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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.

Likely passage of constitutional referendum likely to have domestic, global ramifications; violence surrounding vote date remains likely – Turkey Analysis

Current Situation

On April 16, the Turkish public will vote on a referendum which, if passed, will enact major reforms to the national constitution. At the core of the referendum is the decision to replace the existing parliamentary system of government with an executive presidency. The passing of this referendum will thus reform all of Turkey’s branches of government.

The Executive
If the referendum is to pass, the prime minister’s post would be abolished, and thus its powers would be transferred to the president. With this in mind, the president would be responsible for selecting and approving the government’s ministers.
In addition, the referendum would remove the parliament’s power to enact a vote of confidence to force out the executive. Instead, in order for the president to be removed from office, he must first be charged with a crime by a majority of MPs. Then, the president must be tried by 17 judges of the Constitutional Court.
Furthermore, it is important to note that the term length of the president would remain set at five years, and an individual can serve no more than two terms. However, due to the refined role created by the referendum, current President Recep Tayyip Erdogan would be permitted to seek two additional terms. Thus, if elected, he could remain in power until 2029.

The Judiciary
The referendum would significantly increase the number of appointments to the judiciary allowed by the president. With the new proposals, the president would be responsible for selecting 69% of Turkey’s senior judges, as opposed to 46% today.
In addition, the president would be responsible for appointing 14 of the 17 members of the Constitutional Court, which is the highest judicial body in Turkey.
Finally, the referendum would prevent the judiciary from picking any members sitting on the Supreme Board of Judges and Prosecutors (HSYK), the disciplinary body of Turkey’s legal system, and instead, assign these appointments to the president and the parliament.

The Parliament
The parliament’s ability to launch investigations against members of the executive would be abolished entirely under the proposed referendum. Furthermore, these powers would not transfer to any other body.
In addition, the power of parliament to submit questions to the president regarding sensitive issues would be ridded as well.
Finally, the ability for parliament to motion a censure, which could effectively unseat a member of the executive, would be abolished by the new referendum as well.

Likely passage of constitutional referendum likely to have domestic, global ramifications; violence surrounding vote date remains likely - Turkey Analysis | MAX Security

Assessments & Forecast

Vast public support still enjoyed by Erdogan and underlying threat of militancy indicate referendum likely to pass
While public opinion polling has largely shown support and opposition to the referendum to be close, we assess that at least 51% of the populace will ultimately vote yes on the proposed constitutional reform, thus gaining the required amount of votes needed for it to pass. This support largely emanates from members of Erdogan’s own political organization, the Justice and Development Party (AKP), as well as individuals from the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP). In opposition to the proposed referendum is the more moderate Republican People’s Party (CHP), and a large portion of the Kurdish community, including the pro-Kurdish People’s Democratic Party (HDP). With this in mind, this likelihood of the referendum passing is due to several factors.

First, public support currently experienced by Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan will likely encourage Turkish nationals to back the referendum. This favorability can be heavily attributed to his anti-militancy campaign, which has resulted in both downtick in Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK)-perpetrated attacks, as well as a general absence of large-scale acts of militancy in Turkey’s major cities in recent months. In this context, as Erdogan continues to portray himself as the one who reinforced Turkey’s security apparatus, moderate, secular portions of the Turkish population who may have been less willing to back the president may ultimately vote in favor of the referendum due to this notable decrease in militant attacks in the country. Thus, by continuing to campaign on this anti-militancy platform, Erdogan will likely rally more support in favor of the constitutional referendum, and increase the chances of the reform successfully passing. Moreover, even if a large-scale militant attack were to emanate in the coming days, Erdogan would likely attribute it to the lack of a strong executive, thereby further strengthening his counter-militancy campaign. Therefore, such an incident occurring is unlikely to decrease the potential for the referendum to pass.

In addition, Erdogan’s mass efforts to stifle his opposition have significantly reduced the influence of his opponents. The President has conducted mass arrest raids against multiple segments of Turkish society who have voiced opposition against him or the proposed constitutional referendum. Such raids have particularly been seen with operations targeting those who support US-based cleric Fethullah Gulen, who the Turkish government has linked to the failed military coup in July 2016. As the threshold has been lowered and the scope has been broadened by the president for such arrests to take place, the opposition has had less of a platform to campaign against the proposed referendum.

Moreover, those in Turkish media who have attempted to voice their opposition to the referendum have largely been silenced by the government. For instance, in early February, a prominent news anchor was fired by a Turkish news agency after stating his opposition to the proposed constitutional reform via social media. Moreover, in mid-February, one of Turkey’s leading newspapers cancelled an interview with a Nobel-Prize winning Turkish novelist following his public opposition against the referendum. Thus, Erdogan has further limited the opposition’s abilities to organize and successfully wage their campaign.

