Will Turkey’s Agents Kidnap Israelis?

by Michael Rubin
Middle East Forum Observer

The Turkish government has made little secret of its hatred of Israel. “Israel will one day pay the price for the atrocities it imposes on the Palestinians,” Turkey President Recep Tayyip Erdogan declared as he welcomed Hamas political leader Ismail Haniyeh to Istanbul on April 21, 2024. Five days later, he publicly prayed to God “to destroy these Zionists.” Speaking to Turkey’s parliament, Erdogan said Israel’s actions were worse than Adolf Hitler’s and declared, “the terrorist state of Israel has been perpetrating a genocide in both Gaza and in the West Bank.” “For the first time in history, the entire world public is eagerly awaiting the day when the Israeli officials who committed these crimes will be brought to justice,” Foreign Ministry Spokesman Öncü Keçeli said.

Erdogan has shown a willingness to back his rhetoric with action. Israeli customs authorities have intercepted Turkish weaponry bound for Hamas, and Turkey most recently embargoed trade with the Jewish state.

Might Turkey go one-step further and begin kidnapping current and former Israeli officials to deliver for trial?

Speaking at the 15th Summit of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation, Foreign Minister Hakan Fidan reportedly said, “Ankara is ready to employ all possible means to apply pressure on the Israeli regime.”

Fidan’s comments should worry Israel. While Fidan today is foreign minister, he owes his career to Erdogan. Prior to Erdogan’s rise, Fidan had an unremarkable military career. Colleagues saw him as both an Islamist (a career-killer in the pre-Erdogan-era) and partial to the Islamic Republic of Iran. As Erdogan consolidated power, he looked at Fidan as a loyal functionary and quickly promoted him to be trusted advisor. Between 2010 and 2023, Fidan headed Turkey’s National Intelligence Organization. In this capacity, he not only helped Hamas set up its financial, commercial, and diplomatic infrastructure, but also coordinated Turkey’s operations to monitor and kidnap dissidents from other countries.

Indeed, during his tenure, Fidan oversaw the kidnapping of dozens of dissidents and Erdogan critics from at least 58 countries as diverse as KosovoKyrgyzstan, and Kenya. Turkey’s monitoring of dissidents and critics even extended to the United States.

Back to Israel: While European human rights lawyers and activists on occasion demand the arrest of current and former Israeli government officials as well as members and veterans of the Israel Defense Forces, this often amounts to little more than virtue signaling. A British court once detained former Chilean President Augusto Pinochet under universal jurisdiction principles, but the British Foreign Office ultimately let him depart. Efforts under similar universal jurisdiction theories to arrest Bush administration officials for their role in the 2003 Iraq War seldom went nowhere: Neither war nor counter-terrorism is illegal. Democracies do not criminalize policy debate despite what university mobs and self-described human rights activists may demand.

Today, Turkey represents the braying mob. Erdogan embraces terror, promotes anti-Semitism, and openly mocks humanitarian law. He lobs genocide charges at Israel, but dismisses out-of-hand the real genocide perpetrated by former Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir on the grounds that “A Muslim could not commit genocide; he is not capable of it.” The Turkish government, more than even Russians, Iranians, and Chinese, demonstrate not only the willingness to kidnap its opponents but also the skillset to accomplish the task.

Israelis unwise enough to visit Turkey or occupied northern Cyprus simply make it easy, but Fidan is as willing to direct surveillance against Israeli tourists, businessmen, and former government officials across Europe, Africa and Asia. Erdogan and Fidan’s rhetoric simply foreshadow the next step. The populist adulation Erdogan would receive from Malaysia to Morningside Heights by kidnapping and putting Israelis on trial would be a temptation he cannot refuse.

The question not only for Jerusalem but also for Washington and Brussels is how to preempt Turkish action or, if necessary, respond to it. Here, precedent can elucidate. Following Pinochet’s return to Chile, Spanish Judge Juan Guzmán indicted Pinochet on 75 counts of kidnapping political opponents. Perhaps the time, then, is now for judges from any of the 58 countries to indict Fidan for his role in kidnapping and torture. Western intelligence agencies and law enforcement, however, must wake up to the threat Turkey’s transnational repression represents and actively conduct counter-surveillance on Turkish diplomats, intelligence officers, as well as those in Turkish cultural, religious and media outlets who act as operatives under non-official cover.

Secretary of State Antony Blinken may shuttle repeatedly to the Middle East to try to restore peace and security, but lack of foresight can undermine his best efforts. To react to rather than preempt Turkey’s efforts to inflame delicate situations is to do nothing as the arsonist arrives with matches and gasoline.

Michael Rubin is a contributor to the Washington Examiner’s Beltway Confidential blog. He is director of policy analysis at the Middle East Forum and senior fellow at the American Enterprise Institute.
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