Tag Archives: Ankara

Turkey’s efforts to pursue independent policies to continue to exacerbate tensions with Western, non-Western actors – Turkey Special Analysis

This report was written by Sanjana Parashar (MENA Intelligence Manager) and Swathi Nagesh (Levant region specialist)

And reviewed by Darren Cohen (MENA Senior Intelligence Manager and Levant region specialist) and Oded Berkowitz (Deputy Chief Intelligence Officer)

Executive Summary

Tensions between Turkey and Western state actors have increased over recent years due to various geopolitical and security issues. Ankara’s pursuit of an independent foreign policy and the shift in its strategic alliances is the result of both developments in the domestic political sphere and the waning presence of leading Western actors in the region.

A significant area of contention is Ankara’s military interventionism. On October 8, the US condemned Turkey’s operations in Syria as posing “an extraordinary threat” to Washington’s national security. On October 5, Canada announced the suspension of arms exports to Turkey over Ankara’s reported military support for Azerbaijan in its conflict with Armenia. On September 21, the EU sanctioned a Turkish firm for breaching the UN arms embargo on Libya

These developments highlight the clash between Turkey’s effort to bolster its regional influence and secure its independent interests on one hand and the interests of its traditional Western partners on the other.

Turkey and the US have particularly disputed the former’s purchase of the Russian S-400 air defense system, which the latter contends threatens its advanced aerial capabilities. This decision reflects Ankara’s intent to overtly confront Washington and NATO by presenting its willingness to partner with Russia amid its broader efforts to bolster its regional authority.

Ankara’s efforts to gain accession to the EU over the past decades have suffered several setbacks over recent years as Brussels has condemned Turkey’s economic policies and alleged human rights violations. More recently, tensions have been elevated over Ankara’s deployment of research vessels to conduct oil and gas exploration activities in disputed areas of the Eastern Mediterranean Sea that are also claimed by Greece and Cyprus.

Furthermore, Turkey has been engaged in a diplomatic rift with France over perceived anti-Islam comments made by French President Emmanuel Macron. The dispute has added to a growing perception in the West that Turkey seeks to adopt a “neo-Ottoman” ideology and present itself as the “protector of Islam”.

While Ankara’s foreign policy decisions have primarily been driven by an effort to advance its independent geopolitical interests rather than ideological opposition to the West, these decisions will nonetheless serve to alienate the latter.

That said, Turkey’s economic interests are likely to override any other considerations and, therefore, Ankara will refrain from completely jeopardizing its ability to improve trade relations with Western countries as access to these markets is crucial to sustaining the Turkish economy.

Regardless, during episodes of elevated tensions between Turkey and Western-aligned states, the existing religious and nationalist zeal of segments of the local populace can potentially translate into a hostile atmosphere, including calls for boycotts of foreign goods, demonstrations, and aggressive rhetoric.

Western nationals conducting travel in Turkey are generally advised to maintain a low profile and exercise heightened vigilance in the vicinity of locales frequented by foreign nationals.

Assessments & Forecast

Turkey’s geopolitical shift is partly a product of developments within its domestic sphere, US’s waning presence in the region

Although the President Recep Tayyip Erdogan-led Justice and Development Party (AKP) won the 2018 general elections with a clear majority, the government’s popularity has somewhat decreased over recent years, as evidenced by the AKP’s losses in the 2019 municipal elections in Ankara, Istanbul, and Izmir. This is primarily due to the inability of the government to stabilize the economy, characterized by a significant devaluation of the Turkish lira since 2018. Furthermore, a broad crackdown on opposition actors and perceived dissidents has exacerbated existing anti-government sentiments of certain sections of the local populace. Against this backdrop, Ankara’s willingness to confront its Western allies is likely part of an effort to gain patriotic support for Turkey’s endeavors and project its regional dominance, which, in turn, is partly aimed at containing domestic criticism against the government.

Erdogan has also attempted to revive the legacy of the Ottoman Empire and use Islamic sentiments to consolidate power, particularly from conservative and Islamist-leaning members of the populace. This is evidenced by the July 10 announcement to convert Istanbul’s Hagia Sophia, designated a museum by Turkish secular leaders in 1935, into a mosque. Although the decision sparked condemnation by various international actors, Erdogan received support for the move from conservative Turks who make up part of his support base. The decision’s timing was thus partly an attempt to bolster Erdogan’s “strongman” persona while diverting the local populace’s attention away from Turkey’s deteriorating economic conditions, which have been exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Meanwhile, Turkey’s growing military interventionism can also be partially attributed to the US’s waning presence in the broader region. Turkey’s Operation “Peace Spring”, aimed at dislodging Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) militants from the area, was launched two days after the US’s October 7, 2019 announcement regarding the partial withdrawal of its troops from Syria. Turkey likely aimed to capitalize on this power vacuum to increase its influence within Syria and mitigate the Kurdish militant threat emanating from the country. Washington has also been largely uninvolved in Libya over recent years, which has allowed Turkey to become the main supporter of the UN-backed Government of National Accord (GNA) and therefore become one of the primary international actors involved in the country. Overall, the lack of military presence by Western state actors in these countries over recent years has created a relative power vacuum that Ankara aims to fill as part of its aspirations to expand its regional influence.