That said, it is important to note that the possibility for the referendum not to pass remains, particularly as recent opinion polls show the vote in a virtual tie. If such an outcome were to occur, it is unlikely that President Erdogan would drop the proposed constitutional reform as a result. Instead, Erdogan would likely revamp the “yes” campaign’s image in order for it to gather broader support, and then attempt to push a newly drafted proposal through Parliament once again. Potential addendums for this changed referendum may be slightly more restrictions on the executive, such as allowing Parliament more oversight in the system. However, such changes would be minimal, as the goal of the constitutional reform would likely remain to strengthen the power of the presidency at the expense of the Parliament.

Passage of referendum likely to impede potential negotiations between PKK and Turkish government, cause problems for economic development, and further tensions between Turkey and the EU
While in the immediate short term, the effects of a successful referendum are unlikely to be notable, particularly as Erdogan has already exercised abilities that have surpassed boundaries set by the office of the presidency, multiple domestic issues are likely to be heavily affected in the months to come.

First, constitutional reform that expands the powers of Erdogan is likely to significantly decrease the chances of successful negotiations occurring between Turkish authorities and the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK). As Erdogan has stated in the past that the Turkish government will not stop “until the PKK is eradicated,” it remains unlikely that a system fully run by the president with relatively unchecked powers would work towards compromises with the Kurdish group. Thus, the passing of the referendum is likely to only lead to additional intensified measures against the Kurds, thereby provoking the militants to engage in additional acts of militancy against Turkish security forces. Moreover, it is important to note that if Kurdish communities view the passing of this constitutional reform as oppressive, militants groups such as the Kurdistan Freedom Falcons (TAK) will be more likely to recruit frustrated individuals more susceptible to radicalization.

Also, the passing of the referendum is likely to cause additional pitfalls for Turkey’s economy in the coming months. Reports have continously highlighted elevated concerns of international investors regarding the stability of Turkey’s political system under a new government system. While a stronger executive would be expected to alleviate such woes, in light of Erdogan’s increasingly negative rhetoric towards European nations, as well as his staunch opposition against the Central Bank’s rising of interest rates to help promote growth in the declining Turkish Lira, additional authority granted to the president will likely only escalate worries of potential international investors. Thus, international entities may be less willing to invest, which will likely stifle economic development in the country. This would be significantly detrimental as the Turkish government has committed itself to multiple large-scale projects, including the building of a new airport in Istanbul. A lack in revenue to fully pay for such projects will only hurt the general populace who will have to make up for this shortage, thus leading to an even further declining lira as citizens are less willing to save and invest.

Meanwhile, geopolitical implications exist for the passing of such constitutional reform, particularly in regards to relations between Turkey and the EU. During the course of the referendum campaign, the Justice and Development Party (AKP) government has made persistent efforts to reach out to Turkish nationals living in Europe, in efforts to gain their support. However, European countries have blocked multiple efforts by Turkish politicians to campaign within the countries themselves, including Germany and the Netherlands, which has thus led the Turkish government to retaliate in the diplomatic sphere. Thus, the campaign has ultimately caused tensions between Turkey and the EU, and if the referendum is to pass, relations between these parties are likely to remain strained. Such cooling in tensions will likely lead to complications in multiple regional issues, including the current Syrian refugee crisis, as well as the outward threat of militancy, as Turkey may be less willing to coordinate with its European counterparts.

Acts of violence likely to materialize prior to the referendum vote date
Over the coming days, pre-vote violence emanating from tensions surrounding the passing of the referendum is likely to materialize, similar to what has been seen surrounding parliamentary elections. Such violence is likely to target parties who oppose the passing of the referendum, and be perpetrated by ultra-nationalists with no affiliation to the Turkish government, but who heavily support constitutional reform, namely those who support the MHP, who have been linked to precedent incidents of violence. Furthermore, such violence is likely to remain small-scale and unsophisticated, such as shooting attacks or the use of homemade IEDs against entities affiliated with the opposition. For instance, on March 21, an individual shot at a tattoo studio after mistaking it for a pro-Kurdish People’s Democratic Party (HDP) office in the city of Denizli. In addition, on December 17, 2016, an IED was detonated near an HDP office in Istanbul.

These incidents highlight the threat of such armed attacks by these ultra-nationalists, and potential for additional violence around the date of the referendum. Thus, prior to April 16, security forces are likely to intensify measures at campaign rallies, and entities connected to the referendum in order to prevent such attacks from unfolding. However, in light of existing tensions, the potential for acts of violence remains increased at this time. Furthermore, the possibility exists that militant groups, namely Islamic State or the Kurdistan Freedom Falcons (TAK), may take advantage of any disarray caused by large rallies or heightened tensions in order to stage attacks in major locales.


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.

Furthermore, on April 16, avoid nonessential travel to the vicinity of polling stations nationwide given the threat of politically-linked acts of violence emanating at these locales. In addition, on April 16 and the days prior, avoid nonessential travel to all campaign events and rallies regarding the referendum due to this risk of violence, as well as the threat of militancy unfolding at these events, albeit limited.

