Turkey Intelligence Report
Period: November 27th, 2017 – December 11th, 2017
The report is arranged in the following order: Terrorism (Islamic State (IS), PKK/KCK), Foreign Affairs (EU, Syria, U.S., Greece).
Islamic State: Turkish security authorities increase their operations to capture IS fighters who have crossed into Turkey.
PKK: Iraqi-Turkish joint operations against PKK positions in Iraq are likely to intensify.
EU: President Erdogan’s authoritarian policies and the lack of democratic reforms during his governance alienate Turkey from EU.
Idlib Operation: YPG attacks against Turkey from across the Turkish-Syrian border could potentially constitute a justification for Turkey to launch a military offensive in Afrin/Syria.
Syria: Turkey increases its military force in Syria and along the Turkish-Syrian border line.
US: Reza Zarrab implicates President Erdogan in the violation of the Iranian embargo.
Greece: President Erdogan’s questioning of internationally accepted treaties does not benefit Greek-Turkish relations.
Turkey Incidents – Country View
Turkish authorities increase their operations to capture IS fighters who have crossed into Turkey.
Ankara Public Prosecutor Adem AkÄ±ncÄ± warned about the heightened probability of an IS attack in Turkey by IS militants who have crossed into Turkey after their territorial losses in Syria and Iraq.
Turkish counter terrorism units continue their operations across Turkey against IS suspects. Istanbul continues to be an operational priority for the Turkish authorities. Raids were carried out once more in Istanbul’s Fatih and BaÅakÅehir districts and the police detained 26 foreign nationals, Syrians and Iraqis. A large operation in Istanbul on December 1 resulted to 62 IS suspects being detained. On December 8, an IS cell was dismantled while preparing an attack in Istanbul.
The continuous crackdown on IS by Turkish authorities can potentially redirect IS operatives to even more covert operational tactics in Turkey. In Istanbul, IS members can achieve a high level of operational security while preparing an attack. On December 4, police raided a weapons manufacturing facility in Istanbul – Pendik district – and seized a high number of weapons, as well as other materials used to construct arms. A similar facility was raided on December 5 in Bursa – Osmangazi district. Such networks are not linked to weapon trafficking networks known to the authorities. They are locally operated and have a small circle of people who manage the weapons’ construction and trade. IS operatives could potentially turn to such local networks and avoid exposing themselves to the security authorities by obtaining weapons in ways which increase their exposure, such as online weapon trading or deals with well known arms traffickers.
The southern province of Hatay remains a transfer point of IS senior members and fighters. Mohanad Al Sanad, IS financial chief in Raqqa, was caught in ReyhanlÄ±/Hatay on December 7. Further, a Turkish IS fighter, active in Syria, surrendered at the Turkish border to patrols in ReyhanlÄ±/Turkey and another man was caught in the same area while attempting to cross the border into Syria and join IS. It is expected that security authorities will increase their operations against IS as there have been reports of a high number of highly trained IS fighters who have crossed into Turkey. The upcoming weeks are marked by the Christmas and New Year’s Eve celebrations and increased security measures are expected to be taken in major city centres.
Akhmed Chatayev, a Chechen commander of the Islamic State (IS), sought by Russia and Turkey for organizing the deadly bombing at the Istanbul airport in July 2016 was reportedly killed during a counter-terrorism operation in Tbilisi/Georgia on November 21.
Islamic State Incidents
Iraqi-Turkish joint operations against PKK positions in Iraq are likely to intensify. On November 27 and December 2, Turkish F-16 fighter jets targeted PKK positions in Iraq at: a) the Gara, Zap AvaÅin-Basyan region-northern Iraq, b) south of the Kandil Mountain and c) at the Asos Mountain near the city of Sulaymaniyah. During the airstrikes more than 90 PKK insurgents were killed and a large number of weapons were destroyed.
The operations were carried out after Iranian and Iraqi officials shared intelligence on PKK activity and positions with Turkey. Iran, Iraq and Turkey have launched similar operations in the past aiming at eliminating targets of strategic importance for the PKK. Similar attacks are likely to occur more frequently as the Iraqi military could potentially redirect its focus on the PKK after the Iraqi Prime Minister, Haider al-Abadi, announced the end of the war against the Islamic State during a conference in Baghdad on December 9. Turkey could potentially benefit from the fact that the Iraqi military will have more forces available to conduct operations across the Turkish-Iraqi border line.
Security authorities systematically monitor the web for individuals supporting PKK via social media. Most of the PKK-linked people detained by the police are accused of making online propaganda.
President Erdogan’s authoritarian policies and the lack of democratic reforms during his governance alienate Turkey from EU. On November 30, 2017, the European Parliament approved the 2018 EU Budget which reduced Turkey’s pre-accession funds by €105 million and put €70 million in commitments in reserve. Main reasons for this decision are the deteriorating situation in relation to democracy, rule of law and human rights in Turkey.