Turkey’s regional interventionism largely motivated by the pursuit of independent foreign policy, rather than ideological hostility towards West

In recent years, Turkey has pursued a more independent foreign policy, distinct from its traditional Western allies, as illustrated by its military regional interventionism, the acquisition of Russia’s S-400 air defense systems, and Ankara’s activity in the Eastern Mediterranean Sea that has led to tensions with EU states. This approach has been perceived by Western actors to be destabilizing and contrary to the West’s interests. However, this is primarily, although not solely, an effort by Ankara to establish a more dominant role in the region, rather than being motivated by an ideological hostility to the West.

In Syria, Turkey’s efforts to mitigate what it perceives as the “Kurdish threat” to its national integrity have manifested in opposition to Washington’s interests. While Operation “Peace Spring” was launched primarily as an effort by Ankara to address the Kurdish militant threat, given the US’s alliance with the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), largely composed of the YPG, it collided with Washington’s interests in the country. Tensions over this issue have persisted over the past year, as evidenced by a statement published by the US on October 8 indicating that Turkey’s operations in northern Syria directly undermine the former’s anti-Islamic State (IS) campaign and US’s national security. Therefore, while Turkey’s policy was not directly motivated by an anti-US agenda, it nonetheless contributed to the growing rift between the two counties.

Also in the Syrian context, Turkey backs the Syrian National Army (SNA) rebel alliance, which opposes the Damascus government, backed by both Iran and Russia, all of whom are adversaries of the US. However, the leaders of Iran, Turkey, and Russia have led the Astana Peace Process for Syria, which was originally launched in January 2017, and largely reflects an effort by Ankara, as well as Tehran and Moscow, to project itself as a regional power broker. It particularly underscores Turkey’s willingness to cooperate with its rivals in the Syrian sphere in order to cement itself in the political processes that determine Syria’s future and therefore maintain a strong influence in the country, which it considers essential to its security interests. However, as Turkey strengthens its strategic partnerships with Iran and Russia, and thus develops a greater alliance with the West’s foes, it partially reinforces its position as a non-Western-aligned state. This is also given the lack of involvement of the US in the Astana process, which showcases Ankara’s willingness to form interest-based alliances independent of its Western allies.

Turkey’s military backing for Azerbaijan amid its conflict with Armenia over the Nagorno-Karabakh region has further served to alienate Western-aligned allies. Ankara’s support for Baku is partly driven by its shared ethnic and cultural ties as well as historical antipathy towards Armenia. NATO, however, has called for the restoration of peace between both sides in the region, while Western states, such as Canada, have actively condemned Turkey’s reported military support for Azerbaijan. Hence, Turkey’s role in this conflict as part of its independent foreign policy interests serves to supersede its obligations to this Western security alliance. That said, Turkey’s reported deployment of Syrian rebels to fight in the Azerbaijan-Armenia conflict and overall support for Baku is also a sensitive issue for Russia, due in part to the perceived threat of Islamist spillover regions along Russia’s southern borders and Moscow’s long-term cooperation with Armenia. This, therefore, showcases Ankara’s efforts to prioritize its own geopolitical interests, even if they partially undermine its alliances with either the West or with Russia.

These opposing interests between Ankara and Moscow were also witnessed in Libya, where Turkey provides military support for Libya’s GNA and Moscow supports the GNA’s rival, the Libyan National Army (LNA). Amid Turkey’s increasing military reinforcements for the GNA, both in the form of equipment as well as Syrian fighters, Russia increased its provision of military equipment to the LNA as well as its deployment of Russian private military company (PMC) personnel. This further reiterates Turkey’s willingness to pursue its own military interests, potentially at the expense of the interests of its allies, both Western and non-Western.

Turkey’s acquisition of Russia’s S-400 reflective of efforts to confront the West, bolster its regional authority

Turkey’s acquisition of Russia’s S-400 anti-aircraft missile system, which the US has stated “cannot coexist with a Russian intelligence-collection platform that will be used to learn about its advanced capabilities”, is indicative of Ankara’s prioritization of its alliances with Moscow over its participation in the US’s F-35 program and its ties to NATO and the West. While Turkey insists that this does not clash with NATO assets or US F-35 aircraft, despite evidence to the contrary, pressure is growing in Washington to impose punitive measures on Turkey for its perceived transgressions. This was recently demonstrated by the US Senate Foreign Relations Committee’s condemnation of the S-400 testing, which the chairman called on October 16 “a direct threat to the [US-made] F-35”, adding that “US law requires sanctions against countries that continue to deepen their defense relationship with Russia.”

The decision thus reflects Ankara’s willingness to overtly confront Washington and NATO by presenting its conviction to partner with Russia amid its broader efforts to bolster its regional authority. In this way, Turkey aims to demonstrate that it is not bound by Western alliances and interests, which may in future grant it leverage over the West during potential disputes. Moreover, the decision is also likely rooted in domestic politics. By demonstrating Turkey’s willingness to acquire weaponry from any partner of its choice, Erdogan seeks to affirm Ankara’s sovereign right to choose its military alliances, regardless of the West’s objections. This, in turn, allows Erdogan to bolster his “strongman” credentials to the domestic audience.

As illustrated by Turkey’s recent testing of the S-400 system, regardless of concerns voiced by the US and other NATO members, Ankara is determined to proceed with the preparation process and ensure the systems become operational. FORECAST: Elements within the US foreign affairs establishment will continue to pressure the administration to sanction Turkey. However, US President Donald Trump’s reluctance to take action, as illustrated by the absence of sanctions despite the Senate’s approval of such measures in December 2019, renders it unlikely that imminent measures will be imposed. US policy vis-a-vis Turkey may change, however, if the presidential election yields a change in administration. This is unlikely to happen in the immediate coming months as it will take time for any administration to review and formulate its foreign policy.