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.

Be advised that in Istanbul, areas that frequently record protests include the vicinity of Taksim Square, Galatasaray Square, along Istiklal Caddesi, Kadikoy’s Bull Statue (Boga Square), in the Fatih District, Beyazit Square, and Istanbul University.

In Ankara, such locales include Yuksel Street, Sakarya Square, as well as Guvenpark Memorial, Kurtulus Park, the Grand National Assembly, Ataturk Boulevard, Middle East Technical University, and other university campuses in the city.

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.


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Turkey Analysis: 41 killed in New Year’s shooting at Istanbul’s Reina nightclub

Current Situation: Islamic State (IS) claims responsibility for New Year’s shooting in Istanbul

Reports indicate that 41 people were killed and 69 more were wounded in a New Year’s shooting attack at the Reina nightclub in Istanbul’s Besiktas district during the overnight hours of December 31-January 1. Furthermore, 24 of those killed were reportedly foreign nationals. The incident transpired as an assailant armed with an assault rifle stormed the locale and opened fire at the crowd celebrating New Year’s Eve. Further reports indicate that the crowd at the club numbered in the mid to high hundreds. Following the incident, the assailant was able to escape the club. Turkish security forces have launched a search operation to locate and arrest the assailant; at the time of writing, he is still at large.

Turkey Analysis: 41 killed in New Year's shooting at Istanbul’s Reina nightclub | MAX Security

Turkey Analysis: 41 killed in New Year's shooting at Istanbul’s Reina nightclub | MAX Security

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  1. While the situation at the nightclub itself has been contained following the New Year’s shooting, given that the assailant remains at large and is still likely armed, heightened security measures can be anticipated in the vicinity of the night club, along the waterfront, and throughout central Istanbul. Locales likely to be affected include Yildiz Park, located near the nightclub, and more central locales such as those along Istiklal Caddesi, like Taksim Square.
  2. Moreover, the active New Year’s shooting attack comes amidst an escalated threat of militancy in major Turkish cities, as highlighted by the December 10 twin bombing attacks carried out by the Kurdish Freedom Falcons (TAK), near Istanbul’s Vodafone arena, which resulted in the deaths of at least 38 people. In this context, the IS claim of the attack is highly notable, as the militant group has rarely taken responsibility for such incidents in Turkey. Moreover, the attack remains more comparable to incidents carried out by IS sympathizers in Europe and the Americas, such as the June 12 active shooting attack targeting a gay nightclub in Orlando, Florida, thus increasing the likelihood that the shooter was inspired by IS ideology, and therefore, carried out the attack in the militant group’s name.
  3. In addition, it is important to note that the attack comes amidst recent calls by the jihadist group’s linked media to conduct attacks during the holiday period. For instance, in late December, a pro-IS media outlet issued a call for the group’s supporters to carry out worldwide acts of militancy against New Year’s Eve celebrations in crowded public spaces such as clubs, markets, theaters, cinemas, and malls. In light of these calls, with regards to Turkey, by encouraging such attacks, the Sunni jihadist militant group likely seeks to retaliate against Turkey’s ongoing operations in northern Syria against its fighters. Moreover, the fact that a nightclub frequented by foreign nationals was targeted may serve the jihadist group’s likely long-term strategy of deterring foreigners from traveling or investing in Turkey, thus potentially damaging the country’s national economy.
  4. Forecast: With this in mind, heightened security measures are likely to be recorded throughout Istanbul’s Besiktas District over the coming hours and days, in an attempt to detect and arrest the shooter. These are liable to include checkpoints, arrest raids, and heightened security presence in the vicinity of areas which are frequented by foreigners. Furthermore, there remains a potential that upon the detection of the assailant, an exchange of gunfire between security forces and the attacker will be recorded, thus potentially constituting a collateral threat to bystanders.


  1. 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.
  2. Avoid nonessential travel to the immediate vicinity 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.
  3. 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.
  4. Additionally, it is advised to maintain heightened vigilance throughout Istanbul’s Besiktas District over the coming hours and days, given that the assailant is still at large, as well as the currently increased security measures in this area aimed at locating the perpetrator.

Turkey Analysis: Islamic State’s recent publication highlights shifting rhetoric on Turkey; likely to lead to increased recruitment, attempted attacks

Executive Summary:

  • In Islamic State’s (IS) most recent publication of its self-promoting magazine, “Rumiyah,” the jihadist group calls for its followers to stage attacks against political, religious, and security entities within the Turkish state, as well as those who support the country in general.
  • This edition marks a drastic shift in rhetoric as compared to previous publications, which was likely triggered by the Turkish government’s increasing involvement against IS in both Iraq and Syria, particularly as the militant group faces major setbacks in both countries.
  •  Due to these setbacks, IS will likely increase its recruitment efforts, while attempting to launch less sophisticated, but more frequent attacks within Turkey over the coming weeks to retaliate against the Turkish state.
  • 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.

