Dissent in the Ranks: Hakan Fidan, Domestic Opportunities and International Constraints

Dissent in the Ranks: Hakan Fidan, Domestic Opportunities and International Constraints

Abstract

Escalating tensions with Iran and Israel, a derailing peace process, domestic plots and a coming split in the Adalet ve Kalkınma Partisi (Justice and Development Party) (AKP), Hakan Fidan’s resignation from the Milli İstihbarat Teşkilatı (National Intelligence Organization) (MİT) has caused quite both domestic and international shake-up. The past few years have been a challenge for the AKP who for the first time since their coming to power in 2002 have had to manage dissent not only from the opposition and society, but uniquely and notably from some of their closest allies. First, the Gülen affair which rattled the government, and Tayyip Erdoğan in particular, immeasurably and now from members of the AKP’s inner circle, most recently from Erdoğan’s right-hand man, Hakan Fidan, the head of the MİT whose surprising resignation has sent the government into a tail spin with no telling what the future may hold.

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Hakan Fidan’s move came at an increasingly divisive time in Turkish politics. Tayyip Erdoğan is facing criticism both external and internal. In his war against the ‘parallel state,’ the police force, the judiciary and the media have all been targeted and cleansed of Gülenists, yet it would seem that this is not sufficient to stifle dissent and the enemy is growing within. Both Bülent Arınç, vice Prime Minister and Ali Babacan, Deputy Prime Minister of the Economy have increasingly come into conflict with Erdoğan, most notably since the Gezi Park protests of 2013 due to a contrast between Erdoğan’s unyielding and aggressive stance and Arınç and Babacan taking a much more moderate attitude. This clash was arguably compounded due to Arınç’s purportedly close relationship with Gülen. The Gülen debacle is important here as although the revelations which came out from the wiretapping, the December 17 corruption allegations and also intense criticism from Gülen affiliated agencies such as Zaman have surprisingly, but very effectively, been stonewalled by the Adalet ve Kalkınma Partisi (Justice and Development Party) (AKP), in terms of public debate, it is likely to have had a deep psychological impact on the party. This relates to Hakan Fidan as he has been the bastion against a seemingly omniscient enemy, without whom Erdoğan is going to feel increasingly vulnerable not only in terms of Gülen and the so-called ‘parallel state,’ but also in terms of his own party as widespread speculation about a coming schism creates a polarizing and paranoia-inducing narrative for Erdoğan.

Arınç, in an interview discussing Fidan’s resignation, openly –although very modestly– argued that Erdoğan, his words and his actions are open to criticism.[1] Although not unheard of in Turkish politics, these kind of statements have been conspicuously absent from Erdoğan’s inner circle until very recently, lending credence to the image of Erdoğan as an infallible leader. Furthermore, although such a divide is not unique to the current regime –the AKP itself being a product of an ideological rift in the Fazilet Partisi (Virtue Party) (VP)–, this is a relatively new phenomenon for Erdoğan who surrounded himself with yes-men throughout his tenure as prime minister, portraying a consolidated front, ostensibly immune to all criticism.

As one of Erdoğan’s most trusted confidants and arguably second in command, Fidan’s decision came both against Erdoğan’s explicit request and as a surprise to most observers given the power he holds in this post. The President has declared on numerous occasions that given the political climate, this move was made against his wishes and against national interest. “Whoever comes to the post is very important, because what we have experienced and what we have suffered in the struggle against the parallel structure is self-evident. In such an environment, I do not find such a situation to be appropriate,” Erdoğan declared.[2] Fidan has been a core instrument in the AKPs enduring battle against Gülen and his supporters and consequently, Erdoğan’s consternation at this decision is understandable, stating in 2012 that “He is my secret keeper. He is the state’s secret keeper.”[3] Such desperate language is indicative not only of the power that Fidan held in his post but actually, the power he holds over Erdoğan. Fidan is the only person in the country, arguably the world, who could pose a viable threat to Erdoğan’s leadership.

Speculation over Fidan’s motivation behind this move and alliances formed to support it abound. Erdoğan himself questioned who had made promises to Fidan regarding his future in politics.[4] Many pundits have portrayed this as symptomatic of the growing schism between Erdoğan and Davutoğlu and possible part of a larger plan to either remove Davutoğlu from power or at least balance his power by placing Fidan in the cabinet.[5] However this theory does not hold given Erdoğan’s consistent criticism of Fidan’s resignation. Furthermore, both Erdoğan and Arınç have asserted not only is it not possible for Fidan to become prime minister, it would also be very difficult to have him as merely a minister. As Arınç argued, this would be seen as a waste of Fidan’s apparently boundless talents as he like “superman,” performing the work of hundreds of ministers.[6] The next possibility, in direct opposition to this, is an alliance between Davutoğlu and Fidan –they worked closely together while Davutoğlu was the chief foreign policy advisor–, the architect behind which is purportedly Gül.[7] There have indeed been indicators that Davutoğlu and Gül are disturbed by developments within the AKP since 2010 and this would form a viable strategy by which to protect against discord in the ranks, even against Erdoğan himself, during the June elections. Rumours regarding a possible split in the party with Gül, Arınç and Davutoğlu on one side and Erdoğan on the other have been prevalent since Gezi, however given that AKP’s apparent capacity to withstand the Gülen-induced upheavals, this idea was consigned to the realm of wishful thinking. However, since Erdoğan’s recent criticism of the trio, this possibility appears somewhat more likely although still highly speculative, particularly given Davutoğlu’s general submission to Erdoğan’s powerful will. However, renewed interest in this theory could be indicative of Davutoğlu’s increasing self-confidence and growing ability to challenge Erdoğan now from his post as prime minister.