Turkey’s ambitions to become a regional energy hub, secure foreign investments has also increased tensions with Western actors

Turkey’s involvement in Libya highlights its efforts to secure its energy interests in the region and counterbalance Greece, Egypt, Cyprus, and Israel. Turkey signed a Memoranda of Understanding (MoU) with Libya’s GNA on November 27, 2019 for this purpose. This includes the establishment of a maritime border between the parties and allows Turkey to stake a claim to oil drilling rights in the Eastern Mediterranean Sea, particularly in the vicinity of some Greek islands and the disputed waters south of Cyprus, which the Greek Cypriot administration claims is part of its Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ). The EU, particularly Italy, France, and Greece, as well as Egypt and Israel, have backed the Greek Cypriot government’s claim. Thus, although Turkey’s stance has elevated tensions with certain EU states and other regional stakeholders, Ankara’s determination to pursue its activities in the Eastern Mediterranean Sea highlights its willingness to take a confrontational stance against certain EU members to achieve its energy objectives.

This determination to enhance its energy security has likely also been bolstered by the actions of other regional actors in this context. On September 22, Egypt, Israel, the Palestinian Authority (PA), Greece, Cyprus, Italy, and Jordan established the East Mediterranean Gas Forum (EMGF) to promote natural gas exports from the Eastern Mediterranean Sea. Turkey was not included in the forum. Ankara’s Foreign Ministry spokesperson has reportedly stated that Turkey will “resolutely” continue to “protect its rights” in the Eastern Mediterranean and that “no alliance of malice” will prevent this. Ankara likely perceives the establishment of the EMGF as a provocative action aimed at actively excluding Turkey, which has likely increased its efforts to conduct exploration missions in the East Mediterranean. FORECAST: As illustrated by Turkey’s recent extension of the “Oruc Reis” research vessel’s activities in disputed waters until November 14, regardless of whether such action prompts tensions with the EU and potential sanctions against it in the framework of Brussels’ targeted sanctions program against Turkey for its “unauthorized” drilling activities of “hydrocarbons in the Eastern Mediterranean”, Ankara will persist with its exploration activities.

Meanwhile, Turkey and Russia have relatively divergent interests in the Black Sea. Russia’s annexation of Crimea in 2014 allowed it to expand its de-facto coastline to over a thousand kilometers, enabling the country to carry out its energy exploration, in direct conflict with the interests of NATO countries and their allies, such as Ukraine, in the Black Sea. In this context, on August 20, President Erdogan announced the discovery of a “320 billion” cubic meters gas reserve in the Black Sea, constituting the largest gas reserve discovered in the area by Turkey. Energy production from this reserve is slated to begin in 2023. FORECAST: Ankara’s discovery of a gas reserve in the Black Sea in August and its growing readiness to invest additional resources to carry out its exploratory missions in the area may increase Moscow’s perception that Ankara is attempting to impose itself in the region and thus increases the potential for friction with Russia.

Overall, both of these developments constitute an effort by Turkey to acquire energy security and thus reduce its dependence on other states to import oil and gas, which is likely becoming increasingly costly as the lira has devalued significantly over recent years. The fact that Turkey’s operations in both the Eastern Mediterranean and the Black Sea have the potential to cause friction with both the EU and Russia again demonstrates that Turkey’s activities are part of an overall effort to implement an independent policy, and while liable to alienate its geopolitical alliances, do not constitute an explicitly anti-Western strategy. However, as illustrated throughout this report, regardless of whether Turkey aims to antagonize its Western allies, the outcome is ultimately the same.

Political rapprochement with US’s adversaries motivated by geopolitical concerns, desire to present itself as ‘protectors of Islam’, likely to further alienate West

In Turkey’s partnership with Iran, Ankara likely aims to counter what it perceives to be a growing regional threat to its ideology and interests. The Erdogan-led government seeks to impose its version of state-level political Islam, by forming alliances with Iran, Qatar, and Muslim Brotherhood groups and affiliates throughout the region. This is with the aim of countering the growing alliance of states in the region that it perceives as countering its interests and ideology, led by Saudi Arabia, Egypt, the UAE, all of whom are at least willing to collaborate with Israel and are largely acting in coordination with US interests. Thus, its increasing interventionism throughout the region can also be understood as an attempt to project Turkey as the “protectors of Islam” and has been perceived in the West as a form of “neo-Ottomanism” and an effort to invoke the spirit of the former Ottoman empire.

In this context, there has been a growing rapprochement between Iran and Turkey over recent years, in contrast with the ideological rivalry that initially emerged between the two states following the 2011 Arab Spring, with the parties largely on opposing sides in major conflict zones, such as Syria. The warming of their ties over recent years has manifested in political opposition to Saudi-aligned Gulf states and varying degrees of support for Qatar amid its rift with the former, both countries’ opposition to the “Abraham Accords” signed between Bahrain, the UAE, and Israel, as well as Iran’s diplomatic support for Libya’s Turkey-backed GNA. A recent September 8 meeting between President Erdogan and Iranian President Hassan Rouhani wherein they committed to conducting joint counter-militancy operations is thus indicative of increasingly cordial relations between the two states. FORECAST: These ties are liable to increase the tension between the US and Turkey, given the former’s efforts to diplomatically isolate Iran, as part of its broader “maximum pressure” campaign.