Current Situation:

  • In the Islamic State’s (IS) latest publication of “Rumiyah”, the group’s self-promoting magazine which lists its political and theological stances, as well as boasts its successful acts of militancy and achievements on the battlefield, the militant group called for its followers to “strike the Turkish taghout,” referring to the Turkish state as an apostate government, and all those who support the Turkish state.
  • While the militant group had written about its opposition to the Turkish government in previous issues of Rumiyah, as well as in its predecessor “Dabiq,” the jihadists’ resistance to Turkey in this most recent publication is heavily emphasized, and largely more hostile, unlike magazines in the past.
  • Moreover, IS explained how Turkey had previously attempted to keep its conflict with the militant group “under wraps,” but now, Turkey’s increasing intervention has displayed that the country’s president, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, “did not heed the lessons” of other opposing nations. By increasing its operations against IS, the jihadist group claims that the Turkish government is “cutting its own throats.”
  • IS lists four categories of targets for militants operating in Turkey in their most recent publication: 1) Turkish Imams, religious figures, and those who do not believe in Islam; 2) Police, judges, and the military; 3) Scholars, supporters of the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP), and other political parties allied to it; and 4) Citizens of “crusader” nations, which are countries that oppose and battle IS.
  • Finally, in light of the Turkish government allegedly “taking advantage” of IS while it has been occupied in battle, the militant group claims that the state has become “a target for IS operations” and a “priority for jihad.”

 Turkey Analysis: Islamic State’s recent publication highlights shifting rhetoric on Turkey; likely to lead to increased recruitment, attempted attacks | MAX Security

Assessments & Forecast:

IS concerns of Turkey as a substantial threat to activities dramatically rose in recent months due to increasing Turkish actions in Syria and Iraq

  • This recent publication comes amidst increased involvement by Turkey against the jihadist militant group, including its backing of Syrian rebels in “Operations Euphrates Shield,” and its direct support of Sunni, Turkmen, and Kurdish Peshmerga fighters who are challenging IS in the vicinity of Iraq’s Mosul. In light of IS facing multiple setbacks in northern Syria and Iraq, the jihadist group likely perceives Turkey’s escalating involvement as a major threat, thus calling for its fighters to retaliate against the Turkish state. In this context, while previous issues of the Sunni militant group’s publication in late 2014 and early 2015 had mentioned Turkey, namely by labeling President Erdogan as an apostate, the group claimed that the Turkish government was mostly preoccupied with its own internal conflict against the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), its own political instability, and threats emanating from other leftist militant groups. Thus, in the eyes of the jihadist militants, Turkey posed a limited threat to the operations of the group. This is further evidenced by Turkey’s minimal use of airstrikes employed against the jihadist group in 2015, particularly as compared to its frequent offensive measures taken against the PKK.
  • However, the militant group’s publication released in September 2015 made a notable shift from this typical rhetoric, suddenly labeling Turkey as a significant threat due to its proposed “safe zone” against IS in northern Syria. Moreover, it went on to claim that Turkey’s army remained one of the only adequate forces in NATO, largely due to US President Barack Obama’s perceived “neutering of the US military,” and the “underfunding” of militaries in other nations that make up the international military alliance. That said, the jihadist group still viewed Turkey as distracted by its own internal problems, and thus, focused less on the potential threat it posed.
  • In light of this continuing downplaying of the threat Turkey presents to IS throughout past publications, the most recent issue displays a drastic change in terms of rhetoric when writing about the Turkish government. In this context, as reflected by its recently issued publications, the Sunni jihadist militant group no longer perceives the Turkish government as distracted by its own internal factors. Instead, IS focused on Turkey’s escalated measures taken towards the jihadist group, including “opening its airspace” to nations opposing IS, “opening its borders” to provide support for Kurdish troops and rebels in both northern Syria and Iraq, and ultimately “entangling its army” in both conflict zones by sending planes to target the militants’ positions and tanks to strike against the group’s controlled territories.
  • This shift in focus is reflected on the ground, as IS struggles to maintain major territories, the Turkish government continues to remain heavily involved on the Bashiqa front in northern Iraq, thus reinforcing the Iraqi pro-government forces, mainly the local Sunni Arab and Kurdish forces, offensive to reclaim the city of Mosul. Also, Turkish tanks have been reported as nearly as 30 km south of the Turkish-Syrian border, thereby reinforcing rebels in their fight to retake northern Aleppo from the jihadist group. Both of these operations constitute substantial threats to the organization, therefore likely explaining IS’ shifting rhetoric in its most recent publication, and will likely lead to further threats by the jihadist group against Turkey in the days to come.

