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The attempted military coup in Turkey

Giancarlo Elia Valori

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The Turkish Armed Forces are fighting both in the PKK Kurdish area and in the framework of the Inherent Resolve operation led by the United States against ISIS. This partially explains the scarce amount of ground forces available for the July coup against President Recep Tayyp Erdogan and his AKP. The “Justice and Development Party”, founded by Erdogan himself, resulted from the merger of various Islamist and conservatives parties in 2001.

Nevertheless the Turkish Constitutional Court started the procedure for the forced closure of the AKP as early as 2008, but the request for ceasing the Party’s activity was quashed by a single vote, although the Turkish constitutional judges continued to suspect the Party of “anti-secular activities” which, however, led to the 50% decrease of the public funding to the AKP.Hence President Erdogan’s Party is mainly linked to the Muslim Brotherhood which, in fact, with its web sites and propaganda, makes it an example of effective and “Muslim-oriented”, not “Islamist”, policy – the so-called “conservative democracy”, just to use its terminology.

However, with a view to better understanding the relationship between this Party, which is now a party-State, and the Armed Forces, reference must be made to the Ergenekon issue.

Ergenekon was the name of a clandestine network operating within the Turkish Armed Forces, which was destroyed by President Erdogan’s government in 2009.

As the mount of the Altai mountain range after which it is named, probably the organization still persists within the many military networks and it may also have spurred the recent coup.

In the Ergenekon case, the actions of the police – loyal to the AKP regime – were rather ambiguous.

As many as 194 military, sometimes high-ranking officers, were accused of plotting to overthrow the institutions and the Parliament, as well as stealing State secrets and organizing “terrorist” armed groups.

Probably the 2016 failed coup is exactly the result of old Ergenekon networks which, however, have no longer access to the intelligence services’ top leaders or to the still powerful judiciary, not yet loyal to the AKP rules.

The slapdash attitude with which some very recent actions have been carried out by the putschist Armed Forces, in their July attempt to take power, would suggest a misplaced trust in secret structures of the judiciary and the police forces, now full of AKP activists, as well as the National Intelligence Organization (MIT).

Hence let us analyze the coup sequence, which can also clarify the political sense of the military operations that took place in the night between July 15 and 16 last.

It is also highly likely that the military action has been stepped up by the fact that the rotation of the middle and top ranks of the Armed Forces would be implemented on August 1, 2016. Many of the members of these military ranks had already been involved in the coup of which there was talk in the international secretariats and NATO services for at least three months.

As stated by President Erdogan, the coup leaders included many officers linked to the movement of Fethullah Gulen, of whom we will analyze the role played in Turkey today. They included Akin Ozturk, the Air Force Chief of Staff, Colonel Muharrem Kose and other high-ranking military.

The coup had been announced on Friday night, with a document of the military that called for “a return to constitutional order, democracy, human rights and the rule of law”. The blockade of the “Ataturk” airport with tanks lasted approximately two hours, until the mass of “citizens” – or more probably AKP militants – forced the tanks to step aside.

No putschist can go against the will of the people they want to “liberate” and the mass of unarmed people is the best weapon to stop any kind of weapon system.

Hence a new countercoup by the mass and the rank-and-file organizations, probably already alerted, which invaded the streets and forced the tanks to retreat or stop, while the military perceived the use of the worst weapon against a coup, namely their isolation vis-à-vis the people.The Armed Forces commanders appeared on TV,   dissociate themselves from the action still underway and ordered the troops to return back to their barracks.

However it is unthinkable that the commanders-in-chief did not know anything about the coup being prepared.

Clearly they let it go on, probably with a view to taking command and control at the right time, but the operation had been designed with a too small military shock mass to cover the sensitive targets, over and above other technical errors which are amazing for those dealing with military matters.

In fact, the intelligence headquarters were not hit severely. It is worth noting that the Turkish National Intelligence Organization (MIT) displays Ataturk’s profile on its coat of arms.