After the April 2017 referendum, President Erdogan has increased his executive powers and has proceeded to constitutional reforms which have weakened the democratic function of Turkey’s State institutions. Further, the domestic security policies have resulted to thousands of people being detained over alleged links to terrorist groups, such as the Gülen movement (FETÖ). Turkey has repeatedly accused the EU of having double standards when it comes to counter terrorism issues, mostly because of the EU’s denial to designate FETÖ as a terrorist organization. Even though both the EU and Turkey promised to enhance bilateral cooperation against terrorism during a Counter-Terrorism meeting on November 28, 2017, in Ankara, it is highly likely that Turkey’s demands for the extradition of suspected FETÖ members residing in EU member states will remain unfulfilled.
EU – Turkey relations will most likely remain problematic. President Erdogan will probably not alter his stance on issues, such as human rights, freedom of speech and counter terrorism laws, which have caused the current stagnation of Turkey’s EU succession process. Additionally, President Erdogan will likely attempt to harden his anti-EU and anti-western rhetoric during his campaign for Turkey’s presidential election in 2019 seeking to advance and consolidate his alliance with nationalistic political entities.
Idlib Operation – Syria
Turkey increases its military force in Syria and at the Turkish-Syrian border line. The Turkish Military Command continues the shipment of tanks, air defense systems, armored combat vehicles and military personnel at the border line with Syria at Hatay, Gaziantep and Kilis provinces. The military equipment and troops are positioned opposite to the Syrian city of Afrin, ruled by the Kurdish YPG forces – strategic enemy of Turkey. Additional Turkish military forces are positioned in Syria’s Idlib province in a 35 kilometers zone along the border with Afrin, bringing the Turkish soldiers 2 kilometers away from YPG forces.
YPG attacks against Turkey from across the Turkish-Syrian border could potentially constitute a casus belli for Turkey to launch a military offensive in Afrin/Syria. On two occasions, Turkish targets were hit from across the border by PKK and YPG forces. On November 28, a Turkish soldier was shot in Kilis from YPG forces located in Afrin/Syria. On November 29, PKK launched a rocket attack, about 4 kilometers away from the Iraqi border, against a construction site in Hakkari’s Åemdinli district, Derecik village – Gerdan Tepe region – and killed one civilian worker and injured another.
Turkey has repeatedly threatened Afrin with a military offensive. On November 28, Turkey’s National Security Council stated that a military operation in Afrin could stabilize the area and contribute to the pacification of northern Syria. This statement is based on the supposingly successful deployment of Turkish military in Idlib which until now has not caused any conflicts with the jihadist rebels who rule Idlib. Turkey is expected to deploy more troops in Idlib and along its border line with Afrin until it establishes its military superiority over YPG and blocks all of its military support routes. It is likely that Turkey could claim the YPG-cross border attacks as casus belli and attack the YPG forces. In that way President Erdogan will justify Turkey’s military presence in northern Syria to its domestic political audience as an offensive based on the context of self-defence. Further, he will most likely attempt to present the offensive as part of the Idlib de escalation zone and therefore attempt to pull in the conflict Russian and Iranian forces – a scenario that currently does not seem probable as Russia wants to advance its alliance with YPG.
Turkey might also use Afrin’s encirclement as leverage during future negotiations concerning the role of the remaining foreign forces in the post-war Syria. Turkey will most likely want to preserve its control of Syrian territories to contain the YPG threat and influence the regional developments.
Additional troops are sent south east of Afrin. 180 commandos from Turkish Gendarmerie “Wolves” battalion, based in Tokat Province were dispatched to the Syrian city of Al-Bab, south east of Afrin, on November 30. Their precise role in Al-Bab was not clarified.
U.S. – Turkey
Reza Zarrab implicates President Erdogan in the violation of the Iranian embargo. Iranian-Turkish gold trader Reza Zarrab said at a New York federal court that President Erdogan gave his authorization as the then Prime Minister to two Turkish banks to transfer funds for Iran, violating the U.S. embargo. He also said that he paid former Economy Minister Zafer Caglayan more than $50 million in bribes in order to secure his help in evading US sanctions on Iran. Erdogan accused U.S. of plotting with Fethullah Gulen against Tukey and that U.S. courts can not put Turkey on trial. The Reza Zarrab case has revealed that several Turkish officials, including Erdogan, are implicated in a scheme which allowed funds to reach Iran defying the U.S. sanctions. The testimonies continue in N.Y and is expected that the ongoing investigations will further increase the tension between U.S. and Turkey.
U.S. will most likely continue arming the YPG. Pentagon spokesman, Eric Pahon, said that the U.S. military support given to YPG is Syria is under review and that the battlefield requirements will be the determining factor for any decision to be made. The Pentagon’s spokesman statement was different from President Trump’s who promised President Erdogan that U.S. will stop delivering arms to the YPG in Syria. Turkish Deputy Prime Minister Bekir Bozdag said that if the U.S. will not keep their promise they will be deceiving the whole world. It is highly likely that Turkey will continue its diplomatic pressure on U.S. to stop arming the YPG in Syria which Turkey believes to be a PKK affiliate.