Most sensationally, Today’s Zaman has reported, based on tweets from the account of Fuat Avni –the pseudonym of a well-known (and largely credible) government whistle-blower–, that Fidan resigned in order to eventually pursue the prime ministry and work towards fulfilling his alleged promises to the Partiya Karkerên Kurdistani (Kurdistan Workers’ Party) (PKK) and Abdullah Öcalan to establish an autonomous Kurdish region in the East, amongst other promises. The Twitter account itself makes no reference to an autonomous Kurdish region but does confirm the other details, as well as asserting that Fidan is now in possession of documents detailing Erdoğan’s alleged illegal activities.[8] While this does appear to be the most far out theory, it may be the most credible also given the source. Avni has long been a thorn in the side of the government, especially Erdoğan, and has released convincing and highly sensitive information of topics ranging from the corruption scandal to the Milli İstihbarat Teşkilatı’s (National Intelligence Organization) (MİT) alleged involvement in domestic terror plots as part of an operation based on hearts and mind to discredit Gülen. Regardless of the motivation behind this move, in terms of domestic politics, we will see some even greater challenges to Erdoğan’s leadership emerging in the coming months and possibly a real split within the party.

The most likely scenario for the time being is that Fidan would become the minister of interior, allowing him to continue with some of the seemingly invaluable work he has been doing, overseeing all intelligence and security apparatus and also, continuing with his role as chief negotiator in the peace talks. Given Fidan’s crucial role in the ongoing negotiations with the PKK and influence over Öcalan, Fidan would need to continue on in a role that allowed him to maintain this power if not increase it in order to not put another spanner in the works of an already derailing peace process. Fidan will apparently continue to attend the newly reinvigorated peace talks at the invitation of the Prime Minister.[9]

There are potential ramifications of this however. Should this be the case, Turkey’s relations with the West and more so, with Israel, are could deteriorate even more rapidly than they already are due to Fidan’s purported links with Iran and alleged intelligence sharing. However, this may not be as detrimental for Turkey as first meets the eye. Turkey also has its own compelling reasons to continue relations with Iran due to ever increasing domestic fuel needs and furthermore, as part of Davutoğlu’s ‘zero problems’ policy. Fidan’s relationship with Iran, and the AKPs more broadly, although invoking a material cost is actually contributing some much needed diplomacy to this matter. The international community’s attempts to freeze out Iran in order to induce regime change have so far been completely unsuccessful. Perhaps exercising some of Turkey’s now infamous soft power, using dialogue and public diplomacy as they attempted to in 2009 with the uranium exchange proposal –a daring initiative formulated by Fidan himself–, rather than sanctions and military-might, will have more constructive consequences.[10]

Furthermore, although this has stimulated an angry response from Israel, this was precipitated by Turkey’s decision not to attend the forthcoming security conference in Munich due to Israel’s participation. This led the country’s foreign minister, Avigdor Lieberman, to go so far as to say apologising to Turkey over Mavi Marmara was an “enormous mistake.”[11] Nevertheless, despite the diplomatic ice age Turkish-Israeli diplomatic relations have been trapped in since Mavi Marmara –and Fidan’s corresponding rise to power–, this has not had any palpable negative consequences for bilateral economic relations which have increased steadily during AKP’s reign. Furthermore, this economic cooperation has been intimately linked to government control in both Turkey and Israel, who despite vast political differences have consistently privileged trade above anything else.[12] Consequently, the vitriolic posturing and vacuous rhetoric should not be taken too seriously on either side. Furthermore, although it is clear the Israel is observing these developments closely, the resignation of Fidan should cause much less consternation than his original appointment did when the former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak apparently lamented, “Oh dear! We are losing MİT![13]

As for deteriorating relations with the West in general, Fidan stepping down from the MİT may be interpreted positively in light of various scandals involved the alleged shipment of weapons by the MİT to Syrian Islamist forces –most worryingly to al-Qaeda according to leaked documents– and furthermore, the controversial wiretapping tape during which Fidan allegedly suggests starting a false flag operation in Syria in order to create casus belli.[14] Furthermore, the Obama administration’s continued reluctance to be overtly critical of Turkey’s Syria policy is indicative that Fidan’s departure will not make any great waves in US policy circles, particularly as there is no love lost between the two. Having Fidan in a more transparent post, one that is relatively open to public debate and internal criticism should be a comfort to Washington more than anything, although the appointment of İsmail Hakkı Musa –about whom little is known– in Fidan’s wake is also the subject of some consternation.