President Erdogan, who was on holiday in Bodrum, was not arrested, and possibly killed.

There was no effective bombing of the Parliament and the other government buildings, which had to be destroyed in the first phase of the coup.

In short, everything suggests that all the Turkish Armed Forces wanted to test the strength of the AKP regime so as to launch the final operation at a later stage.

Some press sources claim that the tension among the coup forces broke out when the government clearly gave the order to fight not against, but in favor, of ISIS in the future configuration of the Syrian region.If the US-Russian axis is strengthened – as appears from the latest statements made by both countries – Turkey, which wanted the Sunni part of Syria, will be marginalized.

Hence nothing better than starting again the old game of the more or less secret support to Daesh-Isis.

It is true that the putschists closed some social media, but not all of them and, after a short period of time, the TV started to broadcast again.

A coup is primarily a psychological warfare and communication operation.

Indeed, it is strange that the NATO troops and their officers were not trained to these techniques, which are now part and parcel of the basic training of any officer of the Alliance.

t is also strange that there was no reaction in the NATO centers, as the F-16 fighters of the putschists rose into the skies. There was no report, nor alarm.

The Incirlik base, which paradoxically hosts a powerful Command and Control centre of the Alliance, was also one of the points of the military rebellion, under the eyes of the United States and the other nations present.

It is worth recalling that, at the Incirlik base, the Turks cut the light off during the coup, while now the base hosts drones, A-10 aircraft, KC-135 tanker aircraft and part of the US elite units, along with the advanced weapons of other Member States of the Alliance participating in the Inherent Resolve operation.

Furthermore NATO did not even monitor President Erdogan’s jet, which was flying for at least five hours, and was not even attacked by the putschists’ air force that, at the time, was still in control of Istanbul skies.

Hence the Turkish President has his own intelligence network, made up of militants from his Party, who owe everything to him, as well as MIT officers and ordinary citizens capable of penetrating the Turkish “Kemalist” and secular networks, still very widespread among the population.

Another factor to be noted is Fethullah Gulen’s movement, upon which President Erdogan immediately laid the blame for the failed coup.

Gulen’s movement is certainly present, albeit secretly, in the Turkish society.

The Imam, who currently lives in Saylorsburg, Pennsylvania, is the leader of a vast movement known as Hizmet.

It is a sort of Islamic sect (Gulen founded the AKP together with Erdogan) and a network of businesses, magazines and newspapers, schools and universities, while it is assumed that at least 10% of the Turkish population follows Gulen and his movement.

A movement which preaches peace with the Anatolian Alevis, the Kurds, the Christians and the Jews. It promotes a mystical Islam closely reminding of the Sufi sects which, together with the Italian Masonic lodges operating in Thessaloniki and Alexandria, covered up the development of the “Young Turks” movement.

Years ago, according to French sources, the Islamist leader Gulen began a vast operation to infiltrate his followers into the Turkish Armed Forces and even into the intelligence services, which have never been fully trusted by President Erdogan.

Hence probably Gulen’s involvement in the coup – as denounced by President Erdogan – is real, but it is completely irrational to connect Fethullah Gulen’s Islamist and pacifist preaching with the overtly Kemalist and secularist Armed Forces that carried out the failed coup. The link, if any, is to be find in the attitude of the United States, at first silent, then reluctant, and finally supporting the AKP “democracy”.

Turkey cannot be destabilized. The whole Alliance’s policy, and not just in the Middle East, is at stake.

If a coup must be carried out, it must be organized with almost all the Armed Forces, which have also been penetrated by the secret “Stasi” of the AKP and the Presidency that now do no longer trust anyone and aim at creating a great universal hub of the Middle East oil and gas, also thanks to the recent agreement with Israel and Russia.

A further source of enrichment for President Erdogan, who does not turn his nose up at any bakshish and is considered to be one of the richest men in the world.

Not to mention his family: his son Bilal is connected with the clandestine networks selling the ISIS oil, while his son-in-law, Berat Albayrak, former Energy Minister and current Prime Minister, is well-known for his oil operations off the record.

