Turkey’s failed coup throws up surprises
What emerges on the sixth day of the failed coup attempt in Turkey is that three inflection points could be in play in the Turkish-American relations in the coming days and weeks. They are:
- The functioning of the Incirlik Air Base on the Syrian border;
- Extradition of Islamist cleric Fetullah Gulen from the US; and,
- The massive purge of ‘Gulenists’ that is under way in Turkey.
Each of them is going to be trickier to negotiate than the other two and, yet, all three are also inter-related.
The power supply for Incirlik has been suspended since Friday and a back-up generator is barely enabling the US facilities there to support flight operations and around 2700 stationed in that NATO base. It’s an untenable situation. The US Defence Secretary Ashton Carter telephoned his Turkish counterpart Fikri Isik on Tuesday evening to stress the importance of operations at the Incirlik to the counter-ISIS campaign.
But on his part, Isik regretted his inability to attend the counter-ISIS defence ministerial that Carter was hosting in Washington on Wednesday. Turkey was represented only at ambassadorial level at Wednesday’s conference which was attended by the defence ministers of some 30 countries, NATO, and top Pentagon officials to discuss “the next plays in the campaign that will culminate in the collapse of ISIL’s control over Mosul and Raqqa”. (Pentagon)
The detention of the commander at Incirlik Gen. Bekir Ercan Van and his subordinates underscores the sensitivities involved here. Gen. Van resisted arrest and had apparently sought political asylum in the US before being led away by the Turkish security.
Interestingly, in an interview with Al Jazeera on Wednesday, President Recep Erdogan said some of those who have been detained have started confessing and that there might have been foreign involvement. Erdogan warned that it would be a “big mistake” if the US decided not to extradite Gulen.
The official Turkish position will be that there is no linkage between continued access of US forces to Incirlik and Gulen’s extradition, but, clearly, that is not the state of play here. The Turks know that Incirlik provides the most efficient base for conducting the US operations in Syria.
However, Washington is not likely to extradite Gulen to Turkey, while Erdogan has staked his prestige on that issue. It seems as of now no wriggle room really exists here – unless some face-saving formula can be found such as the US revoking Gulen’s ‘green card’ and/or persuading him to leave for a third country.
The point is, Gulen has been a ‘strategic asset’ of the US intelligence for two or three decades and if Turkish security agencies interrogate him, that may cause even more damage to the Turkish-American relationship and even, perhaps, complicate the US’ relations with third countries where Gulen’s extensive network might have functioned or are still functioning as the CIA’s front organizations. (Sputnik )
Meanwhile, what role, if any, that Israel might have played in the coup attempt also remains a mystery. Israel is keeping pin-drop silence, but would certainly know that Gen. Akin Ozturk, former chief of air force, who has confessed his leadership role in the attempted coup, used to be the Turkish military attaché in Tel Aviv at one time. (Algemeiner )
By the way, these are the exact words Erdogan used in the interview on Wednesday with Al Jazeera:
- Other states could be behind this coup attempt. Gulenists have a ‘supreme intelligence,’ which could have plotted all this. The time will come for all these links to be revealed.
Erdogan explicitly hinted at the involvement of more than one country in the coup attempt.
Israel is mighty upset with Erdogan over his close ties with Hamas. Equally, Israel favors the creation of a Kurdistan state that could provide a base for its intelligence in a highly strategic region neighboring Iran. There is congruence on this issue between Israel and the US. The Turks have long suspected the US intentions in Iraq and Syria. (Read a fascinating interview with a retired Turkish admiral titled Goal Reached? Military Coup Attempt Disempowers Turkish Armed Forces.)
The plot really thickens if the opinion piece in the Saudi establishment daily Asharq Al-Awsat yesterday is read keeping in view the recent establishment of a Saudi consulate in Erbil in the Kurdish region of northern Iraq. (The daily, incidentally, is owned by Prince Faisal, son of King Salman.) The article all but warns Erdogan that he may be overthrown if he pushes for Gulen’s extradition from the US, and that he risks the West’s wrath if he proceeds with the crackdown on ‘Gulenists’. (Asharq al-Sharq )
Now, on whose side are the Saudis playing in this great game? For a quick answer, read a stunning statement by a top Israeli national security expert, here, recently.
Make no mistake, the US and its European allies are certain to pile pressure on Erdogan to fall in line. The standoff can become a showdown as time passes — and even take an ugly turn. The stakes are very very high for the western alliance system and the US’ regional strategies. This is where Erdogan’s crackdown on ‘Gulenists’ will be grabbed by the West as an alibi to isolate him.
Simply put, the US cannot let go of Turkey. Sans Turkey, NATO gets badly weakened in the entire southern tier – Balkans, Black Sea, Caucasus, Caspian, Southern Russia and Central Asia, Middle East and Eastern Mediterranean – and the US’ containment strategy against Russia will be doomed.
Beyond that, from the limited perspective of the Syrian conflict also, whatever chance the US and its allies (Israel, Saudi Arabia, etc) still would have to put in motion a viable ‘Plan B’ to counter the Russian-Iranian axis would critically depend on Turkey remaining a partner and willing to pursue an interventionist role.