Due to setbacks and persistence of Turkish operations against it, IS likely to increase recruitment efforts in Turkey, while attempting to launch frequent yet smaller attacks in coming weeks

  • In general, the threat posed by IS to Turkey has been significantly reduced in recent months. Major, multi-pronged attacks in central locales, like witnessed in Istanbul’s Ataturk International Airport on June 28, have become notably less frequent. That being said, other groups have demonstrated their capability fill this gap and carry out sophisticated attacks in central Turkish cities, as most recently highlighted by the December 10 twin bomb attacks near Istanbul’s Vodafone Arena, which was ultimately claimed by the Kurdistan Freedom Falcons (TAK). With this in mind, despite the recent declining number of militancy incidents in Turkey, the threat of large-scale militancy in such areas persists, which is now further elevated by IS’ increasing focus on targeting Turkey.
  • In this context, as IS continues to lose ground, which has been the overwhelming trend in recent weeks, the group will likely fall back on its typical strategy of attempting to stage major attacks in its opponents’ rear. This has already been seen with the vehicle-borne IED attack in Diyarbakir on November 5, which an IS-linked new agency claimed was carried out by the jihadist militants themselves, although the radical Kurdistan Freedom Falcons (TAK) claimed responsibility for the same attack. Regardless of whether IS did actually carry out the attack, the claim was highly notable, as IS has refrained from claiming such incidents in Turkey, thus further underscoring the group’s stated motive in its latest publication to carry out acts of militancy. Furthermore, it is important to note that such militancy has been witnessed in the past when IS has felt increasingly pressured, likely in an attempt to project resilience. With this in mind, as IS fights to defend its final remaining strongholds in both countries, we assess that the militants will likely up the ante in the coming weeks.
 Turkey Analysis: Islamic State’s recent publication highlights shifting rhetoric on Turkey; likely to lead to increased recruitment, attempted attacks | MAX Security
Cover of the latest issue of “Rumiyah”, depicting the November 5 attack in Diyarbakir
  • In this context, despite Turkish security forces’ relative success in mitigating the threat of attacks in major cities, IS still has the potential to launch asymmetric acts of militancy within Turkey’s territory. For one, the militants still maintain somewhat of a presence in the country’s southern provinces located closer to the Turkish-Syrian border, such as Gaziantep, Urfa, and Adana, as recent arrests of IS militants have highlighted. Also, Turkish security forces have struggled in completely sealing off the border from IS infiltrations. That said, Turkish forces’ persistent efforts against the group, domestically and externally, have reduced this threat. Additionally, following the attempted coup in July, Turkish public support has swayed dramatically in favor of President Erdogan and the AKP government, thus limiting the potential pool of recruits for IS. Moreover, due to the state of emergency taken into effect after the coup, security forces were granted greater authority to take heightened measures, thus likely leading to a reduction of militancy altogether.
  • FORECAST: In light of these setbacks, IS will likely take two approaches in the coming weeks. First, the militant group will likely increase its propaganda tactics, in efforts to recruit supporters from within Turkey itself. Through means of the internet, namely social media, IS will likely seek out sympathizers in order to build its ranks, and get Turkish citizens to carry out attacks in its name. Second, due to Turkish forces’ escalated security presence, IS-linked supporters will likely aim to stage smaller, less sophisticated attacks in higher frequencies, as such are harder for security forces to detect. This will likely include shootings, as well as the use of IEDs and other explosives targeting security forces, political figures, and also civilians. Such was witnessed with the Diyarbakir attack on November 5, as the attack was a vehicle-borne IED instead of a suicide bombing or multi-pronged attack.
  • Ultimately, however, the main goal of IS will be to stage a large-scale attack in a major area, particularly as the group continues to lose ground in Syria and Iraq. As IS becomes more desperate, its motivation to stage such an attack will increase. In light of precedent attacks which have proven IS capabilities to stage such acts of militancy, a sophisticated attack occurring in a major locale in the coming months remains possible in the long-term. In addition to this, a heightened focus on government-affiliated targets, particularly entities linked with the AKP, may be witnessed with such attacks given the government’s persistent operations against the militant group.


  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.

Resourcefulness, reassurance and rescue amid chaos

On the night of June 28, three well-trained assailants launched coordinated attacks at Istanbul’s Ataturk International Airport. After attempting to breach the terminal’s initial security checkpoint, two of the militants engaged airport security in a gun battle. Both assailants then detonated themselves, while the third did the same outside the airport’s international terminal.

Forty-one people were killed and 239 wounded. Autopsies revealed the suicide bombers to be foreign nationals.

As horrific as the attack itself was, the inability of local authorities to take command in its aftermath was equally disturbing. With minimal information or direction, hundreds of dazed, frightened passengers had to make their own way out of what for them must have been a living hell, then find transportation they could only assume was secure.

MAX Responds.

While officials were scrambling for answers, MAX was finding them. We knew we had anxious clients out there. And having dealt with our share of terror, we knew exactly how to proceed.