The real Turkish coup will take place when President Erdogan’s regime can no longer financially support its “militants” and when the people becomes aware of the immense wealth accumulated by the President behind the back of the much-proclaimed “Turkish people”.

At that juncture the masses will support the military. They will force the useless, silent and ridiculous EU to take a stance on the Turkish issue, without hiding behind the mirage of “fair elections” – indeed dubious. Probably the useless EU should wonder about the real use of the 3 billion euro per year it grants to Turkey to keep migrants on its territory.

Advisory Board Co-chair Honoris Causa Professor Giancarlo Elia Valori is an eminent Italian economist and businessman. He holds prestigious academic distinctions and national orders. Mr. Valori has lectured on international affairs and economics at the world’s leading universities such as Peking University, the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and the Yeshiva University in New York. He currently chairs “International World Group”, he is also the honorary president of Huawei Italy, economic adviser to the Chinese giant HNA Group. In 1992 he was appointed Officier de la Légion d’Honneur de la République Francaise, with this motivation: “A man who can see across borders to understand the world” and in 2002 he received the title “Honorable” of the Académie des Sciences de l’Institut de France. “

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Middle East

Landing in Riyadh: Geopolitics work in Putin’s favour

Dr. James M. Dorsey

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When Russian President Vladimir Putin lands in Riyadh this week for the second time in 12 years, his call for endorsement of his proposal to replace the US defense umbrella in the Gulf with a multilateral security architecture is likely to rank high on his agenda.

So is Mr. Putin’s push for Saudi Arabia to finalize the acquisition of Russia’s S-400 anti-missile defense system in the wake of the failure of US weaponry to intercept drones and missiles that last month struck key Saudi oil installations.

“We are ready to help Saudi Arabia protect their people. They need to make clever decisions…by deciding to buy the most advanced S-400 air-defence systems. These kinds of systems are capable of defending any kind of infrastructure in Saudi Arabia from any kind of attack,” Mr. Putin said immediately after the attacks.

Mr Putin’s push for a multilateral security approach is helped by changing realities in the Gulf as a result of President Donald J. Trump’s repeated recent demonstrations of his unreliability as an ally.

Doubts about Mr. Trump have been fuelled by his reluctance to respond more forcefully to perceived Iranian provocations, including the downing of a US drone in June and the September attacks on the Saudi facilities as well as his distancing himself from Israeli prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu following last month’s elections, and most recently, the president’s leaving the Kurds to their own devices as they confront a Turkish invasion in Syria.

Framed in transactional terms in which Saudi Arabia pays for a service, Mr. Trump’s decision this week to send up to 3,000 troops and additional air defences to the kingdom is likely to do little to enhance confidence in his reliability.

By comparison, Mr. Putin, with the backing of Chinese president Xi Jinping, seems a much more reliable partner even if Riyadh differs with Moscow and Beijing on key issues, including Iran, Syria and Turkey.

“While Russia is a reliable ally, the US is not. Many in the Middle East may not approve of Moscow supporting Bashar al-Assad’s regime, but they respect Vladimir Putin for sticking by Russia’s beleaguered ally in Syria,” said Middle East scholar and commentator Mark N. Katz.

In a twist of irony, Mr. Trump’s unreliability coupled with an Iran’s strategy of gradual escalation in response to the president’s imposition of harsh economic sanctions in a bid to force the Islamic republic to the negotiating table appear to have moderated what was perceived as a largely disastrous assertive and robust go-it alone Saudi foreign and defense policy posture in recent years.

While everyone would benefit from a dialling down of tensions between Saudi Arabia and Iran, Mr. Trump’s overall performance as the guarantor of security in the Gulf could in the longer term pave the way for a more multilateral approach to the region’s security architecture.

In the latest sign of Saudi willingness to step back from the brink, Saudi Arabia is holding back channel talks for the first time in two years with Iranian-backed Houthi rebels in Yemen. The talks began after both sides declared partial ceasefires in the more than four year-long Yemeni war.

