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Sunday, July 05, 2015

Is Turkey poised to invade Syria?

German weekly magazine Focus has said that last year's leaked audio of a high-level security meeting at the Turkish Foreign Ministry about possible military action in Syria via a false flag operation was recorded and then leaked by the US National Security Agency (NSA). The recording, which was posted online, featured a conversation between then-Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu, National Intelligence Organization (MİT) head Hakan Fidan, Foreign Ministry Undersecretary Feridun Sinirlioğlu and Deputy Chief of General Staff Gen. Yaşar Güler. In the recording, the officials discussed how Turkey could start a war with Syria, what the legal grounds would be to do so and if it would be possible to create a pretext to deliberately drag Turkey into a war with Syria. They also discussed a false flag operation by having mortars firing into Turkey from Syria to create ostensibly legal grounds for a war. Only hours after the conversation was posted online, then-Prime Minister and current President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan was quick to attribute the leak to the Hizmet movement, also known as the Gülen movement, without showing any evidence for his suspicions. Davutoğlu also accused Hizmet of leaking the recording and described the act as espionage. When he was later asked what evidence he had to lay the blame on Hizmet, Davutoğlu said he did not have any evidence but rather came to that conclusion based on his own convictions. The Turkish government immediately blocked access to YouTube in Turkey after the leak. The Ankara Chief Public Prosecutor's Office then initiated an investigation into the leak but after more than a year had passed, no announcement was made on any conclusion. The opposition and legal experts called on Erdoğan to prove his claim and warned that the claim would otherwise remain slander against a civilian group with millions of followers and sympathizers and cast further doubt on the credibility of the government. Erdoğan used the leak as an opportunity to attack Turkish Islamic scholar Fethullah Gülen, who is the inspiration behind the Hizmet movement and is also critical of corruption in the government. In an election rally in Diyarbakır before the March 30 local elections last year, Erdoğan said: “A meeting was held [between state officials] about the tomb of Süleyman Şah [in Syria]. They [Hizmet members] even leaked [the recording of] this meeting to YouTube. This is villainous; this is dishonest. Who are you serving by recording such an important meeting?” According to legal experts and observers, Erdoğan violated the basic principle of the presumption of innocence with his “quick conclusion” about Hizmet. It was not the first time he has linked Hizmet to some major unpleasant developments in the country without providing any proof. Many analysts have speculated that it is probably easiest for Erdoğan to find a “scapegoat” on whom to put the blame whenever he feels cornered by accusations of mismanagement, corruption or fraud. For example, when a major graft investigation became public on Dec. 17, 2014, Erdoğan quickly attributed the probe to the work of the “parallel state,” a reference he uses for the Hizmet movement. The Focus report confirmed last year's report by Der Spiegel, another German magazine, which claimed that the NSA was instructed by the US political leadership to gather information about the “intentions” of the Turkish leadership and to monitor Turkey's operations in 18 other key areas. The magazine examined documents from the archive of US whistleblower Edward Snowden. It stated that one NSA document calls Turkey “both a partner and target. … The very politicians, military officials and intelligence agency officials with whom US officials work closely when conducting actions against the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) are also considered legitimate spying targets by the NSA,” it read. According to the report, the US has two secret branch offices that operate Special Collection Service listening stations in İstanbul and Ankara. Turkey is also placed at the level of Venezuela, even ahead of Cuba, in terms of US interest in intelligence gathering, according to a US document that establishes US intelligence priorities called the National Intelligence Priorities Framework (NIPF). This document is updated and presented to the US president every six months and an April 2013 edition of it lists Turkey as one of the countries most frequently targeted by Washington for surveillance. According to the NIPF, information about the “intentions” of the Turkish government is given the second-highest priority while information about the military and its infrastructure, foreign policy goals and energy security are given the third-highest priority rating. Conducive to this aim, the NSA began a broad surveillance operation in 2006 called the “Turkish Surge Project Plan” to infiltrate the computers of Turkey's top political leaders. “It took six months for the team to achieve its goal. One document celebrates the discovery of the ‘winning combination' and reports that collection had begun: ‘They achieved their first-ever computer network exploitation success against Turkish leadership!',” according to the report. The Turkish Embassy in