Our first task was to monitor the situation in order to form an accurate picture of the attack. This helped verify reports. We followed up with an analysis of the event. MAX clients received our initial tactical reports immediately after the attack.

At the same time, our operations division readied itself for client support. Our Operations Team activated Rapid Response Protocols. A Task Force was established within the Command and Control Operations Center to handle all incoming enquiries pertaining to the attack. To manage client requests for security support, evacuation and crisis management, the Command Center ordered all MAX ground teams in Turkey to full operational readiness.


Mission One: A timely alert leads to a rapid response.

Among the hundreds of stranded travelers at Ataturk that night, a lucky few were about to be whisked to safety. They were employees of one of MAX’s multinational clients.

MAX had advance knowledge of their travel plans. We notified the client and contacted the travel party. Operations dispatched a Rapid Response Team to the airport. Their route had been predetermined based on a customized plan of action specifically designed for this client and this location. The Operations Command Center, receiving tactical information from the Task Force based on MAX Intelligence assessments, provided the rescue team with updates on routes as events were happening.

The result: The response team arrived in 23 minutes. The travelers arrived safe and sound in a hotel vetted in advance by MAX.


Mission Two: Providing reassurance and a safe getaway.

A large multinational had numerous travelers stranded at Ataturk. At the wrong place at the wrong time and in the midst of chaos, the travelers were desperate for direction, with none forthcoming from the local authorities. The multinational – a MAX client – needed our help in securing those individuals.

Our Operations Task Force immediately contacted the travelers, pinpointed their locations within the airport, advised them as to what actions to take and reassured them that help was on the way. At the same time, Operations dispatched and directed a rescue team consisting of multiple vehicles, security drivers and agents. The entire operation was guided by tactical intelligence provided in real-time by our intelligence team.

With foresight and advance knowledge of conditions and locations, the travelers were easily found and transferred to secure sites throughout Istanbul.


Mission Three: Planning for every possibility.

Based on a MAX alert a client informed us that two of their employees were on a flight bound for Istanbul that had been diverted to another location in Turkey. The catch – the final destination was still unknown and there were three possible locations.

MAX Operations Command Center prepared for each contingency by assembling three separate ground teams. The task of each assigned team was to be ready to meet the travelers should they arrive at that location.

Once the final destination had been determined, the team assigned to that location escorted the travelers to a nearby hotel vetted by the MAX Task Force. As soon as travel itineraries had been updated and the travelers’ plans confirmed, the MAX team provided a secure transfer back to the airport and remained until it was determined the flight had departed.


Testimonials: Mission accomplished.

Fantastic job yesterday by you and your team.  We are very impressed with the level of service provided at such short notice.”  Security Operations Executive of an international hi-tech company

Thank you once again for all your support in ensuring our employees were looked after on the ground.” Global Security and Crisis Management executive of a multinational energy company

I would like to thank you & your team’s support on such short notice. Thank you!” CSO of a multinational pharmaceutical company

And a final thought from Noam Schiller, MAX Security President:

It is unfortunate that these type of attacks are taking place in strategic locations such as Ataturk Airport in Istanbul. But as this is today’s reality and we don’t see any prospect for change in the near future, we all should take every necessary measure to guarantee your employees safety, as we successfully did last night


The more chaotic the world becomes, the more you can rely on MAX to keep your business running as usual.


Read more posts like this in Max Security Blog.

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

Turkey Special Report: The Attack at Istanbul’s Ataturk International Airport

This report was written by:
Tzahi Shraga – MAX Security’s Chief Intelligence Officer, ret. LTC from of the Israeli intelligence community

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

Garrett Krivicich – MAX Security’s Senior Analyst on Turkey

Asaf Day – MAX Security’s Senior Analyst on the Eastern Mediterranean

Executive Summary

Three suicide bombers of Russian and Central Asian descent launched a well-planned and coordinated attack, detonating themselves at Istanbul’s Ataturk International Airport during the evening hours of June 28 and causing the deaths of 41 people and wounding of 239 others.

While no claim of responsibility has been released at this time, we assess that the Islamic State (IS) is responsible for the attack, given the sophisticated modus operandi of the incident, namely a coordinated attack in three separate locations, including a diversion stage, as well as the target, which is an international hub for foreign nationals.

Current Situation

Description of event
Three suicide bombers detonated themselves at Istanbul’s Ataturk International Airport during the evening hours of June 28.  Reports indicate that at approximately 22:00 (local time), the assailants arrived by taxi at the international terminal’s arrivals hall.  One militant remained behind in the parking lot and aroused police suspicion; he began shooting at police and then detonated a suicide belt.

As security forces gathered around the scene of the first blast, in the chaos, the two other attackers were able to enter the international terminal: One at the arrivals hall terminal, and the other upstairs to the departure hall.

The second and third explosions reportedly took place at the arrivals and departures halls, where each attacker attempted to pass through security and began shooting, engaging with security forces before separately detonating themselves.