The talks potentially open the door to a broader Russian-sponsored deal in the context of some understanding about non-aggression between the kingdom and Iran, in which Saudi Arabia would re-establish diplomatic relations with Syria in exchange for the Islamic republic dropping its support for the Houthis.

Restoring diplomatic relations and reversing the Arab League’s suspension of Syrian membership because of the civil war would constitute a victory for Mr. Al-Assad’s main backers, Russia and Iran. It would grant greater legitimacy to a leader viewed by significant segments of the international community as a pariah.

A Saudi-Iranian swap of Syria for Yemen could also facilitate Saudi financial contributions to the reconstruction of war-ravaged Syria. Saudi Arabia was conspicuously absent at last month’s Rebuild Syria Expo in Damascus.

Mr. Putin is likely to further leverage his enhanced credibility as well as Saudi-Russian cooperation in curtailing oil production to boost prices to persuade Saudi Arabia to follow through on promises to invest in Russia.

Saudi Arabia had agreed to take a stake in Russia’s Novatek Arctic-2 liquefied natural gas complex, acquire Sibur, Russia’s largest petrochemical facility, and invest an additional US$6 billion in future projects.

Russian Energy Minister Alexander Novak predicted that “about 30 agreements and contracts will be signed during President Putin’s visit to Saudi Arabia. We are working on it. These are investment projects, and the sum in question is billions of dollars.”

In anticipation of Mr. Putin’s visit, Russia’s sovereign wealth fund, the Russian Direct Investment Fund (RDIF), said it was opening its first overseas office in Riyadh.

RDIF and the kingdom’s counterpart, the Public Investment Fund (PIF), are believed to be looking at some US$2.5 billion in investment in technology, medicine, infrastructure, transport and industrial production.

The Russian fund is also discussing with Aramco, the Saudi state-owned oil company, US$3 billion in investments in oil services and oil and gas conversion projects.

Saudi interest in economic cooperation with Russia goes beyond economics. Ensuring that world powers have an increasing stake in the kingdom’s security is one pillar of a more multilateral regional approach

Said Russian Middle East expert Alexey Khlebnikov: “Clearly, the recent attacks on Saudi Arabia’s oil facilities have changed many security calculations throughout the region.”

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No peace for Kurds: Rojava still under attack

Silvia Fornaroli

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The Amazon is still on fire. The “lungs of the Earth” are hardly breathing while the flames are threatening people and nature reserves. As long as we do not see with our own eyes the burnt trees, the endangered species and the indigenous tribes fighting to save their dying forest, we seem incapable to understand the actual consequences.

Thousands of miles away from this environmental catastrophe, a different kind of tragedy is waiting to happen. Rojava-Northern Syria Federation — the self-declared autonomous region that Kurdish people managed to carve out in northeastern Syria during the Civil war — is burning again.

On September 24, Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdoğan made a controversial speech to the United Nations General Assembly and proposed to create a “safe zone” in the north of Syria, in order to resettle up to 2 million Syrian refugees. He is hoping to establish a peace corridor with a depth of 32 kilometers and a length of 480 kilometers, which would easily turn the area into the world’s largest refugee camp. Despite the seemingly humanitarian purposes, this might represent the umpteenth attempt to destroy the Kurdish dream of an independent democratic enclave.

It is undeniably clear, in fact, how Turkey could take advantage of the situation: Erdoğan’s spokesman Ibrahim Kalin has already claimed that Ankara’s aim is also to clear the borders from “terrorist elements.”

The People’s Protection Units and the Women’s Protection Units (YPG/YPJ), which — along with the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) — played a key role in the fought against the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), are the official army of Rojava but currently designated as terrorist organizations. These armed groups, in fact, are considered as an extension of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), the far-left militant and political organization founded in 1978 by Abdullah Öcalan and  often involved in armed clashes with Turkish security forces.

