Over the years, the fight against international terrorism has been recalled by the media and politicians mainly in connection with the situation in Libya, Iraq and Syria. Meanwhile, the terrorist threats in Turkey, which had turned into a front-line state, were growing until they reached an unprecedented level, although it is possible that the worst is yet to come.
References to the unfolding or impending unblocking of crises in relations between Turkey and Israel, Russia, Egypt as an essential factor in stabilizing the situation are not convincing. Normalization between Ankara and Jerusalem is still more declarative than practical. The same applies to the dialogue with Moscow, successful, but hardly capable of returning relations between Russia and Turkey to a pre-crisis level of trust. As for Cairo, President Al-Sisi’s reconciliation with Erdogan is still out of the question. This article is about threats to Turkey’s security and the situation in the most dangerous Kurdish area, based on materials prepared for the Institute of the Middle East by its experts, M. V. Kazanin, based on the work of specialists from the PRC, and Yu. B. Shcheglovin.
Chinese counterterrorism experts are closely monitoring the reaction of Turkish and Western analysts in light of the events that took place on 28 June at the international terminal of the Istanbul Mustafa Kemal Ataturk Airport, which killed 44 people (identified 37 personalities), injured 239. Among the dead identified citizens of Turkey, Jordan, Iraq, Iran, KSA, Tunisia, China, Uzbekistan and Ukraine.
The 27 officers of the PRC Ministry of Public Security believe that the Islamists used a scheme similar to the one used at the Brussels airport. That is, the Turkish security forces have not learned any experience.
According to Prime Minister Binali Yıldırım, the terrorist act was committed by militants of the Islamic State (IG) banned in Russia. This raises serious and well-reasoned doubts among the experts of IBI.
Turkish analysts say that the terrorist act occurred almost immediately after the signing of an agreement between Ankara and Jerusalem on the resumption of interstate relations. From their point of view, the Islamists planned to demonstrate the vulnerability of one of the main transport hubs of Turkey and to influence the tourist sector of the country's economy.
At the same time, the scale of the terrorist threat is not limited to the Istanbul airport - over the past few years, in addition to this metropolis, provincial cities and the capital have also been subjected to attacks. The victims of the attacks were foreign tourists and Turks - civilians and representatives of law enforcement agencies. Statistics show an increase in the level of losses among the latter in 2016, along with an extremely high level of terrorist danger, which the authorities of the country clearly underestimated (including due to their links with such radical structures as Jabhat al-Nusra, Ahrar al-Sham "And the IG, fighting for control of Syria).
In most terrorist acts, the targets of the Islamists were law enforcement officers or military personnel of the Turkish Armed Forces. As a rule, militants used mined cars or disguised explosive devices that were activated by a call from a mobile phone.
It should be noted the intensification of terrorist activity last May, which was the response of the Islamists to the arrest of eight militants of the IG 25 in April in Gaziantep. From 18 in January to 27 in April, the IG fighters fired 45 shells from MLRS in Turkish settlements in Kilis province, which caused civilian casualties. 17 people killed, 60 injured.
According to the professors of the China People’s Armed Police Command Institute, official Ankara faces the following difficult moments in the fight against the terrorist threat.
Firstly, Recep Tayyip Erdogan helped establish economic ties with the IG group, which regularly supplied Turkey with oil from Syrian fields at reduced prices, which helped to support the country's economy in the context of aggravating relations with both the EU and Russia.
In addition, the Turkish authorities tried to use the Islamists in the fight against the Kurdish militia. According to the PRC intelligence services, one of the largest training centers of the IG was located in the immediate vicinity of the Incirlik airbase, several thousand Islamists were trained there.
The international terrorist group weekly paid for its “Turkish assets” - training bases, tickets for new recruits, medical services, weapons and special equipment.
Secondly, the military-political leadership of Turkey is under serious pressure from both the United States and Russia (albeit for different reasons). Both states support the Syrian Kurds (supply weapons), which are in opposition to official Ankara. It should be noted that Kurdish movements and organizations operating in Turkey, Syria and Iraq are gradually increasing their interaction.
Warning without a return address
Chinese analysts point out that the Turkish Armed Forces do not receive support from NATO allies in their confrontation with Kurdish organizations. In addition, in the North Atlantic Alliance, they do not approve of Ankara’s intentions to send limited military contingents to border regions, as this strengthens protest sentiments among the local population and increases the losses of the Turkish armed forces.