Washington and Turkey's UN representation in New York were also the target of spying. A classified document from 2010 states that the NSA monitored the Turkish Embassy in Washington under a program codenamed "Powder." A similar project for monitoring Turkey's representation to the United Nations carried the name "Blackhawk,” according to Der Spiegel. “Analysts had access to the telephone system in the Turkish Embassy and could tap content directly from computers. In addition, they infected computer systems used by the diplomats with spyware. The NSA also installed Trojan software at Turkey's UN representation in New York. According to the NSA document, it even has the capability of copying entire hard drives at the UN mission,” read the report. Focus's attribution of secret recording of high-level security meeting at the Turkish Foreign Ministry to the NSA was made within the report, which also unveiled how MİT set up a network of spies in Germany. It covered the indictment of Turkish national Muhammet Taha Gergerlioğlu, one of three Turks against whom the Federal Attorney General of Germany filed spying charges in May. Gergerlioğlu, an adviser of Erdoğan, ran the other defendants as agents. The three reportedly collected information on people of Turkish origin living in Germany who were critical of the Turkish government. Turkish spies in Germany are said to have been ordered to spy on Erdoğan's opponents in Germany, including members of the Kurdish minority, the Gülen movement and other Turkish nationals in Germany who were critical of the Turkish leadership. According to court documents, the goal of the espionage group was to track and spy on Turkish and Kurdish dissidents who were then to be detained upon their return to Turkey. In late April 2014, defendant Ahmet Duran Y. told Gergerlioğlu that one of the "instigators" against Erdoğan would soon go to Turkey. Gergerlioğlu, who was always referred to as "big brother" or "governor," pledged to "finish him immediately" after entering Turkey. Gergerlioğlu and his team were allegedly sent to Germany by MİT head Fidan. In 2011, Gergerlioğlu was reportedly sent by Fidan with a fund of 25,000 euros to launch a consulting company for German-Turkish companies in the city of Bad Dürkheim with Göksel G. ===== In his first public statement following the June 7 general elections that dashed his hopes of becoming Turkey’s sole leader, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan blasted the Syrian Kurds, and their nominal allies the United States, after they defeated the Islamic State (IS) in the northern Syrian town of Tell Abyad. Summary⎙ Print The Turkish military is concerned a military engagement in northern Syria has no international support. AuthorSemih IdizPosted July 1, 2015 “Look at the West that is striking Arabs and Turkmens in Tell Abyad and regretfully placing the terrorist groups PYD [Democratic Union Party] and PKK [Kurdistan Workers Party] in their place. … How can we consider this West to be honest?” Erdogan said, referring to the air support the United States was giving to the Syrian Kurdish PYD fighting against IS. The PKK has been waging a long-standing armed campaign for Kurdish autonomy in Turkey, for which it has been designated as a terrorist group by Ankara and Washington. It is also fighting against IS in northern Syria. Erdogan upped the ante June 27 and said Turkey would not allow any attempts to establish a Kurdish entity in northern Syria. “We will never allow a state to be established in northern Syria and in the south of our country. No matter what the cost, we will continue our struggle in this regard,” Erdogan said. He added that Turkey would allow attempts to change the region’s demography, a reference to claims that the PYD is ethnically cleansing Tell Abyad, and other areas captured from IS, of Arabs and Turkmens. Erdogan’s remarks were followed by a slew of reports in the media indicating that the Turkish military acting on orders from the government had prepared contingency plans to enter Syria and establish a buffer zone along the Turkish border of 100 kilometers (62 miles) long and 10-15 kilometers (6-9 miles) wide. These reports cited officials who argue that this will not only meet Turkey’s security requirements, but also establish a safe haven for Syrian refugees who continue to flood into Turkey. They also say it will enable Turkey to contribute more effectively to the fight against IS, thus belying claims in the Western media that Ankara is aiding such groups. Given Erdogan’s angry remarks, many believe this intervention’s main purpose is to prevent Syrian Kurds from establishing a contiguous zone in the region. Turkey’s buffer zone would fall between the Kurdish town of Kobani and Jarablus to its west, which the Kurds want to capture from IS. Although it is opposed to any Kurdish entity along Turkey’s borders, the Turkish military is said to be wary of being dragged by the government into a military adventure in Syria. Reports from the Chief of General Staff’s office leaked to the media indicate that the top brass wants Ankara to consider the international ramifications of an engagement in a complex and multilayered conflict. Serpil Cevikcan, a journalist for Milliyet who is in close contact with the military, has cited military sources who say they are ready to carry out any order from the government, but express concern