A lengthy profile of a senior Turkish official in the Wall Street Journal about two weeks ago has launched a tremendous debate in Turkey, with everyone throwing around conspiracy theories about the real motivation behind such a news report.
The Turkish official under spotlight is Hakan Fidan, Turkey’s intelligence chief and close confidante of Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. The Wall Street Journal article quoted former and current U.S. and Middle Eastern senior officials as claiming that Turkish intelligence chief passed classified U.S. intelligence to Iran. The article also pointed to policies promoted by Fidan that helped the mushrooming of radical groups in Syria.
On Thursday, adding fuel to a fire, Washington Post columnist David Ignatius cited “knowledgeable sources” as saying that Turkey disclosed Israeli intelligence agency Mossad’s ten Iranian agents earlier last year and passed the information to Iran, describing the situation as a “big loss” for Israel.
Campaign against the spy chief
Most in Turkey agree that the articles are a campaign against the intelligence chief and officials in Ankara believe that Israel is behind the latest wave of attacks. They recall then Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak’s remarks in 2010, shortly after Fidan was appointed to lead the Turkish National Intelligence Organization, or the MIT, blaming the spy chief for having close ties with Iran. An academic, Fidan has a special expertise on foreign intelligence.
Whatever the intention foreign newspapers have while profiling the intelligence chief, it has serious repercussions at home.Mahir Zeynalov
Senior Turkish officials dismissed accusations as a “bad example of black propaganda” and said international campaign is under way to discredit the government. If this was the case, why would Western media outlets target the spy chief instead of real decision-makers?
Since the advent of Erdoğan’s ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP), Ankara had a fluctuating relationship with its Western allies. Especially since Turkey’s strong defense of Iran from fourth round of U.N. Security Council sanctions in 2010, Western allies, particularly the U.S., have been frustrated about Turkey’s independent policy in the region. In addition, at a time when leading allies of the Syrian opposition were walking a careful line to contain rising radical groups in Syria, Turkey urged immediate Western intervention, claiming that inaction in the face of unceasing violence in the war-torn country is the real cause of proliferation of al-Qaeda affiliated groups.
Turkey’s uneasy relationship with the West in the past three years is mostly believed to be orchestrated by Turkey’s spy chief, who has a very big influence on Erdoğan. In the West, many believe that Fidan is the one who is calling shots in Ankara and they deliberately picked him up to profile as a “warning shot.”
Even if recent spike in Western media coverage of Fidan is purely journalistic reporting, which obviously is not, it clearly indicates that we are talking about a high-profile policy-maker in the region endorsing decisions without necessarily making consultations with Turkey’s Western allies. As expected, the news reports rallied pro-government electorate behind the Turkish intelligence chief. They label the string of news reports as a sign that Turkey is on the right path in chartering its own independent path in foreign policy. Few, however, questioned to what extent the independent policy-making in the region was a successful and smart strategy for Turkey.
At home, however, worrisome witch-hunt has been launched. While many stood behind Fidan, they also seized a rare opportunity to blame members of a worldwide faith-based movement, inspired by Turkish Islamic scholar Fethullah Gülen, for being a “domestic complicit” with Israel in targeting the spy chief. A number of columnists in pro-government newspapers linked foreign attacks on Fidan with the members of the Gülen movement, providing the so-called “Feb. 7 crisis” as an evidence.
The allegations are astonishing. Because “Feb. 7 crisis” is an imaginary phenomenon artificially constructed by pro-government apologists to frame the Gülen movement as if trying to confront the prime minister. Feb. 7, 2012 is a date when a Turkish prosecutor claimed to be sympathetic to the Gülen movement summoned MIT chief Fidan and other intelligence officials to testify about an ongoing investigation into Kurdistan Communities’ Union (KCK), an umbrella organization of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK). Pro-government media immediately linked the incident to his secret talks with the PKK in Oslo, although the secret talks leaked to the media six months before Fidan was called to testify.
The government quickly adopted a law to put Fidan out of judiciary’s reach while the government apologists, under the silent gaze of government officials, continued to blame the judiciary for actually attempting to arrest the prime minister, a move that is almost impossible without comprehensive parliamentary clearance.
That saga has been well exploited today amid increasing Western media reports about Turkey’s spy chief nowadays. Whatever the intention foreign newspapers have while profiling the intelligence chief, it has serious repercussions at home.
Mahir Zeynalov is an Istanbul-based journalist with English-language daily Today's Zaman. He is also the managing editor of the Caucasus International magazine. You can follow him on Twitter @MahirZeynalov