Protests broke out in many cities across Turkey after U.S. President Donald Trump recognized Jerusalem as Israel’s capital on December 6. President Erdogan said that Jerusalem is a “red line” for Muslims and threatened to cut off diplomatic ties with Israel. Turkish Foreign Minister, Mevlüt ÇavuÅoÄlu, said that the decision is against international law and relevant UN resolutions. The U.S. Embassy Ankara, U.S. Consulate General Istanbul, and U.S. Consulate Adana had only limited operations on Friday, December 8 in fear of violent protests. President Erdogan had a telephone conversation with France’s President Emmanuel Macron and agreed on pressing U.S. to reverse the decision. On December 10, Erdogan described Israel as a ‘terrorist state’.
The Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) will hold a summit in Istanbul on Wednesday, December 13 after President Erdogan’s initiative and calls for a unified response from the Islamic world against Trump’s decision. It is highly likely that Erdogan will attempt to seize the opportunity and play a leading role during the OIC summit, promoting Turkey as a country able to unite the Muslim world.
Greece – Turkey
President Erdogan’s questioning of internationally accepted treaties does not benefit the Greek-Turkish relations. President Erdogan visited Greece on December 7- 8. During his meetings with the Greek President, Prokopis Pavlopoulos and Prime minister, Alexis Tsipras, he emphasized the need to improve the religious rights of the Muslim minority in Thrace-northern Greece, he pointed to the, according to him, needed revisions of the 1923 Treaty of Lausanne, and he once more requested the return of the eight officers who escaped to Greece during the 2016 failed coup in Turkey. The Greek side stood firm on the non-negotiable character of the 1923 Treaty of Lausanne and the need for both sides to respect the international law.
His first meeting with P.Pavlopoulos was conducted under a rather tense atmosphere. Indicative of the situation was the fact that the accompanying diplomats were handing out notes to their Presidents trying to contain a dialogue between the two men which was hardly following the suggested protocol of such official meetings. During his meeting with Prime Minister Tsipras both sides exchanged sharp comments, with P.M Tsipras attempting to release some of the tension during his remarks.
Amid his strengthened ties with powerful Middle Eastern states and Russia, the Turkish President was hardly expected to convey messages of solidarity and cooperation towards Greece or EU during his visit in Greece.
The Greek side was rather disappointed that such a historical meeting did not lead to any positive developments. A number of Greek officials said that President Erdogan’s statements were deliberately provocative and that he took advantage of this visit to broadcast his views while being on Greek soil, empowering in that way his political posture. The Turkish side perceived the visit as a part of President Erdogan’s heightened diplomatic mobility and efforts to promote Turkey’s interests at its western borders. Further, Turkish officials believe that it enhanced Turkey’s profile as an influential actor on the international scene.
His remarks concerning the Lausanne Treaty were directly rejected by Greek and EU officials. Such remarks could also be interpreted as an indirect reference to Turkey’s southeastern borders and its current, and most likely his future, operations in northern Syria.
Devi Dumbadze, 29-11-2017, Special Operation in Tbilisi Highlights Risk of Terrorism by Returning Fighters in Georgia, https://jamestown.org/program/special-operation-tbilisi-highlights-risk-terrorism-returning-fighters-georgia/
Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, Australia,Canberra. 2017. Turkey. http://smartraveller.gov.au/countries/europe/southern/pages/turkey.aspx
European Parliament, 30-11-2017, EU budget 2018 approved: support for youth, growth, security, http://www.europarl.europa.eu/news/en/press-room/20171127IPR88936/eu-budget-2018-approved-support-for-youth-growth-security
European Union External Action, 29/11/2017, Joint EU-Turkey Press Release: EU-Turkey Counter-Terrorism Consultations, https://eeas.europa.eu/headquarters/headquarters-homepage/36411/joint-eu-turkey-press-release-eu-turkey-counter-terrorism-consultations_en Foreign and Commonwealth Office 2017, UK. Turkey. https://www.gov.uk/foreign-travel-advice/turkey McCabe, M. & Harrington, D. 2017. Intelligence Fusion Platform [Online]. London: Ambix. Available: https://www.intelligencefusion.co.uk Ministry of Interior. Republic of Turkey. December 2017, https://www.icisleri.gov.tr/ Panagiotis Vasilias, September 10, 2017, Islamic State Threat to Turkey, Intelligence Fusion, https://www.intelligencefusion.co.uk/single-post/2017/09/10/Islamic-State-Threat-to-Turkey Turkish armed forces, December 2017, http://www.tsk.tr/YurticiOlaylar
Report written by Panagiotis Vasilias