Turkey Trouble

Lawmakers raise ‘concerns about deteriorating Israeli-Turkish relations,’ aid flotilla

A planned Turkish aid flotilla to Gaza expected to dodge Israeli inspections could worsen tensions, disrupt aid pipelines, worsen the humanitarian situation in Gaza and endanger hostage talks, bipartisan group says

Burak Kara/Getty Images

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan speaks to supporters at his party’s Istanbul mayoral candidate Murat Kurum's campaign rally on March 29, 2024 in Istanbul, Turkey.

A bipartisan group of 20 House members raised concerns on Friday about the state of Israeli-Turkish relations and about reported plans by groups in Turkey to send an aid flotilla to Gaza without vetting.

The increasingly strained relations between Turkey and Israel have been a point of concern for a range of lawmakers on Capitol Hill, with others previously floating the possibility of U.S. sanctions on Turkey in response to the NATO member’s trade restrictions on Israel.

“We write to express concerns about deteriorating Israeli-Turkish relations and reports that a Turkish coalition is allegedly planning to launch a flotilla to Gaza,” the House lawmakers said in a letter to Secretary of State Tony Blinken. “While we strongly support humanitarian assistance to civilians in Gaza, we are gravely worried that such a hastily organized and unvetted effort could further inflame regional tensions, disrupt existing aid delivery mechanisms, exacerbate the humanitarian crisis in Gaza, and jeopardize multilateral negotiations aimed at securing a temporary ceasefire and the release of Israeli hostages.”

The House members noted that the proposed aid flotilla from Turkey has refused to let Israel inspect the cargo or utilize established aid mechanisms, “casting doubt on the nature of the mission.”

They also highlighted that the flotilla is organized in part by a group that has both close ties to the Turkish government and has fundraised for Hamas in the past. They called on Blinken to work with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan to postpone or prevent the flotilla and ensure that aid shipments to Gaza remain “vetted and in compliance with international standards for humanitarian assistance.”

The lawmakers also raised concerns about the Turkish trade restrictions on Israel, which they said may “exacerbate Israel’s economic challenges.” They urged Blinken to “pressure Turkey to rescind this policy to avoid further inflaming regional tensions and before other nations follow suit.” Earlier this month, Turkey imposed export restrictions on a number of Israeli products, including steel, fertilizer and aviation fuel, in response to the war in Gaza.

They said that the Department of Commerce should also evaluate whether the U.S. should invoke its anti-boycott laws in response to the trade restrictions. 

“We oppose any actions, like the Turkish flotilla or Turkey’s imposition of export restrictions, that could impede effective aid delivery, escalate the conflict, or jeopardize negotiations between Israel and Hamas,” the House members said. “We urge the Administration to continue to uphold these principles in response to these developments.”

The letter was signed by Reps. Chris Pappas (D-NH), Nicole Malliotakis (R-NY), Dina Titus (D-NV), Brad Schneider (D-IL), Grace Meng (D-NY), Steve Cohen (D-TN), Barry Moore (R-AL), Frank Pallone (D-NJ), Morgan Luttrell (R-TX), John Sarbanes (D-MD), David Valadao (R-CA), Don Davis (D-NC), Kathy Manning (D-NC), Josh Gottheimer (D-NJ), Greg Landsman (D-OH), Haley Stevens (D-MI), David Trone (D-MD), Jake Auchincloss (D-MA), Mike Levin (D-CA) and Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-FL).

Subscribe now to
the Daily Kickoff

The politics and business news you need to stay up to date, delivered each morning in a must-read newsletter.