The ongoing rift between French President Macron and Turkish President Erdogan pertaining to the former’s defense of the right to draw caricatures of religious figures is likely to increase the West’s perception of Turkey “neo-Ottoman” aspirations. These diplomatic tensions followed the beheading of a teacher in France for showing caricatures of the Prophet Muhammad to his students and has generated a diplomatic fallout between Turkey and France, with Erdogan stating on October 24 that Macron should get “mental checks” and Macron on October 31 accusing Turkey of having a “bellicose attitude toward its NATO allies”, adding that Ankara has “imperial inclinations in the region”. The fact that this has also translated into anti-France protests throughout Turkey illustrates the impact of such diplomatic tensions and the potential for a hostile environment to emerge for Westerners operating in Turkey.

Meanwhile, the US has stated that it “strongly objects” to Erdogan’s hosting of the leaders of Hamas, the Palestinian militant group, in Turkey on August 22. The Turkish government announced that it “fully rejected” the US’s statement and accused Washington of “serving Israel’s interests”. Additional reports from August also indicate that Turkey is granting citizenship to Hamas operatives. Through this action, Turkey has signaled its willingness to legitimize the Palestinian militant group, as opposed to Washington’s categorization of the Gaza Strip-based group as a Foreign Terrorist Organization (FTO).

Ankara’s actions are likely to be perceived by Western-aligned states as granting increased freedom of movement to Hamas and thus allowing them to carry out destabilizing activities in Israel. Similar to its relations with Iran, Turkey’s support for Hamas is unlikely to yield major economic or security benefits. Rather, it is indicative of an effort by Ankara to align with Muslim Brotherhood-affiliated and other Islamist groups and thus expand its sphere of influence throughout the region. Turkey also seeks to be a power broker and thus counteract recent ties between Gulf states and Israel, as evidenced by its hosting of talks between the two rival prominent Palestinian factions, Fatah and Hamas, for reconciliation talks on September 22.

These relations constitute a further fault line in the current tensions between the US and its allies on one side and Turkey on the other. FORECAST: Turkey’s growing support for Hamas as well as its opposition to Arab states’ normalization with Jerusalem, despite the fact Ankara maintains relations with Israel, is liable to increase tensions between the US and Turkey as well as Israel and Turkey. Although Jerusalem and Ankara share strong economic ties, Erdogan’s growing support for Hamas and persistent condemnations of Israel has the potential to strain these relations. This is particularly the case in light of the fact that Jerusalem now has formal ties with other regional states that are rivals of Turkey, primarily the UAE, and may therefore opt to cooperate economically with these countries, at Ankara’s expense.

Turkey to ultimately refrain from completely alienating its NATO allies

FORECAST: Taken as a whole, while Turkey is pursuing a more independent foreign policy, it is unlikely to completely alienate its Western allies, particularly NATO members. This is because Turkey can leverage its strategic position as a member of NATO to deter any significant punitive measures. This alliance also allows Turkey to mitigate the risk of direct confrontations as it implements its military policies in Syria, Libya, and Armenia/Azerbaijan, as well as within the energy sector, as Turkey pursues its energy interests in direct conflict with certain EU member states, such as Greece. In turn, despite the disputes between NATO member states and Ankara, Turkey will continue to remain a strategic ally by hosting US and NATO military assets, such as the Incirlik Air Base.

Within the context of the energy dispute between Turkey and the EU in the Eastern Mediterranean Sea, NATO also provides for peaceful dispute resolution mechanisms between its member states. This, therefore, allows NATO to mitigate the threat of direct confrontations between Turkey on one side and Greece and Cyprus on the other in the Eastern Mediterranean Sea. Hence, it is in the interest of NATO actors to continue to retain Turkey in the alliance as this would serve to manage emerging conflicts with EU members. This, in turn, provides Ankara with leeway in terms of its ability to pursue its energy policies without the threat of military confrontation with EU states.

Business continuity in Turkey for Western-linked entities unlikely to be significantly impacted, although potential punitive measures liable to elevate tensions

As previously mentioned, it is unlikely that under a President Trump administration, barring a breakdown in personal relations between the leaders, the White House will implement the Senate’s December 2019 approval of sanctions against Turkey. However, a Joe Biden-led presidency may seek to change course and punish states deemed to be acting in opposition to Washington’s core interests, for instance by operating Russian-made air defense systems.

In the event that the US imposes sanctions or tariffs, as in 2018, there is a high probability of further damage to the Turkish economy, as was witnessed following the implementation of such measures two years ago. This would lead to a further devaluation of the currency and render it more difficult for Turkish-based companies and Turkish state entities to remain competitive. FORECAST: Irrespective of who wins the US presidential election, as previously mentioned, any decision on sanctions or tariffs against Turkey is liable to take several months as the incoming administration formulates its foreign policy agenda. Regardless, Turkey’s actions may prompt other Western actors to consider punitive measures to pressure Ankara to alter its perceived destabilizing activities. This may, for instance, manifest in a ban on arms sales, as announced by Canada on October 5, which has the potential to undermine Turkey’s aforementioned defense strategy.

In the event that the US and/or the EU does impose sanctions or other punitive measures on Ankara, there is a potential for an increase in vocalized sentiment emanating from the government and domestic populace against the US, the West, or its perceived interests. This was illustrated by events in August 2018 amid the sanctions and tariffs imposed on Turkey by Washington, wherein a significant uptick in protests condemning the US was recorded in major cities in Turkey and President Erdogan reportedly called for a boycott of US electrical goods, while some Turkish citizens posted videos on social media of them physically attacking US-made products and currency.