Kurdish people are about to be left alone once again and the recent decisions of the White House trigger alarm in the whole Middle East.

On October 7, president Donald Trump announced that the United States  — so far the main financer, trainer and supporter of Kurds — would start pulling troops out of those territories, although it would not constitute a full withdrawal.

Pentagon spokesman Jonathan Hoffman said that “The Department of Defense made clear to Turkey — as did the president — that we do not endorse a Turkish operation in Northern Syria,” and that “The US Armed Forces will not support, or be involved in any such operation.”

Mazlum Kobanê, the commander in chief of the SDF, announced that they will protect Syrian’s borders and fight back against Ankara’s army. Since the majority of Kurdish cities are located in this area, it is not difficult to understand how potentially devasting this ongoing operation could be.

Turkish assault is going to begin from the city of Gire Spi/Tell Abyad, once controlled by the so-called Caliphate and captured in 2015 by the YPG during the Tell Abyad offensive. The cities of Qamishli, Derek/Al Malikiya, Tell Tamer and Kobanê/Ayn al Arab are next to become target of air strikes and artillery fire as well.

It is no coincidence that shortly after the siege of Kobanê, Kurdish forces directed their efforts towards Tell Abyad, being such a strategic site for ISIL militias. The city, in fact, was better known in the West as the “Jihadi Highway”, a de-facto corridor for foreign fighters. In the chaos caused by the fighting, jihadists would surely try to regain strength and Turkish move is serving the cause.

At the Al-Hol camp — a huge detention female camp near Al-Hasakah — numerous riots have occurred in the past few weeks, and the managers of the structure believe that the women held in the prison — former jihadi brides — might be the vehicle for renewed forms of radicalization.

In view of the fact that US officials confirmed that they will not intervene nor will they seize control of those prisons, Kurdish forces called Washington’s move “a stab in the back”. Meanwhile in Raqqa, ISIL militants are still carrying out suicide bombing attacks against SDF positions.

Shervan Derwish, official spokesman of the Mambij Military Council, has expressed his concern with a very touching message on Twitter.

The YPG and YPJhave fought in many historical battles and their solitary resistance during the last Turkish Afrin offensive in January 2018 became a symbol of their resilience.

On the other hand, Turkey’s army will be backed by their well-known rebel allies:  “The Turkish military, together with the Free Syrian Army (FSA), will cross the Turkish-Syrian border shortly, “wrote Fahrettin Altun — Turkey’s communications director — in a Washington Post column. Numerous military groups are active in the region and, although their nature is still debated, there are evidence of many connections with jihadi-inspired organizations.

Working in cooperation with the SDF, Rojava’s cantons are ready to resist and defend their independence, but Trump’s decision sounds like a betrayal.

If forests are burning, so will be democracy in Syria. The Rojava project is in imminent danger, and this time there will be no mountains for the Kurds to seek refuge in. Here in the West we are blessed not to directly witness the destruction of both tragedies, but it is still up to us whether to look those flames in the eye or remember them as the unique environments they actually were.

In loving memory of Mehmet Aksoy, who dedicated his life to the Kurdish cause.

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Revisiting Saudi-Iranian Rivalry: From A Cold War Perspective

Zaeem Hassan Mehmood

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Middle East considered the “bridge between the East and West” has long grabbed attention of great power policy makers due to its geostrategic and geopolitical significance. After the discovery of oil in the early part of 20th Century, Iran and Saudi Arabia had gained a prominent position at the global international arena. The defining moment in their relation was the year 1968, when the British government announced its withdrawal from the “Persian Gulf,” threatening thereby the balance brought to an equilibrium by more than 150 years of English security guarantees to the sheikdoms. The international community largely sees the conflict in terms of sectarian and on religious grounds which is an inadequate approach and one that rules out other detrimental factor. There have been little analysis and studies undertaken on the conflict from a “Cold war” perspective, which can significantly help other states in maintaining a viable balance between Saudi Arabia and Iran.