In view of the foregoing, it is possible to agree with representatives of the PRC’s military intelligence agencies that the direction of military advisers and special forces of the Turkish Armed Forces under the guise of groups of Turkomans did not help official Ankara to overthrow the regime of the President of the Syrian Arab Republic Bashar Al-Assad. Such a failure of Erdogan’s strategy radically aggravated the issues of fighting the terrorist threat inside Turkey. In fact, the military and political leadership of the country has failed to fight the terrorist threat in order to recreate the new Ottoman Empire.
Returning to the terrorist attack at Istanbul airport, one cannot help noting the words of B. Yıldırım that “there were no omissions in terms of security measures at the airport”. If “with the correct actions of the security service, about fifty people died”, it remains to be seen how many victims there would be in the case of “wrong actions”. Moreover, the entire world experience shows that the level of security at the Istanbul airport did not correspond to the latest developments of the special services, especially considering the results of the latest European terrorist attacks.
In fairness, it must be said that the airport is not a fortress in any case and it is impossible to provide 100% protection of passengers against an open armed attack on such an object. However, speaking not about the actions of the security service, but about who could have committed this terrorist act, taking into account references to foreign fighters from the territory of Russia or the post-Soviet countries of Central Asia, you should not delude yourself with the instant insight of Turkish officials.
The unequivocal statements of Turkish officials about the involvement of the Islamic State in this terrorist act should be viewed as a tribute to Ankara’s foreign policy trend, which is trying to position itself as a fighter against IS. Earlier, with the same speed, all the resonant terrorist attacks were written off by Ankara exclusively to Kurdish militants. Moreover, the Turkish authorities were not embarrassed by the fact that terrorists undermined pro-Kurdish meetings.
The application of the involvement of the IG to the incident must be considered in the context of the terrorist manifestations of this grouping in the past. There were two of them - these are the resonant explosions of pro-Kurdish and opposition rallies. As for the explosion at the airport, no one took responsibility for themselves, which is extremely atypical for the IG. This group willingly ascribes to itself any terrorist manifestations that it is beneficial for one reason or another to take upon itself, even if it did not commit them.
In Turkey, the IG did not take responsibility for any terrorist attack. It is unprofessional to declare that in this case the terrorist acts were committed by the supporters of the IS, without even identifying the corpses of the suicide bombers and not waiting for official statements on this topic from the group itself.
The question arises: why did the IS need it? Turkish territory regularly continues to be used as the rear base of this group. Through it is the main stream of Islamist volunteers and logistics.
The relationship of Doha, which is the main sponsor of the IG, and Ankara is still strong. At least no signals threatening this alliance are visible. The organization of such a terrorist act, in principle, should have testified not just about a sharp aggravation of relations between these partners, but about a serious crisis between them. The terrorist attack in Istanbul in terms of the impact on local authorities is akin to the explosion of a Russian plane over the Sinai - thus, in the Middle East, one country or another is usually warned about some of its wrong actions.
If we keep in mind Erdogan’s message to Russian President Vladimir Putin with “apologies” for the downed plane as the root cause of the terrorist attack, as some media in the West write about, then firstly, it should have worked too quickly, and secondly, from this letter to practical actions that could theoretically threaten the same IS or Qatar, a very long distance.
Tagged in tourists
Note that supporters of the IG have never committed terrorist attacks in Turkey against government targets or key sectors of the economy. They have always acted solely against the opponents of Erdogan, clearly trying to intimidate them. In the case of the terrorist attack at the airport in Istanbul, we are dealing with an attack on the tourism sector, which is already experiencing not the best of times.
The IG clause instead of the Kurds in this case is symbolic - the Turkish president decided to slowly return to a truce with them. Even the disgrace of the two main supporters of the resumption of dialogue with the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) in the person of former Prime Minister A. Davotoglu and the Director of the Intelligence Service MIT H. Fidan in this case does not change anything. The main disagreements between them were not in the necessity of the step itself, but in the time during which this truce could be concluded.
The very mention of the IG as the organizer of the attack in official government press releases may indicate that public opinion was being prepared for a possible limited intervention by the Turkish army in the north of Syria. Reconciliation with Russia is also part of this plan in order to avoid direct confrontation with the Russian videoconferencing if this scenario is implemented. This opinion is shared, in particular, by the Americans. But to create an information background and to perform an invasion operation with an obvious and hidden counteraction to this by our own military with all the attendant risks of an internal political nature are not the same thing.
Those who attacked the airport, marked the tourists. Strictly speaking, it is now beneficial only to the Kurds. It is also possible that the special services of Syria, which are actively working to preserve the necessary "degree" of destabilization from the main regional opponent of Damascus, can stand behind this.
