Major dilemma: Turkey’s intelligence networks

Major dilemma: Turkey’s intelligence networks

The recent rise in the number of Kurdistan Workers’ Party, or PKK, attacks is making the Recep Tayyip Erdoğan government very angry, which is striving to manage the process, especially in order to decrease the speed of terrorist acts and reduce their negative impact. So far the prime minister has made several attempts, two of which are interesting because of their interrelated yet contrasting nature. On the one hand, the government has made efforts to upgrade its intelligence capability, especially by purchasing “unmanned aerial vehicles-UAVs” which have been recently seen as the most popular data gathering instruments. On the other hand, it is trying to maintain its cooperation with some countries -especially Iran- against the PKK.

According to the statements made by the U.S. administration, U.S. shares all its intelligence on PKK with Turkey. However, when Turkey’s complaints are examined, one can easily see that the intelligence provided by the USA is far from meeting the needs of the Turkish side. Therefore, the government is trying to solve this problem by purchasing UAVs.

Turkey has kept using Israeli-made UAVs starting from mid-1990. After the recent crisis with Israel, UAVs purchased by Turkey from that country were either disabled or utilized beyond the scope of counterterrorism. However, the fact that such a technical capability is required in the struggle with the PKK remains. According to the Prime Minister’s statements, Turkey will deal with this issue by either purchasing or renting from the USA in the forthcoming period. Thus, early warning against PKK attacks in order to prevent casualties will be possible. In this way, Turkey’s capability to produce intelligence will be enhanced.

Meanwhile, Prime Minister Erdoğan has also told the media that Turkey and Iran are acting in concert as well in operations conducted against the PKK. But we see that the situation is changing rapidly for Iran when we look more closely at the general picture in the fight against the PKK. It appears that the PKK and Iran have reached an implied agreement following a series of fighting. The PKK has transferred its militants in that country into Iraq after declaring a cease-fire. Apparently, the PKK – smartly enough – does not want to fight both of them at the same time. It is attempting to develop a new form of relationship with its former sponsor. As for Iran, it seems that it has gotten what it wants for now. As a matter of fact, it succeeded in expelling PKK elements from its soil. Surely, all of what is going on is changing Iran’s approach to the problem.

Erdoğan’s statements regarding the cooperation with Iran also encompass the “intelligence” domain. Prima facie it might seem as normal, two-state relations. However, it does not go unnoticed that there is something weird there. First, having some aspects of the intelligence against the PKK being provided by the U.S. or having the intelligence provided via technical resources provided by the U.S. – before such information is shared with Iran – shows the existence of a dilemma; it’s just like indirectly sharing some information gathered as part of the NATO missile shield project with Israel.

Second, since the basic parameters of Turkish-Iranian relations are changing rapidly, we will see soon the stance that the parties will take and the trumps they will play on, for example, Turkey’s criticism of Syria, the most important regional ally of Iran, as well as Ankara’s agreement to place a radar system on its soil to spot an incoming Iranian assault.

Third, the existence of strong signals about the parties’ approach to the PKK issue is becoming different. It seems as though we will soon come to understand what the complex intelligence traffic means.