by Jim Lobe
The hard-line neoconservative Foundation for Defense of Democracies (FDD) has been campaigning against President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and his AKP government for many years now. FDD has particularly targeted Erdogan since Israel’s Cast Lead Operation against Gaza in 2008-09, which essentially scuttled Ankara’s once-promising mediation effort between Israel and Syria and infuriated the Turkish leader.
The campaign intensified following the Israeli raid against the 2010 Mavi Marmara in which attacking commandos killed nine Turkish activists, including one with U.S. citizenship. FDD has since jumped on every opportunity—and Erdogan’s increasing authoritarianism at home has provided plenty of them—to expand its attacks. Indeed, next to Iran, Hamas, Hezbollah, and sometimes even the Palestinian Authority itself, Turkey has jumped close to the top of FDD’s Enemies List (just type “Erdogan” in the search box on FDD’s website to see how high).
This week in the Huffington Post, FDD’s Vice President for Research Jonathan Schanzer, writing with Merve Tahiroglu, published the latest blast against Turkey under Erdogan entitled “Jihadi General Hospital.” To make a moderately long story short, the article cites evidence that Ankara is either turning a blind eye to or actively supporting medical treatment for jihadis wounded in Syria—from groups including the Islamic State (IS) and the Nusra Front—in its own public hospitals and in makeshift medical centers on Turkish territory. The story concludes:
It is no secret that Turkey has oriented its foreign policy toward Islamist regimes and Muslim Brotherhood movements in recent years. However, Turkey’s new role as jihadi general hospital should be a warning. Ankara’s socialized medicine for extremists is yet another dangerous indicator for a regime that has helped Iran evade sanctions, granted permission to Hamas to establish a headquarters in Turkey, and allowed the Islamic State to run rampant.
Although I don’t doubt the accounts given in Schanzer’s article, it seemed that the timing was a bit unfortunate. It came just two days before the veteran Wall Street Journal reporter and regional specialist Yaroslav Trofimov published a column entitled “Al Qaeda a Lesser Evil? Syria War Pulls U.S., Israel Apart.” Datelined the Golan Heights, the story notes:
To the south of this overlook, which the United Nations and Israeli officers observe the fighting, are the positions of the Nusra Front, the Syrian branch of Al Qaeda that the U.S. has targeted with airstrikes. Nusra Front, however, hasn’t bothered Israel since seizing the border area last summer – and some if its severely wounded fighters are regularly taken across the frontier fence to receive treatment in Israeli hospitals.[Emphasis added]
The column goes on to note that, in contrast to its help to al-Nusra (read: al-Qaeda, as Schanzer reminds us), Israel has attacked pro-government Hezbollah forces and Iranian advisers, a reference to the January 18 air strikes against a Hezbollah column that killed five Hezbollah fighters and one high-ranking Iranian Revolutionary Guard officer.
As readers of this blog know, this story is not new. We reported it late last month in an article (“Israel Working With Al-Qaeda?”, Feb 28) and suggested raising this question of Netanyahu when he came to speak to Congress the following week. (It wasn’t.) Ironically, that post was prompted by a Weekly Standard article (“Friend and Foe in Syria”) by Lee Smith. More irony: the article quoted another FDD analyst, Tony Badran, as asserting that Israel was not only providing medical treatment to fighters, but also “[i]t’s a channel of communication ….they’re talking to them and likely sharing intelligence in the full knowledge that these rebel units cooperate with Nusra against the Assad regime, Hezbollah, and the IRGC.”[Emphasis added]
So, the question for FDD and Schanzer is: how is what Turkey is doing in providing medical assistance to jihadis, including al-Nusra militants, on its territory any different from what Israel is doing in providing medical assistance to jihadis, including Al Nusra, on its territory (or at least on the Golan Heights, which, according to most of the world, is Syrian territory occupied by Israel)? Does its help not qualify it as a “jihadi general hospital” in the same or similar way as Turkish medical support?
Note: Aurelie Daher, the French-Lebanese expert on Hezbollah who has contributed two posts on this subject (here and here), informs me that I left out one important detail in reporting my February 28 story. The Israelis are not charging their jihadi patients a flat $1,000 for treatment as I reported, but rather $1,000 per day of treatment. I have made the correction in the original.