The conflict dubbed as the “New Middle East Cold War” or “Saudi-Iranian Cold War” is not the first event termed as “Cold war” in the Middle Eastern history. Malcolm Kerr writing in his acclaimed book Arab Cold War 1958-67 termed the growing rivalry and quest for leadership in the Middle East at the aftermath of British and French withdrawal between Republican Egypt and conservative Arab monarchies as a regional equivalent of Cold war. The present relations of Saudi Arabia and Iran are short of war, a condition where although the contenders do not engage in open battlefields face to face, it is a ‘battle’ nevertheless fought on different fronts including the media. Daniel Serwer of John Hopkins writes that Saudi-Iran conflict is regional equivalent of20th century US-Soviet Cold war.

Characteristics of Cold War

The term ‘cold war’ had been in use before 1945 to describe period of extreme tensions between states that were just short of war. In the year 1893, German socialist Eduard Bernstein described the arms race between Germany and its neighbors as a kind of ‘cold war’ where “there is no shooting but bleeding.” The term rapidly came back into use when United States and Union of Soviet Socialist Republic (USSR) faced each other eyeball to eyeball. British writer George Orwell remarked on the significance of the moment foreseeing “a peace that is no peace” where the two mighty powers were to be “unconquerable and in a permanent state of cold war.”Anders Stephanson has defined the essence of a Cold War as consisting of characteristics whereby both sides deny each other the legitimacy as a regime, attempting to attack each other by all means short of war. This is in the view of the author, followed by an intense military buildup with a prolonged arms race.

Cold War since then has exclusively referred to as the ‘sustained state of political and military tensions’ between the 20th century superpowers. Although the rivalry had ceased with the disintegration of the Soviet Union, the term and subject-matter has remained ever relevant to an extent that the study of grand strategy and security is considered incomplete without the former’s inclusion. Saudi Arabia and Iran, in order to contain conflict and to ensure; that it ends up being short and as shallow as possible, need to revitalize the lessons of the ‘original Cold War.’ United States and Soviet Union despite their sustained rivalry developed a variety of mechanism for escalation and risk management. This was undertaken without foregoing their core national interests and ideologies. The leadership understood that there was ‘wisdom in engaging’ rather than isolating the other. The approach is more relevant today in the era of globalization than it was in those years. “Geo-economics must replace geopolitics” as the focal Saudi-Iranian approach in order to reach a ‘non-zero sum situation.’

Religious and political ideology plays an important role in the foreign policy between Riyadh and Tehran. The two offer competing ideologies and political model with a strong desire for strategic and geopolitical supremacy. The standoff, experts believe is also the result of the desire and aspirations of the two, for political leadership in the Islamic world. The conflict is not the result of alleged schism between Shia and Sunni school of Islam, but is rather a byproduct of centuries’ political and religious contestation that existed between empires and is now manifested into politics of these modern states.

Diplomacy is integral to the Middle East cold war. Since establishing relations in 1929, the two have had their ups and downs. In the years of the Shah, relations began to take the turn for worse when Shah’s ‘hegemonic desires’ and Saudi Arabia’s desire not to accept Iran predominant role in the Gulf and beyond. Nevertheless, relations remained intact at least diplomatically despite severity of incidents such as Gunboat coercion and the oil wars.

Conclusion

Wars have recognizable beginnings and they comprise of direct fighting between the adversaries with armistices and peace treaties as their conclusive ends. However, a Cold war has none of these characteristics, in words of Walter Lippman, “it brings neither peace nor honour to those who wage it.” The conflict between Iran and Saudi Arabia has “spillover effects” and repercussions beyond the region. States such as those in the West, and Pakistan in particular close in proximity to the two have had a tough time “balancing” their relations. A careful, delicate and pragmatic approach needs to be adopted on part of statesmen, taking into account the opportunities and challenges arising from a “Cold War” need to be taken into account. Media on both sides has an important role to play in patching up the hostilities by upholding ethical standards and avoiding propagandist contest to avoid further aggravation of the conflict. 

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