Regardless of the motivation and consequences of this move, the crucial issue it has highlighted is the forthcoming –and actually, very present– dissention in the highest ranks of AKP’s elite. This could have serious reverberations upon the peace process most of all but moreover, depending on which of the various theories discussed in this article come to pass –if any–, could potentially lead to a division of the AKP or at least the continued alienation of Erdoğan. Furthermore, although some of the concerns discussed regarding Turkey’s foreign policy appear to be invalid in their relations to Fidan, the concerns themselves sustain. Turkey’s troubling Syria policy will increasing lead to isolation from the US in particular but also, escalate tensions with Iran and Israel as well as entrench the growing threat from domestic radicalisation.

Harriet Fildes, Deputy Editor, Centre for Policy and research on Turkey (Research Turkey)

Please cite this publication as follows:

Fildes, H. (March, 2015), “Dissent in the Ranks: Hakan Fidan, Domestic Opportunities and International Constraints”, Vol. IV, Issue 3, pp.15-22, Centre for Policy and Research on Turkey (ResearchTurkey), London, Research Turkey. (http://researchturkey.org/?p=8139)

Endnotes

[1]Hürriyet, Bülent Arınç’tan Hakan Fidan açıklaması, February 7, 2015. [Accessed 11 February 2015], Available at:

http://www.hurriyet.com.tr/gundem/28141625.asp?noMobile=true

[2]Hurriyet Daily News, Why has Davutoğlu stolen Hakan Fidan from Erdoğan?, February 11, 2015. [Accessed 11 February 2015], Available at:

http://www.hurriyetdailynews.com/why-has-davutoglu-stolen-hakan-fidan-from-erdogan.aspx?PageID=238&NID=78176&NewsCatID=429

[3]The Wall Street Journal, Turkey’s Spymaster Plots Own Course on Syria, October 10, 2013. [Accessed 11 February 2015], Available at:

http://www.wsj.com/articles/SB10001424052702303643304579107373585228330

[4]Hurriyet Daily News, Erdoğan’s authority challenged by Davutoğlu and Fidan, February 10, 2015. [Accessed 11 February 2015], Available at:

http://www.hurriyetdailynews.com/erdogans-authority-challenged-by-davutoglu-and-fidan.aspx?PageID=238&NID=78126&NewsCatID=409

[5]Emre Uslu, The rise of Hakan Fidan and the impact on Turkey. Today’s Zaman, February 8, 2015. [Accessed 11 February 2015], Available at:

http://www.todayszaman.com/columnist/emre-uslu/the-rise-of-hakan-fidan-and-the-impact-on-turkey_372114.html

[6]Hürriyet, Bülent Arınç’tan Hakan Fidan açıklaması, February 7, 2015. [Accessed 11 February 2015], Available at:

http://www.hurriyet.com.tr/gundem/28141625.asp?noMobile=true

[7]Asia Today, Intelligence chief Fidan resigns to run for parliament, February 7, 2015. [Accessed 11 February 2015], Available at:

http://www.asiatoday.in/details.php?id=7678&country=Turkey

[8]Twitter account of Fuat Avni. [Accessed 11 February 2015], Available at:

https://twitter.com/fuatavni

[9]Hurriyet Daily News, Intelligence head’s move to run for parliament shows agency was politicized: CHP leader, February 12, 2015. [Accessed 12 February 2015], Available at:

http://www.hurriyetdailynews.com/intelligence-heads-move-to-run-for-parliament-shows-agency-was-politicized-chp-leader-.aspx?pageID=238&nID=78238&NewsCatID=338

[10]UPI, New Turkish spy chief worries Israel, June 7, 2010. Accessed on 12.02.2015. Available at: http://www.upi.com/Top_News/Special/2010/06/07/New-Turkish-spy-chief-worries-Israel/46691275937370/

[11]Hurriyet Daily News, Israeli apology to Turkey ‘enormous mistake,’ February 7, 2015. [Accessed 11 February 2015], Available at:

http://www.hurriyetdailynews.com/israeli-apology-to-turkey-enormous-mistake.aspx?pageID=238&nID=78023&NewsCatID=510

[12]Soner Cagaptay and Tyler Evans. “The Unexpected Vitality of Turkish-Israeli Trade,” The Washington Institute for Near East Policy. 2012.

[13]Salih Tuna, Were we mistaken about Hakan Fidan?, Yeni Safak, February 9, 2015. [Accessed 11 February 2015], Available at:

http://english.yenisafak.com/columns/salihtuna/were-we-mistaken-about-hakan-fidan-2007764

[14]Fehim Tastekin, Turkish military says MIT shipped weapons to al-Qaeda, January 15, 2015. [Accessed 11 February 2015], Available at:

http://www.al-monitor.com/pulse/originals/2015/01/turkey-syria-intelligence-service-shipping-weapons.html

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