So, about a month ago, a new organization was created in Kamyshly with the active but unofficial assistance of the Syrian special services by the Kurds, which united and coordinated the actions of the militants not only from among the units of the Falcons of Kurdistan type, but also the Maoist and leftist groups in Turkey itself. The goal was proclaimed attacks on government and military facilities, as well as the country's transport infrastructure.
By the way, the Turkish "leftists", as well as supporters of the IG, willingly use suicide bombers. So so far, there is little that indicates in relation to the terrorist attack at the Istanbul airport on the IG and quite a lot to other forces. It’s too early to draw any conclusions regarding customers and performers. Moreover, taking into account the explicit assignment of the Turkish information policy in this case, it is not at all the fact that the real information, even if they are in the hands of the authorities, will be voiced.
In connection with all the above, it makes sense to pay attention to the real state of the “Kurdish issue” in Turkey. The fact is that despite all the assurances of the authorities about the "successful completion" of the military phase of the operation against PKK supporters in the south-east of the country, it is hard to believe that the increased terrorist activity of the Kurds will be over.
After several months of fighting, Turkish troops managed to clean up the main urban centers of resistance of the Kurds, turning these settlements into ruins, but the PKK mountain bases continue to function. This also applies to rear bases in Iraq, Syria and Iran. In Syria, the Kurds enjoy US support in the Manbij area, which will dramatically enhance their logistical capabilities in the material and technical supply of the PKK troops in Turkey.
Ankara in this regard, announced plans for the economic revival of the destroyed region. The idea of Kurdish separatism implies statehood. The Turkish authorities intend in the near future to intensify efforts to build new infrastructure and above all to complete the construction of the Ilisu dam. Fortunately, one of the reasons for Ankara’s reluctance in any rulers to compromise with the Kurds on the issue of state isolation is the issue of control over water resources, which is fundamental for all countries of the Middle East.
The main water arteries on which life in Iraq and Syria depends are the Tigris and Euphrates rivers, whose sources lie in the Kurdish territories of Turkey, in the eastern highlands near Lake Van. The 90 percent of the water turnover of the Euphrates and the 44 percent of the Tigris pass through Turkish territory, making the construction of dams in the Kurdish regions promising in terms of managing water resources and influencing the situation in Syria and Iraq.
This has been actively used by the Turkish authorities since the 60s of the last century, when the first dam was built. Now they are more than 600, the largest are Karakaya (1988, built) and Ataturk (1992). The Ilisu Dam should be the next stage of the program of economic development of South-West Anatolia - the most controversial. It is about flooding the percent of the ancient city of Hasankeyf as a result of the construction of 89, which brought Ankara to UNESCO, and about the confrontation with Kurdish resistance groups.
In addition to energy and irrigation benefits, the construction of dams, according to the Turkish authorities, should play the role of restricting the freedom of movement of the PKK detachments in the eastern highlands of Turkey, including on the border with Iraqi Kurdistan. It is planned to divide the Kurdish region into two parts - the north and south. To this end, construction of several small dams in the Hakkari and Sirnak areas is planned. But all this is still projects that are constrained by a poor investment climate.
Experts expect the continuation and, possibly, the intensification of the terrorist activities of the PKK in this direction, although it never stopped. In 2012, militants captured groups of builders and set fire to 22 trucks. In 2014, the abduction of two heads of foreign companies - co-executors of the Ilisu dam construction project caused a construction delay of four months. Militants regularly mine roads at the entrance to the construction site, which forces the Turkish authorities to use Tanks and armored vehicles to accompany builders. In July 2015, the leadership of the PKK confirmed its readiness to continue to strike at the energy and hydrotechnical infrastructure of Turkey.
Experts do not expect that the construction of dams will reduce tension in Ankara’s relations with the Kurds. The hypothetical possibility of overlapping water resources for Syrian and Iraqi Kurds is minimal due to the technical difficulties and high risks of international pressure on Ankara when trying to implement such a scenario. At the same time, the PKK’s tactics in this area will not be aimed at breaking up dams. This does not meet its interests in the long term: all of these irrigation facilities should sooner or later, according to the Kurds, become part of the "Great Kurdistan".
Hence the limited impact on the course of construction by methods previously tried to intimidate companies-contractors and builders with road mining and abductions. This slows down projects and scares investors. And this is the main goal that the PKK sets itself. It involves strikes at such vulnerable points of Ankara as tourism, investments and the infliction of permanent losses on the army and security forces.