Coordinated Attack at Istanbul’s Ataturk International Airport


Description of attackers
The attackers were reportedly from Russia’s Dagestan region, as well as from Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan, and they were armed with standard AK-47 assault rifles.  However, a local knowledgeable source speaking to us stated that one carried a Glock pistol.

Furthermore, the same source stated that one assailant arrived to Turkey one year prior to the attack and then traveled to Syria’s Raqqa Province for training, while the two others joined him several months later. After a period of training, the three returned to Istanbul.

Death tolls
At the time of writing, 41 people have been killed, and 239 others were wounded as a result of the attack. Of these deaths, at least 13 were foreign nationals, including from Ukraine, Iran, Saudi Arabia, Iraq, Tunisia, Uzbekistan, China, and Jordan.

Security operations
Reports indicate that during the overnight hours of June 29-30, Turkish security forces arrested 13 people during counter-militancy operations in Istanbul, include three foreign nationals of unspecified nationality.

Airports update
While airport operations, including all arriving and departing flights, were suspended following the attack, the airport was reportedly reopened for limited traffic at 02:20. Initial flights began arriving and departing at 05:00. Multiple flights had also been redirected to Istanbul’s Sabiha Gokcen International Airport and Izmir’s Adnan Menderes Airport at the time of the incident.

While at this time, Istanbul’s Ataturk International Airport is open to regular air traffic, various delays were reported throughout June 29 due to intensified security measures in and around the airport. This includes additional security force deployments to the airport.


Sophistication of multi-pronged attack indicates Islamic State (IS) responsibility
The attack comes amidst an escalated threat of militancy throughout Turkey, with multiple large-scale acts of militancy recorded in central locales since the beginning of the year. Most recently, this includes a suicide car bomb explosion at Istanbul’s Beyazit Square on June 7. That said, the multi-faceted attack at Istanbul’s Ataturk International Airport remains highly notable, given its status as the third largest international airport in Europe, with nearly 42 million people traveling through the airport in 2015, as well as the large number of foreign nationals traveling through this locale. With this in mind, the attack was likely intended to target tourist interests in order to gain more publicity and severely damage Turkey’s economy, which largely thrives on tourism.

While no group has claimed responsibility for the attack as of yet, we assess that it was likely carried out by militants belonging to the Islamic State (IS). In this context, IS, dependent on its image for support and recruitment, likely seeks to conduct spectacular attacks globally at this time due to the setbacks the group is facing in Iraq, Syria, and Libya.  The threat of attacks is further elevated at this time due to Ramadan, which marks the anniversary of the founding of the caliphate.

IS’s responsibility for the attack is supported by the sophisticated modus operandi of the incident, namely a coordinated attack in three separate locations, including a diversion stage, as well as the target, which is an international hub for foreign nationals.  The attack involved shooting followed by suicide bombings, a common tactic of the jihadist militant group. This assessment is bolstered by the IS attack plot foiled in Istanbul that we reported on June 18, when security forces seized suicide vests and assault rifles in the city’s Pendik and Basaksehir Districts, indicating plans for the use of an identical tactic. In addition, it is important to note the similarities between this attack, and the attack carried out by IS in Brussels on March 22, where three suicide bombers also attacked the city’s airport, as well as opened fire on civilians with assault rifles prior to detonating themselves. This overall strategy, as well as choice of weaponry, continues to highlight the jihadist group’s modus operandi when carrying out such large-scale attacks.

The attack was planned well in advance and followed a long period of intelligence-gathering to include on-ground reconnaissance at the airport.  The event further displayed a high level of coordination and sophistication, as militants detonated themselves at three different points at the airport, two inside the terminal and one outside. This was likely an attempt to split security forces’ response and increase the potential that at least one attacker would successfully breach the airport’s security measures. This is further underscored by reports that the attacker in the parking lot detonated first, drawing security forces to the area, as well as creating a bottleneck of people near the entrance to the terminal.

Moreover, after thorough review of video footage and images of the attack, we conclude that the assailants demonstrated a high level of proficiency in use of their assault rifles and were well-trained. This is further exemplified by their reported training in Syria. Also, as seen with the jihadist group’s previously claimed large-scale attacks, namely Brussels and the Paris attacks on November 13, 2015, the assailants’ tactics demonstrate that they were attempting to inflict mass casualties. With this in mind, the incident at the airport demonstrates a repeating modus operandi of high-volume attacks at the entrance halls of airport terminals, which are accessible relative to the heavily guarded sterile areas of airports, additionally highlighting the vulnerability of the long lines caused by security measures to these areas.

The attack comes one week after the arrest of the June 18 IS cell in Istanbul, which included two individuals of Russian descent. This further indicates the existence of a well-established IS infrastructure in the vicinity of the city, well-connected to IS’s central leadership and recruitment network. In this context, the fact that the attackers were from Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, and Russia’s Dagestan area suggests that the individuals were directed by the central organization to establish a cell in Turkey. This further indicates the potentially growing radicalization of Muslim individuals in these countries, particularly in Russia’s predominantly-Muslim populated regions in the Caucasus, which experiences Islamist militant activity.

