WASHINGTON – A recently published book on U.S. President Donald Trump's foreign policy reveals new details on how he pressured Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to release a Turkish citizen held in Israel on charges of being a smuggler for Hamas.
Trump had asked for the Turkish citizen's release as part of a deal with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan to release an American evangelical pastor jailed in Turkey.
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The 2018 release of 27-year-old Turkish citizen Ebru Özkan reportedly came a day after a phone call between Trump and Netanyahu, during which the subject was discussed. In their new book “A Very Stable Genius,” Washington Post reporters Carol Leoning and Philip Rucker describe exactly how the deal for her release unfolded, shedding light on the relationships between Trump, Netanyahu and Erdogan.
The deal, according to the book, started shaping up in July 2018, when Trump met Erdogan at a NATO summit in Brussels. During their meeting, Erdogan asked Trump to press Israel to release Özkan, who was arrested several weeks earlier upon landing in Israel and charged with smuggling money and a cellphone to Hamas operatives. In return, he promised Trump he would release Andrew Brunson, an American pastor who was arrested in Turkey.
According to the book, Trump and Erdogan concluded the deal with a fist bump. A few days later, Trump took the Turkish president’s request to Netanyahu. “On July 14, while Trump spent the weekend at his golf resort in Scotland, he decided in the middle of playing a round to call Netanyahu,” the authors write. “His aides brought a secure phone out to the front nine. Trump leaned into the Israeli prime minister and asked him to release Özkan. Netanyahu confessed that he knew nothing about the woman. Her name did not register with him.”
Özkan was accused of smuggling a relatively small amount of money – several hundreds of dollars – and her trial received little media coverage in Israel. That may be why Netanyahu was surprised by the American president’s request. Nevertheless, write Leoning and Rucker, “he agreed to look into it and to help speed her release, barring some other issue."
“The next day, July 15, Özkan was released,” according to the book. “She flew from Israel to Istanbul, where she was met by reporters and professed gratitude for Erdogan.”