Turkish troops in the crossfire between the two enemies, which could potentially diminish Turkey’s image in the region.
Perhaps for this reason the Turkish military would like to avoid sending Turkish troops to the Egypt-Gaza border alone, even under the umbrella of the UN. Furthermore, the Turkish military’s collective memory about the unpredictable policy shifts of Arab politicians is not positive. Turkey’s saddest folk song is about Turkish troop deployment to the Arabian Peninsula, even almost 100 years after the fact. With this historical background, it is still not clear whether the Turkish people would support sending Turkish troops to Gaza after the anger over the Israeli incursion eases. During Israel’s Gaza operations a majority of Turkish people supported sending troops to Gaza. “Mehmetcik Gazzeye” (Turkish troops to Gaza) was the slogan of almost all the demonstrations, but it is not clear whether a majority of Turks, after their initial outrage over Israel has cooled, will still support the deployment of their troops to guard the border with Gaza.