Similarly, amid the aforementioned dispute over comments made by French President Macron regarding cartoons depicting the Prophet Mohammad, reports from October 26 indicate that Erdogan called for a boycott of French goods. Both of these episodes illustrate the existing religious and nationalist zeal of segments of the local populace that can translate into a potentially hostile atmosphere, including boycotts of foreign goods, demonstrations, and aggressive rhetoric. As per the prior example involving the US, these tensions tend to subside relatively quickly without a significant impact on foreign businesses operating in Turkey. However, there is also the potential for temporary retaliatory measures imposed by foreign states such as sanctions and tariffs, as occurred in 2018, as well as increased bureaucratic challenges for nationals of perceived adversaries, which may hinder operations in the country.

However, ultimately, Turkey’s economic interests are likely to override any other considerations. This is illustrated by its willingness to cooperate economically with China, despite differences in ideology. According to the EU, Turkey’s main export markets are the EU, the UK, the US, and Israel. Thus, despite Erdogan’s geopolitical activities, economic trade with its Western counterparts remains crucial for the stabilization and growth of the Turkish economy. FORECAST: The Turkish government is unlikely to significantly jeopardize its ability to improve trade relations with Western countries as access to these markets is crucial to sustaining the Turkish economy. Turkey’s geopolitical expansionism is therefore unlikely to have a significant impact on Western economic interests over the coming months. Moreover, Turkey is unlikely to place restrictions on private Western citizens or enterprises from operating in the country, even in the event of a dispute between the states in which these entities are based.


Travel to Istanbul, Ankara, and Izmir may continue while remaining cognizant of the latent threat of militancy, as well as regular anti-government protests and occasional incidents of unrest in these locales. Contact us at [email protected] or +44 20-3540-0434 for itinerary and contingency support options.

It is advised to avoid all travel to border areas with Syria and Iraq given the increased risk of militancy and spillover of armed conflict emanating from these countries.

Foreigners, particularly Westerners, conducting travel in Turkey are generally advised to maintain a low profile, and exercise heightened vigilance in the vicinity of locales frequented by foreign nationals. This is particularly the case in the event of elevated tensions between Turkey and Western or Western-affiliated states and entities.

Avoid any overt or critical statements of government, religious, or political institutions both in public spaces and online, including social media. It is also advised to be mindful of any social media posts made prior to travel that could be accessed publicly and could be viewed negatively during your visit. This is particularly the case during times of heightened political tensions involving Turkey in the international arena.

Turkey’s military campaign aims to secure interests in northern Syria, mitigate Kurdish militant threat – Turkey & Syria Analysis

Current Situation

Turkish military officials confirmed that operation “Olive Branch” targeting Syria’s northwestern Afrin Province officially began on January 20. The objective is to eliminate the presence of both People’s Protection Units (YPG) and Islamic State (IS).

According to Turkey’s Prime Minister Binali Yildirim, Turkish ground forces entered Syria’s Afrin District from Kilis’ Gulbaba region on January 20 at 11:05 (local time). The prime minister also stated that the “four-phase operation” will aim to create a buffer zone 30 km south of the Turkish border.

Turkish forces targeted YPG positions with artillery fire throughout Afrin Province on January 20-21, including along the Turkish-Syrian border.

Turkish-backed Free Syrian Army (FSA) rebels were deployed along Syria’s border with Hatay Province and south of Syria’s Azaz.

YPG forces responded to the aerial bombardments with artillery fire striking Turkish forces in and around the Turkish border town of Kilis.

Russia reportedly withdrew its stationed forces from Syrian’s Afrin To Tel Ajar on January 20, in light of the Turkish operation. Russian authorities called for “reconciliation of warring sides.”

On January 20, the US “encouraged all parties to avoid escalation” and to “focus on the most important task of defeating IS.”

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan stated on January 20 that Syria’s Manbij, located just west of the Euphrates River, will be the “next destination for a Turkish combat operation” following Afrin.

Assessments & Forecast

The operations highlight Turkey’s continued efforts to safeguard its interests in northern Syria. The campaign in Afrin comes amidst persistent concerns by the Turkish government regarding the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) activity along the border with Syria. The Turkish government has repeatedly accused the YPG of cooperating with the PKK, and by launching the offensive in Afrin District, Turkish authorities seek to stem the YPG’s assistance to the PKK. Additional motivation for the operation may include Turkey’s efforts to assert its political influence, as well as that of the elements it supports in Syria, ahead of future negotiations between the various parties in the Syrian conflict.

President Erdogan’s hardline stance regarding the elimination of YPG elements in Syria is linked to his political ambitions regarding the upcoming 2019 election. In the past, Erdogan’s calls for the eradication of PKK militants and all affiliated elements courted ultra-nationalist voters and expanded his base significantly, helping ensure victories such as the April 2017 referendum. A recent endorsement by the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP)’s chair and a continuing aggressive foreign policy regarding Turkish-Syrian border security will consolidate his base and secure him the presidency. The military operation in Syria’s Afrin will likely cause obstacles for oppositions parties in uniting, mainly the Republican People’s Party (CHP), due to likely labeling of it being weak on militancy. This labeling will likely be triggered by CHP leader Kemal Kilicdaroglu’s recent call for diplomacy as opposed to a military operation into Afrin, as ultra-nationalists will perceive the statement as willing to negotiate with militant elements.

