by Ahmet Aslan (News & Analysis, Crescent International Vol. 42, No. 9, Dhu al-Hijjah, 1434)
The Zionists are furious; their agents in Iran were arrested and they blaming the Turkish intelligence chief who refuses to toe the US or Zionist line, unlike his predecessors.
The latest American-Russian initiative to dismantle Syria’s chemical weapons seems to have created an opening for the beginning of a peace process in Syria. There has been a significant change in the attitude of Western powers to the conflict with the rise in Syria of al-Qaeda-affiliated groups, mainly al-Nusra Front and The Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS). Aside from change in the attitude of Western powers, some regional countries have also changed their stance. Foremost is Qatar that had a leading role in supporting the rebels. It has started to scale down its role in the conflict after Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa stepped down in favour of his son. This was followed by the military coup in Egypt that overthrew the Ikhwan who had extended support to the rebels.
The only rebel supporters left are Turkey and Saudi Arabia. Both countries however, seem to be realizing that without US military intervention, rebel victory is almost impossible, and Washington has no intension of launching such an attack. Therefore, they are slowly coming around to the idea of a political solution rather than the military option they had hitherto so ardently championed. The change in Saudi policy may be due to its physical distance from Syria — it does not share a common border with it — and the Saudi monarchical system is also not particularly appealing for the Syrians, but there are major implications for Turkey. In addition to its long and porous border, it has to answer to the electorate in next year’s presidential elections as well as in following years.
When it comes to political accountability, there are two names that stand out in the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) in Turkey. The first and foremost is Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu, who has dominated the media, thanks to his flamboyant remarks and ministerial position. The other person is Hakan Fidan, head of Turkey’s National Intelligence Agency (Milli İstihbarat Teşkilati or MIT). If Davutoglu is the architect of Turkey’s foreign policy, Fidan is the craftsman who has been arduously working for the implementation of this policy. But, before such accountability comes into effect, Fidan needs to deal with some other problems.
Hakan Fidan worked for the Turkish Army as a non-commissioned officer from 1986 to 2001, a total of 15 years. He then quit the army to become a diplomat and worked in several Turkish embassies in the Muslim East. He also took up senior civil servant posts and became an advisor in the office of the Prime Minister in 2007. During this period he represented Turkey in major platforms and negotiations including the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). Throughout this period, he participated in sensitive discussions regarding Iran’s nuclear program. Due to his performance he gained the confidence both of Prime Minister Recep Tayip Erdogan and President Abdullah Gul and finally in May 2010 he was promoted to the position of MIT’s chief.
As a spymaster, he is different from his predecessors in several ways. First, unlike the others he is not a commissioned army officer; he is a civilian and completely under the control of the Prime Minister’s office. Therefore, he did not plot against AKP rule, rather he was a close confidant. Erdogan made this clear in his remarks in 2012 by stating “he is my secret keeper. He is the state’s secret keeper.” Previously, aside from the army, the MIT was the most important player in politics and often started plots against the government or was complicit in them.
Under Fidan’s command the MIT stopped spying on Turkish citizens and tried to improve its intelligence gathering and operations abroad. In line with his PhD thesis that was about the use of intelligence in foreign policy, he wanted to turn the MIT into an effective foreign policy tool.
But the main difference is that unlike other Turkish spymasters, he is not under the influence of the CIA or Mossad. Instead, he has been trying to implement policies designed in Ankara. Before the AKP came to power, the MIT worked as an extension of the CIA and Mossad and served the interests of the US and Israel. There was a time when the CIA and Mossad had a permanent office in the head office of the MIT. There was also a time when the CIA paid the salaries of some senior staff members of MIT.
This practice was interrupted by the appointment of Hakan Fidan. It is not surprising that his appointment was heavily criticized by Israel. For the first time in history, Israeli officials openly criticized the appointment of a spy chief by accusing Fidan of being under the influence of Iranians. Since then the Israelis have not been happy with him and his actions but this did not emerge in public until David Ignatius’ column in the Washington Post on October 16. Ignatius quoted unnamed Israeli sources that claimed that the MIT had informed Iranian intelligence service about 10 Iranian nationals who had been recruited by Mossad.
According to the Israeli media, the alleged incident took place in 2012 and caused significant harm to Israeli operations in Iran. Mossad had recruited the Iranians in Turkey and had been meeting with them regularly in Turkey. The MIT was monitoring these meetings and informed its Iranian counterpart.
The Turks generally dismissed the story and have labeled it as “black propaganda” against Fidan, but interestingly they have not denied it explicitly. Further, in April 2012, the Iranian media broke the news that Iranian intelligence service had foiled Israeli plots in the country by arresting 15 Mossad agents. Reports also claimed that key members of an Israeli network had been identified and arrested in Iran.
These incidents give strong indication that there might be some truth in the claims made in the Washington Post article. But their claim that the MIT did this due to Fidan’s pro-Iranian approach or to put it more mildly, to use the event to reconcile Iran-Turkey relations which have been deteriorating since the beginning of the Syrian civil war, needs further investigation.
If it is true, the incident is a serious blow to Mossad operations that perhaps took several years of grooming and hard work for Mossad. Turkey should, therefore, have expected that blowing up such an operation would have serious consequences from the Israelis and the Americans. Ankara would not risk it simply for the sake of rapprochement with Iran. It is possible that Ankara was after a better prospect, such as gaining Iranian support for the recent peace negotiations with the Kurdish rebel group, the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK). Considering Turkey’s desperate attempt to accomplish peace with the Kurds and Iranian influence over the various Kurdish groups this is a more plausible explanation.
Or perhaps the injection of “unexplained” $8 billion into the Turkish economy in 2013. According to figures released by Turkey’s Central Bank the huge amount of money, which comes from “unidentified” sources, arrived at a very crucial time to reduce the budget deficit significantly.
These are all possibilities and we do not as yet know why Turkey might have revealed the identity of Mossad operatives. But it is obvious that by implementing the AKP policies Fidan is being targeted by the Zionists. Indirectly, they are targeting Erdogan and the AKP. Salih Kapusuz, deputy chair of the AKP, pointed this out in his Twitter comment.
Bulent Arinc who is the second most senior AKP member, also affirmed this and extended his full support to Fidan. Later President Gul also stressed his full support. Finally in a speech delivered on October 22, Erdoğan followed suit on the occasion of the release of two Turkish Airlines pilots who were kidnapped in Lebanon in August, “When the time comes you now see that they’re attempting to engage our MIT undersecretary. Who is engaging our MİT undersecretary? Be careful! This is very important. There are those agitating from inside and those agitating from outside. Sorry, but we will stand behind our valued bureaucrats and technocrats and won’t take their favor from others.”
Due to strong backing from the government, the president of Israel had to deny they leaked the information. The spokesperson of the Israeli Foreign Ministry Yigal Palmor stated that actors who do not want to see a rapprochement between Turkey and Israel make up these stories.
Despite Turkey’s meddling in the Syrian civil war, one should acknowledge that right or wrong, Turkey has been trying to devise independent policies in the region since the AKP came to power. However, their lack of experience and expedient approach to some of the issues led them to make questionable decisions. Nonetheless, they are still much better than the people they replaced and one hopes they would learn from their mistakes and adopt principled positions in the future.