On June 11 this year, the journey back to Istanbul proved to be impossible for Ebru Ozkan.* At Ben Gurion Airport in Tel Aviv, the 27-year-old citizen of the Republic of Turkey was detained by Shin Bet, Israel's internal security service.
Ozkan was accused of having links with the Palestinian fundamentalist organization Hamas. The authorities’ motives for her arrest were that Ozkan was bringing money to the Palestinian military formation, with which Israel has been in increasing military conflict for the past year.
The difference between the tourist Ozkan and the terrorist Ozkan, at least in the eyes of the Israeli security services and the authorities, was that she was carrying $500 in cash, five bottles of expensive perfume and a phone charger. Ozkan’s defense, however, argues that she was simply transporting the money taken from a friend to give to a relative, without being aware that the man she was supposed to meet was a member of Hamas.
A month later, however, Israel dropped the charges against her, Ozkan was released and she was once again brought home to Turkey. What was the reason for this sudden change in Tel Aviv's behavior?
The short response is: one phone call. This is what President Donald Trump did on July 14, when he spoke with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. During their conversation, Trump asked Netanyahu to release Ozkan. This was exactly what happened on the very next day.
Where does a U.S. president’s concern for a citizen of Turkey come from?
The woman in question is just part of a deal between Trump and Recep Erdogan. The transaction provided that Israel would release Ozkan, and Turkey would release the American pastor Andrew Brunson. Brunson has been in the custody of the Turkish authorities for 22 months, accused of espionage, links with the Kurdish PKK and the Gulen movement in the country.**
In addition to the deal above, the United States offered to hand over Mehmet Hakan Atilla to Turkey, where Atilla would serve a sentence in a Turkish prison. Atilla is former deputy chief executive of the Turkish state lender Halkbank, which was accused by the United States of circumventing sanctions on Iran in the period before 2015. Turkey, however, was not personally interested in Atilla as long as the United States imposed only a formal fine on its bank.
After Ozkan’s release, however, the Turkey changed the terms of the deal on the spur of the moment. Ankara added an additional condition: termination of any investigation and punitive actions against the Turkish Halkbank.
The U.S. strongly disapproved of such a request made after the fact. But Ozkan has already won her freedom back in Turkey, where American pastor Brunson remains.
Consequently, the next particularly important chronological period occurred between July 18 and July 25, when during one of its sessions, the court in Izmir held a hearing about the case of the U.S. pastor. The pastor, however, was not released in the end, and was only moved from prison and placed under house arrest.
At this stage, it appears that Ankara has not fulfilled its part of the deal, and that the United States has rejected additional requests from Turkey. For Turkey, of course, Ozkan is of little significance. Ankara is fully aware that Brunson is of greater importance to the United States. And Washington is also aware that Gulen, now based in Pennsylvania, is important to Turkey. (Gulen was accused by Turkish authorities of organizing an attempted coup in Turkey in 2016.)
But the Americans, at least at this stage, show no intention of exchanging Gulen for any other U.S. citizen detained or arrested in Turkey, including Brunson.
Trump, however, has demonstrated so far that he is not one of those politicians who gets disappointed, but one of those leaders who are easily angered. And in cases like this, Twitter becomes a firearm, and the tweets, ammunition rounds, which this time were directed against Ankara.
Immediately after the decision of the court in Izmir regarding the fate of Brunson, according to which he was not released, but only placed under house arrest, the United States responded with a first round of sanctions: A ban was imposed on Turkish Minister of the Interior Suleyman Soylu and Justice Minister Abdulhamit Gul, barring them from acquiring property or conducting business with persons or legal entities from the United States. Turkey responded in a reciprocal way.
But the first U.S. round of sanctions appears to have been more of a warning. Moreover, it was accompanied by an ultimatum delivered through informal channels demanding that Ankara free Brunson within seven days. This period passed without any movement in the case of the U.S. pastor. A second round followed, one with real sanctions in which the U.S. decided to impose double the duties charged to the European Union on imports of aluminum and steel products from Turkey.
This rubbed salt in the already existing wound for Turkey, which was the depreciation of the Turkish lira. In the space of 24 hours, Turkish monetary currency lost about 18 percent of its value, and if we review the situation from the beginning of the year, it has been devalued by 40 percent. In a bid to combat this negative trend, Erdogan again called on his fellow citizens to exchange their savings in dollars and gold for Turkish liras. Again following last year's example, they did exactly the opposite: They purchased hard currency. The lack of a real plan by the new minister of finance, Berat Albayrak, to deal with the situation led to greater uncertainty in the country. But Albayrak is also very limited by the pressure that Erdogan puts on the Turkish central bank. The question now is whether the currency crisis will develop into a bank crisis and thus, into an economic one.
Against this background, as if to add fuel to the fire of U.S.-Turkish relations, Congress has approved a law that, for the time being, postpones the delivery of multipurpose fighter F-35 planes to Turkey, and Turkey wants to buy exactly 100 of them. This has happened because of the fact that Ankara is in the process of acquiring S-400 surface-to-air-missiles from Russia.
Meanwhile, U.S. diplomats are already talking with their European counterparts about the possibility of having the World Bank and the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development refuse loans to Turkey.
Therefore, each politician should consider the price that he will pay if he risks angering Trump, since the angry man with orange hair causes inflation, inflation, which even makes Hamas, as the story about Ozkan suggests, lose faith in the Turkish lira and prefer perfume and U.S. dollars.
*Translator’s note: No relation to the Turkish actress, Ebru Ozkan.
**Editor’s note: The PKK is the Kurdistan Workers’ Party, a militant and political organization based in Turkey and Iraq. Fethullah Gulen is a Turkish writer, imam and political figure who founded the Gulen movement, described as a civil service society, and lives in exile in the United States.