While suspected IS-linked attacks have been conducted in Istanbul before, including a suicide bombing along Istiklal Caddesi on March 19, and another at Sultanahmet Square on January 12, none of them have been officially claimed by the jihadist group. This was likely in order to avoid a general large-scale conflict with Turkey, and to prevent alienating potential IS sympathizers within the Turkish populace. However, the sophistication of the attack and notability of the target suggests that the jihadist group may claim responsibility for the incident in the near future. Furthermore, the worldwide attention granted to this attack, as well as its spectacular method is likely to serve as an inspiration and role model for additional militant groups in Turkey and worldwide.

Successful attack underscores challenges for Turkish security apparatus; heightened security measures likely to be implemented
The incident underscores difficulties faced by Turkish security forces in mitigating all threats presented by the multitude of militant groups operating within the country, even at locales deemed heavily secured. Security forces face challenges in profiling suspected IS members due to the diverse nationalities comprising the group’s affiliates. It is noteworthy that militants were likely attempting to cross through the first security checkpoint to stage attacks deeper within the airport’s terminal but were prevented by the security forces, preventing a much larger-scale attack from materializing. That said, it is notable that the security personnel were distracted and concentrated their efforts to one area, namely the parking area where the first attacker detonated, more easily allowing the other two attackers to enter the airport.  It is further notable that as demonstrated by the attack footage, after one attacker was shot and wounded by a police officer inside the terminal, falling to the ground and dropping his rifle, several seconds passed until he detonated his explosive belt, time during which the officer could have neutralized him.

Following this incident, Turkey’s security apparatus will likely adopt a series of heightened protocols in order to mitigate further threats. This includes intensified security measures in and around Istanbul’s Ataturk International Airport, including checkpoints entering and exiting the airport’s grounds, as well as additional security checks within the facility itself. These security protocols will also likely be extended to other major airports and transportation hubs throughout the country. Finally, security forces will likely enhance security measures in Istanbul and in other centralized locales throughout the country, including Ankara and Izmir. This is likely to include further arrest raids of suspected militant hideouts, and checkpoints to and from these major cities.

With this in mind, Turkish security forces will likely consider more forceful measures in retaliating to the attack and responding to the threat presented by the militant group in general. This will likely include an increase in airstrikes against IS’s positions in northern Syria. Additionally, Turkish authorities may consider conducting cross-border operations between Turkey and Syria to better secure the porous border and prevent IS militants from entering the country. Last, Turkish authorities may reconsider a proposed “safe zone” in northern Syria to further damage IS capabilities in Syria.



  1. Those operating or residing in Turkey are advised to contact us at [email protected] or +44 20-3540-0434 for itinerary and contingency support options.
  2. Those planning to travel through Turkey’s airports, specifically Ataturk International Airport, should allot for heightened security measures and long lines, extending the time needed for pre-departure.
  3. Travelers on connecting flights are advised to avoid unnecessary travel outside the secured zones of the airport.
  4. Avoid unnecessary confrontations with security forces, due to their heightened tensions and alertness across Turkey.
  5. Allot for checkpoints and heightened security measures nationwide.


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Intelligence Analysis: Is a Kurdish State on the Horizon?

While the media is focused on Iranian nuclear talks, the war in Syria, and the elections in Egypt, Iraqi Kurdistan (KRG) is making headways in severing Baghdad’s grip over its national ambitions, chiefly the establishment of an independent Kurdish state.

Still, numerous obstacles remain along with plenty of regional and international dissenters, not to mention the task of overcoming a web of Kurdish political rivalries. While a myriad of concerns exist, fresh geopolitical realities are furthering the Iraqi Kurdish cause. Those realities, which have manifested into a new pipeline deal with Turkey, are turning the KRG into an influential and crucial player in the Middle East, which could arguably propel a push for Kurdish independence – sooner rather than later.

Female fighters in the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK)

While ethnic Kurds are spread out throughout Iraq, Iran, Syria, and Turkey, their Iraqi brethren have advanced the most in terms of achieving Kurdish-nationalist goals. Since 2005, Iraqi Kurdistan is a semi-autonomous region, and one that is secured by its own forces, relatively stable, and increasingly able to make unilateral foreign policy decisions – much to the chagrin of Baghdad. Moreover, the defeat of their premier threat, the Iraqi army, by the Americans in 2003, contributed immensely to Kurdish sovereignty. Then America’s continued presence fostered a period of internal stability and growth, while the region’s preoccupation with a ruthless Sunni and Shiite bloodletting enabled the KRG to entrench itself as a formidable player in Iraqi politics.

Continue reading Intelligence Analysis: Is a Kurdish State on the Horizon?