Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) Adana deputy and Parliamentary Assembly of NATO member retired Gen. Kürşat Atılgan has claimed that the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) is now being used by Israel. “It would be naive to think that Israel does not use the PKK,” he said. Atılgan argued that a message is being sent to Turkey via the recent increase in terror attacks because of the deterioration in Turkish-Israeli relations.
Speaking to Today’s Zaman, Atılgan claimed that regional developments play a great role in the recent increase in the PKK’s terrorist attacks, and that Turkey’s deteriorating relations with the US and Israel are acting as catalysts.
“The security of Israel lies at the heart of any peace or conflict atmosphere in the Middle East. Any development that has occurred since 1957 cannot be considered independent of Israel’s security. The recent tension with Israel has led to an escalation of the attacks by the PKK, which is certainly a subcontractor organization. Thus, the PKK attacks are being used as a means to urge Turkey to yield to this pressure. In the past, this organization was used by a host of countries including Greece, Russia and Syria. Given the fact that Israel has a strong intelligence organization that can exert a certain control over all organizations in the Middle East, it would be naive to say or think that Israel has no connection to the PKK. And it is impossible to know the extent of this connection,” he said.
Retired Gen. and MHP Adana deputy Kürşat Atılgan says that Turkey’s recent tension with Israel has led to an escalation of the attacks by the PKK, which is ‘certainly a subcontractor organization.’ Atılgan says the PKK issue can only be solved through military measures and adds that northern Iraq is the source of the problem
Axis shift unlikely
Pointing out that Turkish-US relations faltered after Parliament denied US troops permission to use Turkish territory to launch attacks against Iraq in a decision passed on March 1, 2003, Atılgan indicated that the hopes for a recovery in the relations that were refreshed after the Democrats came to power have now been mostly broken due to Iran and Israel. He noted that a great part of the US administration and the West perceive Turkey as an unyielding advocate of Hamas and a protector of Iran. “This perception may be a tactical perception. Perhaps the axis shift debates are the last ring in this chain. It is not the case that Turkey has changed its axis. This is because an axis shift is not easy for Turkey. Turkey has been exerting efforts to Westernize for about 200 years. A country with a deep-rooted tradition of statecraft cannot easily change its axis with some blunders in foreign policy. This determination to Westernize is still strong,” he said.
Atılgan claimed that the axis shift debates are closely related to regional developments and attributed the deterioration of Turkish-Israeli relations to the emergence of these debates.
“In the past, Turkey preferred to adopt a detached approach to the problems in the Middle East. It pursued a balanced policy toward Arabs and Israel after the 1950s. After the 1980s, this balance was disrupted in favor of Israel. But during the last three or five years, Turkey started to favor the Arabs. The Israeli attack on Gaza was the start of this change in balance. Turkey was conducting mediation and peace talks between Syria and Israel, but Israel deceived the Turkish government and attacked Gaza. Moreover, this attack came one day after the Israeli prime minister’s visit to Ankara. Israel attacked Gaza knowingly, willingly and accepting of its consequences. The Turkish government felt a profound sense of deception after this event,” he said.
Atılgan responded to Today’s Zaman’s questions regarding Turkish foreign policy and developments in the Middle East.
Has Turkey assumed a mission that is far beyond its capabilities in the Middle East?
The Middle East is the most slippery ground in the world. The problems in this region are virtually impossible to solve. And the most complicated of these problems is the Palestinian issue. Such an issue cannot be solved merely by using our national capabilities. The greatest share in this deadlock belongs to Israel. Israel has not given the Palestinians the rights provided for in the Oslo Summit. In recent years, Turkey has acted hastily in volunteering to solve issues that are difficult or even impossible to solve. Turkey’s national capabilities are not sufficient to solve these issues. Realizing that Israel is the main factor behind the lack of a settlement, Turkey has engaged in a power struggle with Israel.
Do you think that the problem is this power struggle between Turkey and Israel?
It was wrong to start a power struggle with Israel. As a result of this struggle, Israel knowingly and willingly killed our eight citizens and captured our vessel in an act of piracy in international waters. This is a great fiasco. With regard to Turkey’s Iran policy, Israel sent a message with this attack, which effectively said that things will be harder for Turkey in the region. Indeed, Israel’s defense strategy is centered on destroying everything that may pose a threat to its security in the future. It is for this reason that Israel is trying to prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons. This policy is wrong, but it is perceived as vital by Israel.
TSK’s failure in lending support to government in the crisis
Do you think that Turkey was unable to make Israel backpedal because the elements of national power did not lend support to the government? Why didn’t the Turkish Armed Forces (TSK) assume an active role in rescuing our citizens and vessels?
There is a long chain of mistakes in this regard. First of all, no one in Turkey knows how many miles out to sea Israel considers to be part of the blockade on Gaza. Israel is not a normal country. It is a problematic country that believes that it is surrounded by threats. It is a paranoia-stricken country. What can you say if they declare the blockade starting from 100 miles? If you have power, then you can declare a blockade that is in your national interests. This is acceptable in international law. We, as Turkey, had at one time declared a blockade starting from 25 miles off the Turkish coastline. But after a while, we understood that it did not serve our interests and lifted it. Those guys were shouting, “Do not come.” But the misconception was that they could not interfere with the Turkish vessel.
