As the crisis in Syria drags on, Turkish territory has become a land for all kinds of intelligence operatives roaming in the southern part of the country to collect reliable data, some for ill-intent to harm Turkish interests, yet others are cooperating closely with Turkish counterparts for joint purposes.
The revelation of an Iranian spy ring on Wednesday in Turkey’s eastern province of I?d?r, which borders Iran, is just a recent case in point: Turkish police having detained eight Turkish citizens in simultaneous operations on charges of spying for Iranian intelligence. The incident may be considered as the deepening of a confidence crisis between the two countries, which have totally diverging views on the Syrian issue.
Süleyman Özeren, director of Ankara-based International Terrorism and Transnational Crime Research Center (UTSAM), doesn’t find it surprising that Iran may be involved in such activities in Turkey. Noting that during every period when Turkey has enjoyed stability, intelligence agencies of various countries have increased their activities in Turkey in an effort to destabilize the country, he has told Today’s Zaman, “And Iran stands out in this respect. It has always ardently struggled to deepen the instability in Turkey.”
But since the beginning of the Syrian crisis, it’s actually along Turkey’s Syria border where activities of foreign intelligence agents intensified. “Hatay is crawling with [foreign] secret agents,” Kemal K?l?çdaro?lu, leader of the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP), has claimed recently, talking about the campsite in Hatay, where defecting members of the Syrian army are hosted.
Mehmet Eymür, a former high-ranking official of the National Intelligence Organization (M?T), testified in a court case a couple of weeks ago that secret service agents from many countries, including those we call allies such as Germany and the US, have been operating freely in Turkey. “They are manipulating the press, and we are just following them in sorrow,” he said.
Oktay Vural, deputy chairman of the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) parliamentary group, is also concerned Turkish public opinion may be manipulated by foreign agents. Noting that foreign agents would work for the benefit of their own country, “They may get into manipulating the public or terrorist acts,” he has told Today’s Zaman, adding, “Turkey has been a country where foreign secret service members operate freely.”
During times of heavy migration, as in the case of Syrians arriving in Turkey, with the total figure of Syrians having exceeded 80,000 at the moment, it’s all too likely foreign secret service agents also infiltrate from the border. And with terrorist attacks by the terrorist Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) having increased considerably in recent weeks, the possibility of a correlation between the two events is what naturally comes to mind. Apart from the attacks against military posts in the southeastern part of Turkey, the PKK have recently staged bomb attacks in Gaziantep and Foça, attacks which, analysts estimate, may have been organized with the help of foreign intelligence services.
Agents from Israel’s Mossad are also believed to be active in Turkey. “It’s Israel itself that announced earlier that it’s in touch with the Free Syrian Army,” Vural noted, adding it’s not acceptable for Turkey to be the setting for the covert operations of foreign services.
According to Mete Yarar, consultant in security policies for the television channel A Haber, it’s not something unexpected that foreign agents are interested in Turkey, given that Turkey is the key country in the developments in the Middle East region. For Yarar, it’s not of great importance even if the number of foreign agents operating in Turkey are high. “What’s important is that these agents should be kept under control, that their actions be coordinated with Turkey’s and that they should not be involved in any other activity,” he has told Today’s Zaman.
But naturally, it’s always hard to keep complete control of foreign agents once they are inside a country. Veysel Ayhan, director of Ankara-based International Middle East Peace Research Center (IMPR), strongly believes it’s necessary to take additional measures at the camps where Syrians are being hosted. Ayhan has concerns that coordination between foreign organizations and Turkish authorities may be lacking in some cases. “In my research in Hatay, I’ve noted Turkish officials were not aware that a Canadian nongovernmental organization itself was directly giving out humanitarian aid to refugees in camps,” he has told Today’s Zaman, noting that even the activities of the countries with which Turkey is allied should be in coordination with Turkish authorities.
Ayhan, who was in the region about two weeks ago, complained that coordination of the activities of foreign NGOs was, in some cases, confided to Turkish NGOs, which, he argued, lack experience in dealing with such issues. Recalling that Turkey acts as the logistics base for the Syrian opposition, “Members of intelligence units of Iran and Syria are also active in Turkey,” he maintained, noting that Iran and Syria stand together in the conflict in Syria.
But Mahir Kaynak, a former agent in M?T, is of the opinion that Syrian agents wouldn’t operate in Turkey. “Should Syrian agents be involved in operations in Turkey, then the Syrian regime would lose all its support in Turkey,” he has told Today’s Zaman. For Kaynak, Turkey has deficiencies gathering strategic intelligence. “We are just catching the terrorist who have committed crimes, but what’s most important is to get to the source that is behind the terrorist act,” he commented.