US-Turkish relations are likely to further diminish as a result of the operation, given vocal US opposition against intervention in Afrin. Turkish authorities already expressed much discontent regarding the US’ persistent support of the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), a group comprised of mostly YPG fighters in northern Syria. The US will likely continue providing the SDF with both weapons and training in order to not only fight IS, but to counter the influence of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and the Iranian government. While the Turkish government has voiced its disapproval of Assad in the past, its objective to eliminate Kurdish influence in the region will be the priority, and US intervention will likely only embolden Turkish forces to engage in military operations against the YPG in northern Syria.

While Moscow provides a degree of support for the Kurdish militia, the Turkish operations are unlikely to significantly impact relations between the two countries. This is because the operations in Afrin District are not likely to jeopardize Russia’s strategic interests in Syria, namely the coastal provinces of Tartus and Latakia. Instead, the campaign may serve Moscow’s interests by weakening the US’s most important on-ground ally, decreasing Washington’s influence in Syria. The possible consolidation of a foothold by Turkish-aligned elements may also allow Moscow to better negotiate and enforce agreements across the country.

FORECAST: Given precedent of the previous Euphrates Shield operations, Turkish-backed rebels will initiate the ground offensive from multiple fronts, such as the Azaz and Deir Semaan areas, as well as from within Turkish territory, including Hatay and Kilis provinces. By doing so, the Turkish-backed rebels will compel the YPG to fight on multiple fronts, overstretching their forces. In the initial stages of the offensive, rebels will seek to attain and cut off the Rajo Road, as well as routes 62 and 217, all serving as important supply lines leading to the city of Afrin. Turkish forces will concurrently mainly conduct aerial bombardments and heavy artillery fire against YPG positions. Once areas are cleared of the YPG, Turkish army personnel themselves are likely to enter captured territories and establish administrative control. In response to the operation, as underlined by the YPG’s artillery fire at Turkish forces in the Kilis area, the Kurdish group will likely retaliate with rocket and mortar over the coming days.

Turkey’s military campaign aims to secure interests in northern Syria, mitigate Kurdish militant threat - Turkey & Syria Analysis | MAX Security

Click here to see Map Legend

The Turkish operations in Afrin District are liable to benefit the rebels’ rivals, namely the Islamic State (IS) and the Syrian government, on nearby fronts. Over the past several weeks, both IS and pro-government forces were able to capture multiple areas from rebel forces in southeastern Idlib, northern Hama, and southern Aleppo provinces. In light of the likely deployments of rebel fighters to northwestern Aleppo Province, at the expense of the Aleppo-Idlib-Hama triangle, their adversaries are liable to take advantage of their more dwindled presence in the region to seize additional territories. This is highlighted by the reported capture of Idlib Province’s Abu Dhuhur Military Airbase on January 20 by pro-government forces. As a result, both IS and the Syrian government are likely to intensify their operations in southeastern Idlib, northern Hama, and southern Aleppo provinces over the coming days and weeks.


Recommendations: Turkey

Travel to Istanbul and Ankara may continue, although travelers are advised to maintain heightened vigilance in central areas due to the threat of militancy, as well as regular anti-government protests and occasional incidents of unrest in these locales.   Contact us at [email protected] or +44 20-3540-0434 for itinerary and contingency support options.

Avoid nonessential travel to the immediate vicinities of government buildings, police stations, political party offices, popular public places and shopping centers, as well as Western institutions and places frequented by Westerners, and places of worship due to the threat of militancy.

Avoid nonessential travel to Turkey’s southern and eastern provinces, while also avoiding all travel to border areas with Syria and Iraq, given the increased risk of militancy and spillover violence.

Those conducting essential travel to Turkey’s southern and eastern provinces are advised to defer all travel to areas witnessing curfews due to the elevated risk of violence in these locales.

Recommendations: Syria

We advise against all travel to Damascus and Aleppo, given the general threat of indiscriminate aerial bombardment and artillery shelling from government forces as well as attacks by various militant groups. Attacks by rebel forces may include the use of rocket-propelled grenades, suicide bombings, and mortar attacks.

Those remaining in Damascus should ensure that contingency and emergency evacuation plans are updated due to the potential for a further deterioration in the security situation. Additionally, those remaining in Damascus are advised to avoid all travel to outlying areas of the city given the persistent threat of militancy.

Those continuing to operate or reside in Aleppo are advised to minimize movement in the city and its surroundings, given the frequency and broad nature of fighting in the city.

Avoid all travel to outlying areas and cities including Homs, Hama, and Idlib due to persistent fighting and heightened risk of kidnapping targeting foreigners, particularly in combat zones and rebel-held areas.

Turkey Special Intelligence Report – Coup Attempt – July 2016

This report was written by:

Tzahi Shraga – MAX Security’s Chief Intelligence Officer, ret. LTC from the Israeli intelligence community

Roshanna Lawrence – MAX Security’s Associate Director of Intelligence, Middle East & North Africa

Oded Berkowitz – MAX Security’s Senior Analyst on Middle East & North Africa

Garrett Krivicich – MAX Security’s Senior Analyst on Turkey


Executive Summary

  • During the overnight hours of July 15 and July 16, several units from among the Turkish Armed Forces (TSK) launched an attempted coup against the Turkish government, targeting several strategic locations in Istanbul and Ankara.
  • By capitalizing on popular support, the Turkish government was able to rally large crowds in their favor, thus ultimately defeating the attempted coup.
  • Failure of the coup highlights President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s strong political standing and capabilities in the country, despite recent controversies, and he will likely capitalize on recent events to further broaden his authorities.
  • In the aftermath of the attempted coup, it is likely that the Turkish population will perceive the coup as directed, funded and supported by foreign, including western, elements. This would largely contribute to further anti-western sentiments by the government and the populace, and could result in Americans, Europeans, and other foreign nationals being assaulted.