about the diplomatic consequences. “The Chief of General Staff’s office has conveyed its view that for such a directive to be successful, the political, military and diplomatic infrastructure has to be established in such a way as to allay all risks that may emerge,” Cevikcan wrote in her column. She said the military wants the matter to be discussed not just with the United States, but also with Russia and Iran and the regime in Damascus, which seems unlikely given that Ankara has burned all its bridges with the Syrian regime. It is also a foregone conclusion that Moscow and Tehran would oppose a buffer zone established by Turkey in Syria, having expressed their opposition to this in the past. Retired Ambassador Umit Pamir, a member of the Global Relations Forum, also believes that entering Syria without approval from the United Nations, or the approval of a strong coalition of countries, is risky. He nevertheless believes that Moscow and Tehran can be convinced of the merits of such an operation if it is mounted against IS. But this requires Ankara to prioritize the fight against IS, which it has not done to date. “Turkey has to work with an international coalition, otherwise it will result in serious complications,” Pamir told Al-Monitor. Washington, for its part, appears unenthusiastic about a step by Turkey that many believe would be against the Kurds. Asked about the buffer zone Turkey is said to be planning in Syria, Mark Toner, a deputy spokesman for the State Department, told reporters June 29 that Washington’s position had not changed. “The creation and enforcement of a no-fly zone or any other military enforced zone presents significant challenges. … They include military, financial, but also humanitarian challenges that we need to obviously consider in the broader context,” Toner said. He added that they “don’t have any ground truth” on the reported plans by Turkey. “All we’ve seen, frankly, are press reports,” he said. Deniz Zeyrek, a veteran journalist who works for Hurriyet, indicates that the military is also concerned about mounting an operation on the orders of a caretaker government that lost its parliamentary majority in the June 7 elections. “The armed forces say that when the government’s directive is carried out there will have to be responsibility for the negative situations and risks that may emerge, and expect this to rest with the new government,” Zeyrek wrote June 27. Retired Brig. Gen. Armagan Kuloglu, a commentator on military matters, is among those who see no advantages to an operation in Syria. “Three objectives are mentioned for such an operation: to prevent IS or the PYD from gaining control of areas bordering Turkey, and to establish a safe haven for refugees. But we have multiple enemies here, and it is not clear who we are supposed to fight,” Kuloglu told Al-Monitor. He also pointed to complications if international support for this operation is not obtained. These considerations appear to have little sway on Erdogan and journalists who act as his unofficial spokesmen. Ibrahim Karagul, the editor-in-chief of Yeni Safak, who believes that the PYD is more dangerous than IS, said there is a grand design to establish a Kurdish corridor to carry oil from Kurdish northern Iraq to the Mediterranean over Syria. “The aim is to make a lasting change to the map of the entire region and to restrict countries like Turkey that have an extraordinary power to influence developments. … If successful, this will be the biggest trap set for Turkey since the invasion of Iraq,” Karagul claimed, arguing this must be prevented at all costs. Meanwhile, there are those who say Erdogan does not have the authority to declare what amounts to a “casus belli,” and point out that this authority rests with the parliament. Ibrahim Kaboglu, a professor of constitutional law, says that under the present constitution the president can only give such a directive if parliament is not sitting and there is a sudden attack on the country. “This is not the case today and so the power to give such orders rests with the Grand National Assembly,” Kaboglu told daily Cumhuriyet. The June 7 elections produced a hung parliament that is unlikely to authorize such an invasion given that opposition parties are opposed to this. Opinion polls have also shown consistently that a large portion of the Turkish public is opposed to any entanglement in Syria. There are also those who claim that Erdogan wants an intervention in Syria to divert attention away from the Justice and Development Party’s election losses and to engineer a situation suited to his political ambitions. Such speculations aside, the National Security Council — an advisory board headed by the president and comprising the prime minister, relevant ministers and senior military officials — made a statement after it met June 29 that Turkey is not on the verge of any immediate action with regard to Syria. It merely indicated Turkey was “following developments in Syria with concern.” Given the confusing and seemingly intractable situation in Syria, this appears to be all that Ankara can do at the moment if it does not want to enter a fray from which it is unlikely to extricate itself unscarred. Read more: http://www.al-monitor.com/pulse/originals/2015/07/turkey-syria-military-intervention-no-international-support.html#ixzz3f1CtdXQO

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