Wasn’t it possible to conduct a military operation to rescue the Turkish citizens after the Israeli intervention?
Did the government instruct the TSK to protect the civilian vessels carrying aid to Gaza? The government should state whether it had given such instructions to the TSK. If it did not do this, did it order the TSK to bring back our citizens after the vessels were captured?
Such an order was not given to the military. The government is at fault to a great extent in this regard. If they are so determined not to allow any violation of the blockade, then our national power elements must be so powerful as to not to allow any country to kill our citizens.
Didn’t Turkey go to great effort, like Israel, to prevent Iran from having nuclear weapons?
Iran must never acquire nuclear weapons. If it acquires them, then Turkey, too, must acquire them. Iran’s possession of these weapons will change the balance of power in the region. To say that it is wrong for Israel to have nuclear weapons is one thing, and to defend that Iran, too, should have them is another. To conduct a military operation to urge Iran to give up its intentions to own these weapons is wrong. Turkey has acted incorrectly. It was wrong for the prime minister to use the case of Israel as support for his argument that Iran should not possess nuclear weapons. To urge the international community to raise their voice against Israel does not mean to concede to Iran possessing nuclear weapons.
Don’t you think that it is a success for Turkey to have convinced Iran to accept the swap deal?
No, it is not a success. Five members of the UN Security Council agreed to intensify the sanctions against Iran. Even China and Russia were convinced. However, Turkey acted in line with Brazil in getting the swap deal signed right before sanctions were brought to the floor. Turkey should have acted in unison with the international community. Still, it is perfectly normal for Turkey to stand behind its signature. No state can act by ignoring the signature it negotiated just several days earlier.
Will Turkish-Israeli relations improve in the future?
With the Gaza attack, Israel deceived Turkey. It is the Israelis who torpedoed the peace talks. And they did it knowingly and willingly. Israel believes that an atmosphere of conflict better suits its interests. So it is inclined to maintain that atmosphere. A conflict of Turkey and Israel’s interests has now started to emerge, and this is mostly attributable to Iran. Israel used a force that was beyond what was available to it in order to deter Iran’s bid to acquire nuclear weapons in convincing the US and the international community to impose sanctions on Iran. Israel alone started Iran’s isolation. Iran’s possession of nuclear weapons is a security problem for Israel. So Israel wants to eliminate these weapons before they are even produced. It has coaxed the international community into conducting the operations it would have to carry out by itself in the future. We cannot expect a recovery in relations in the near future.
Turkish-US relations to improve in 2011
Israel is the main factor in the deterioration of Turkish-US relations. Can any recovery be expected?
It will be possible to improve our relations with the US in 2011 when the US troops pull out of Iraq. The continuation of the order the US established in Iraq is closely related to the role Turkey will play in the region. As it is pulling out from the region, the US has to rectify its relations with Turkey. Otherwise, the already slippery region may turn into a hell. The US will hand over the security of Iraq and the future of northern Iraq to Turkey. Indeed, the West is discussing what Prime Minister Ayad Allawi will do. Sunnis and Shiites may unite to attack northern Iraq. The possibility of an operation against the north is raising concerns in the West. The only power that can stop this is Turkey, acting in line with the US.
What do you think about northern Iraq turning into a headquarters for the PKK and the prime minister calling on NATO to fight the PKK?
It is an extremely misguided discourse. The problem here is different from what is in Afghanistan. It is not fitting for an international organization to take sides with separatist terror in Turkey. This is against the national interests of Turkey. Indeed, Turkey’s problem is not its inability to fight terrorism. It is the confusion of minds in the government. Until 2002, the TSK successfully fought terrorism, reducing it even to zero. After 2002, Turkey started to see the problem not as a terrorism problem, but as an identity problem. This has boosted terrorism.
But even many military officials acknowledge that the problem cannot be settled via military methods.
If you regard terrorism as an identity problem, you will have to launch an initiative. The TSK is fighting terrorism and is getting support from the people of the region. The PKK is not a representative of the Southeast. The PKK’s goal of establishing a state has not changed, it has just switched to interim goals. This should have been taken into consideration in the policy-making efforts.
How do you think Turkey can solve the terror problem?
The PKK issue can only be solved through military measures. If Turkey clears the PKK camps in northern Iraq and creates a secure zone in the region, this problem will be resolved in short order. This is because the source of the problem is northern Iraq.
Turkey has conducted 24 cross-border military operations into northern Iraq so far, hasn’t it?
Currently, the government holds the authorization it has received from Parliament. It has not transferred it to the military. The recent operations are nothing but hot pursuits. Northern Iraq is the source of the problem. Without a full and permanent cleansing operation in northern Iraq, the problem cannot be solved. Similarly, the regional government in northern Iraq should be asked whether they are with us or with the PKK; they should make up their mind. The US is another aspect of the PKK situation. We should discuss the PKK, not Hamas or Palestine, in our relations with the US. We should make them understand that we can no longer tolerate this situation. As we convince the US to help us against the PKK, we must help the US with Iran. The recent escalation of PKK attacks is a message to Turkey sent via terror. But it is a message to those who can understand it.