General development Timeline

Current Situation

Istanbul Main Events- Time line - max security


Ankara Main Events- Time line - max security




The Tactical Situation

Rebels’ Actions

While at the time of writing, information on the exact extent of involvement of the military, including units that took part in the failed coup, is still unfolding, several indications point towards a relatively large and well organized mobilization. Some of the more prominent indicators are:

  • Large number of personnel involved. At this time, at least 6,000 soldiers and officers were arrested by the government in suspicion of taking part in the coup, a number that is expected to grow in the coming hours and days.
  • Among those arrested were at least 29 Colonels and six Generals, including high-ranking figures such as Major General Mamdouh Hakbil, Chief of Staff of the Aegean Army in Izmir, General Erdal Ozturk, commander of the Third Army in Erzincan, General Adem Huduti, commander of the Second Army in Malatya, Major General Ozhan Ozbakir, commander of the Denizli garrison, General Bekir Ercan Van, the commander of Turkey’s Incirlik Airbase, and General Akin Ozturk, the former commander of the Turkish Air Force (THK), the alleged leader of the coup.
  • Airstrikes that were conducted in support of rebels highlight the participation of members from both the ground and air forces in the coup, while the arrest of both current and former officers from various branches of the military underscore the broad spectrum of supporters for the coup from within the armed forces.
  • The ability to conduct relatively large-scale military operations in both of Turkey’s major cities, which were likely partially directed from a remote location, as highlighted by the involvement of the Aegean Army’s Chief of Staff, are indicative of very high command and control capabilities, and are likely the result of extensive planning and preparations.

In addition to governmental locales and military headquarters, one of the rebels’ primary objectives was traditional media outlets, as shown by their targeting of various state-owned and private television and radio stations.

  • This move was likely initiated due to the rebels’ desire to capitalize on their initial successful momentum in order to declare their victory, and prevent others from issuing reports that will contradict it. As such, the rebels could have significantly limited the popular opposition against them by giving off the impression of a victory and, thus, discouraging potential resistance.

Government response

The Turkish government took two major actions that proved instrumental in initially mitigating the effects of the attempted coup, and ultimately defeating it:

Police anti-riot vehicles in Istanbul during morning of July 16
  1. Suspending social media activities. By doing so, coupled with successfully blocking rebels from utilizing traditional media outlets, the Turkish government effectively ended most of the rebels’ ability to directly convey their message to the Turkish people, as well as to foreign actors. This inability significantly diminished the possibility of rebels to rally popular support in their favor and to portray an image that they are acting on the civilians’ best interest, as opposed to in pursuit of perceived power.
  2. Rallying people to protest in favor of the government. This was done by both media publications, as well as direct public address systems such as text messaging and announcements from mosques. These developments eventually led to mass demonstrations, not only in central locales in Istanbul and Ankara, but also in areas with Kurdish majorities, such as Diyarbakir, Mardin, and Van.

By taking these actions, the government had both secured its legitimacy by showing that it is supported by a broad spectrum of the population, as well as neutralized rebels’ abilities to engage in effective military operations of fear from causing mass civilian casualties and repeating a scenario similar to Syria.

Future Projections

Failed coup demonstrates Erdogan’s strong political standing and capabilities, despite recent controversies

While the attempted coup began with some success in Turkey’s central cities of Istanbul and Ankara, that momentum was ultimately reversed, particularly when Erdogan called upon the Turkish population to “come to the streets” to defy the military faction’s takeover. Regardless of political viewpoints, thousands of protesters marched in the streets of both cities, thus highlighting the influence that the president has on the general public, despite recent political controversies, which have called to question his motives.

Additionally, even though opposing parties in Turkey’s parliament have largely opposed the president in the majority of his recent decisions and political maneuvers, all of these political entities came out in support of the current government, and stated their opposition for the coup. With this in mind, while pro-coup forces made up only a fraction of the military itself, the government stood united behind Erdogan, thus strengthening the president’s abilities, and ultimately leading to the foiling of the attempted coup.

Furthermore, Erdogan’s heavy investment into the Turkish National Police (TNP), coupled with his persistent attempts to control the military’s influence and keep it under civilian control, likely contributed significantly to the government’s ability to foil the coup. Ultimately, Turkish police were able to fend off major attacks, including in central locales such as Ankara’s Headquarters of the General Intelligence (MIT) and Istanbul’s Bosphorus Bridge, thereby leading to the surrendering and arrests of thousands of pro-coup soldiers.

Also, it is important to note that many military commanders appeared to remain neutral at the start of the conflict, and likely waited to see which side had momentum before joining forces with pro-Erdogan soldiers. Once these sections of the military aligned with pro-government forces, the takeover began to face significant setbacks. That said, this apparent initial neutrality of Turkey’s top commanders brings to question the loyalties of the military in general, and will likely play a part in how the government responds to the attempted coup in the coming days.

