Earlier this week, two videos, totaling 15 minutes, began circulating on YouTube wherein senior Turkish officials, including Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu and Intelligence Chief Hakan Fidan, discuss at length their intentions to have extremist groups in Syria carry out an attack on the Tomb of Suleiman Shah, the grandfather of the Ottoman Empire’s founder. This attack would then serve as a pretext for a land invasion into Syria–just days prior to the leak, the Turkish government declared a violation of this site as a “red line” which could prompt such an intervention (for which authorization has already been granted).
ISIS was to be implicated in the attack, and the Erdogan administration was going to attempt to tie ISIS to the al-Asad regime, claiming the Syrian government was funding these jihadists in order to undermine the rebellion. And so, the response from Turkey would be to assist the “good rebels,” thereby striking a simultaneous blow to ISIS and their “patron:”
Of course, both the Bush and Obama Administrations have tried, for years, to justify American interventions into Syria by accusing al-Asad of supporting al-Qaeda—much like in the leadup to the Iraq war in which Saddam Hussein was held to have played a role in 9/11. These claims are promoted in the face of a total poverty of corroborating evidence (other than vague references to “Western intelligence”) and are, in fact, easy to falsify—but they circulate in the popular media nonetheless, especially among those eager for intervention.
The irony here is that it is the Turkish government which has long supported extremist groups in Syria, especially in the border region. While they have recently scaled back this support under international pressure, the administration clearly maintains links to some these groups, which they planned to utilize in orchestrating the attack.
This is perhaps the most shocking aspect of the video: it seems to be authentic.
Shortly after it began to go viral, the Turkish government shut down access to YouTube in order to minimize circulation. PM Erdogan condemned the leakers as enemies of Turkey, and launched an espionage inquiry to find out who released the tape—verifying explicitly and implicitly that the contents of the video are accurate: the Erdogan Administration has been caught red-handed in planning a false-flag attack to justify war with Syria.
These developments occur in a context where Turkey recently shot down a Syrian warplane in the border region, and where the Erdogan government has been gradually pushing Syria back to the forefront of the national agenda. Turkey’s border regions are already bracing for war.
Of course, Erdogan is hardly the first leader to attempt a foreign intervention as a means of distracting the electorate from growing political scandals or to consolidate public support—especially in the leadup to important elections (in this case, viewed widely as a referendum on Erdogan and the AKP). But hopefully, the fact that this conspiracy has been exposed may prevent it from coming to fruition.
But maybe not.
Israel has also been taking increasingly aggressive actions against Syrian government forces—apparently angling for an escalation as well (although the purpose of an Israeli intervention would be to purge Hezbollah from Syria and likely Lebanon)–even as Israel and Turkey have been growing closer of late over Syria and critical resources. The U.S. Chairmen of the Joint Chiefs of Staff is also visiting Israel to coordinate action in Syria—and at a time when the United States is ramping up support for the Syrian rebels and exploring “new options” for involvement in the theater.
In the video (part two, screens 7 and 8) the Undersecretary for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs mentions that three days prior to the recorded conversation, the United States held a coordinating meeting in which they laid out for others detailed plans for a no fly zone for the first time.
It seems as though the U.S. and its regional allies, including Israel, Turkey and the Gulf States, are intent on perpetuating and escalating the conflict which is, at the moment, slowly winding down. Accordingly, it seems unlikely that this turn of events will be sufficient to derail the coalition’s broader ambitions–although, God willing, the leaks may generate greater skepticism and resistance from the public, in Turkey and abroad.
While these developments are occurring in a highly-charged Turkish political atmosphere, this essay should not be read as political. Followers of my work may remember that I was relentless in underscoring Erdogan’s popular mandate at the time of the Gezi protests, and have been consistently skeptical of attempts by political minority groups to undermine or overthrow popular administrations, especially when there seems to be collusion between these groups and elements of the “deep state.” Accordingly, exposing this outrageous wrongdoing by the Erdogan Administration should not be seen as an endorsement of Turkey’s political opposition, for which I have little sympathy.
Apparently the Turkish public shares my antipathy for the opposition: despite the scandals and record turnout for the elections (92%), the AKP held its margins and in fact exceeded their 2009 performance–garnering 45 percent of the total vote, as opposed to the 39 percent they claimed in the previous elections.
Fortunately, despite the popular support for Erdogan and the AKP, as noted in the leaked conversations and in virtually every poll, the Turkish population–like the populations of most countries neighboring Syria as well as the US and EU— has no appetite for military intervention in Syria.
Despite this lack of support for intervention, just today the Turkish military has fired into Syria in “retaliation” for a series of rockets and mortars which fell into Turkish territory during a fight along the border region–indicating the Erdogan government remains committed to escalation.