Failed takeover likely to be utilized by Erdogan to strengthen presidential powers

In light of the failed coup attempt, it is likely that Erdogan will capitalize on the government’s success, as well as the perceived unity of the Turkish people, in order to further pursue the strengthening and broadening of his own presidential powers. In this context, while the general public has largely opposed constitutional reform transitioning the parliamentary system of government into a presidential one, recent developments may sway popular opinion in the opposite direction, as Erdogan likely attempts to use the attempted coup to demonstrate the need for a strong, unified executive branch. Additionally, the three rival political parties who have largely opposed such a maneuver may shift positions given the public’s strongly negative reaction to the attempted coup.

With this in mind, while such constitutional reform would take months, Erdogan will likely utilize

Security forces deployed in alert mode into Istanbul during morning hours of July 16
Security forces deployed in alert mode into
Istanbul during morning hours of July 16

the recent success in foiling the coup in the meanwhile to further strengthen the national police force, while simultaneously initiating further protocols to limit the independent capabilities of the military itself. In addition, to discourage such similar actions by the military in the future, the president will likely seek that the harshest penalties are given to the pro-coup soldiers, while ensuring that trials and sentencing are highly publicized. This will likely lead to further mass demonstrations in support of such actions, as the public continues to oppose the attempt military takeover, and support the government of Erdogan.

In this context, as Erdogan likely pursues such harsh measures for pro-coup elements, these soldiers may initiate acts of violence or unrest in order to negotiate with the government, or simply out of desperation. This could potentially include kidnappings of civilians or government officials, as well as other attacks in major cities or locales.

Increased threat of militancy

While this process likely unfolds in the coming days and weeks, it remains likely that militant groups, namely Islamic State (IS), will take advantage of the ensuing instability to stage attacks in Turkey’s major cities. This point is further bolstered by Erdogan’s likely attempts to further tame the military’s capabilities in terms of acting independently, thus placing the burden of mitigating major threats on Turkey’s national police and security forces, and increasing the chances of militant groups in staging acts of militancy. Overall, in the immediate aftermath of the attempted coup, the threat of militancy unfolding in the country’s central locales remains elevated.

Kurdish Population

While the ensuing instability provided a significant opportunity for Kurdish militant groups, namely the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), to take advantage of the situation and stage attacks against security forces, at this time, no such actions by the Kurdish fighters were reported. Instead, pro-Erdogan demonstrations took place in heavily Kurdish populated areas, such as Diyarbakir, where the PKK has a known and well established stronghold, and the pro-Kurdish People’s Democratic Party (HDP) released a statement rejecting the coup. With this in mind, the Kurdish populace ultimately backed government forces that they have been largely opposing since hostilities between the sides resumed in July 2015.

anti western sentiment
Resuming routine in Istanbul on July 16

This inaction by the Kurds can likely be explained by two reasons. Most importantly, while the PKK generally opposes the Turkish government, its main objective in its struggle is autonomy, as opposed to complete independence and overthrowing the Turkish state. In this context, the overthrow of the Turkish government in its entirety would likely be counterproductive for the Kurdish fighters, as such a move would place the country under military rule, and thus, the Kurds would likely face heavier violence in an attempt to stop the PKK from establishing autonomy. Second, regardless of political affiliation and national backgrounds, the general consensus of the Turkish populace highly opposes such actions by the military, as highlighted by massive demonstrations throughout the country. With this in mind, while PKK attacks against security forces will likely resume in the southeast, no major initiatives will likely be taken by the Kurdish fighters in the coming days, both due to the likely bolstered deployment of security forces, as well as the Kurds’ current interest in not having the government overthrown.

Anti-western sentiment

As the coup was ongoing, it is important to note that President Erdogan was quick to connect the incident to his rival, US-based cleric Fethullah Gulen. In this context, this insinuation by Erdogan, coupled with a general Turkish populace largely supportive of the president, will likely lead elements of the public to perceive the coup as funded and supported by Western elements. This likelihood is bolstered by local reports claiming physical assaults of western journalists, and individuals perceived as such, that have occurred over the last few hours in both Istanbul and Ankara.

Moreover, while the US ultimately released a statement showing its support for Erdogan in the ensuing attempted takeover, the measure was not announced for at least three hours after the coup began. In this context, it may be perceived by Turkish nationals that the US waited to see on which side the momentum lied before choosing to support the government. Such a perception would likely largely contribute to further anti-western sentiments, and could result in Americans, Europeans, and other foreign nationals and western-linked businesses in the country being targeted in assaults and harassments.

Finally, it remains likely that Erdogan will utilize the events to portray a firmer stance against Western intervention in Turkey’s internal affairs, thus solidifying his popularity amongst the Turkish populace, who generally holds anti-western sentiments. This less favorable position towards the West may cause serious setbacks in recent relations between Turkey and the EU, including the Syrian refugee deal made in April, as well as the potential for Turkey ultimately becoming a member of the organization in the future.


  1. Those operating in Ankara and Istanbul are advised to minimize movement over the coming hours. Contact us at [email protected] or +44 20-3540-0434 for itinerary and contingency support options.
  2. In addition, ensure that your mobile phones are fully charged and equipped with a charging cable.


Disclaimer: Please note that any views and/or opinions and/or assessment and/or recommendations presented in this text are solely those of Max Security. If you are not the named addressee you should not disseminate, distribute or copy this text. If you are not the intended recipient you are notified that disclosing, copying, distributing or taking any action in reliance on the contents of this information is strictly prohibited. Max Security Solutions accepts no liability for (i) the contents of this text/report being correct, complete or up to date; (ii) consequences of any actions taken or not taken as a result and/or on the basis of such contents. Copyright – 2016 Max Security