The Turkish government has long been torn between being an ever-more belligerent regional power broker and a faithful US ally, ready to sacrifice itself for Uncle Sam. Wherever possible, it combines both strategies by acting as the local attack dog, partly because it knows that even a secular Turkish state cannot be fully trusted by the West. But now it seems to have taken one step too far in its desire to be soloist and accompanist at the same time.
On January 12 a bomb blast in the Sultanahmet district of Istanbul killed at least 10 people and injured at least 15. Casualties included eight Germans and a Korean, whilst people of other nationalities were amongst the wounded. This has been blamed, as ever, on ISIS and someone who allegedly entered Turkey from Syria.
But a lot of things about this don’t add up. There is too much confirmed information which contradicts the suppositions being made. More likely it was actually an inside job – designed to prop up the Turkish government, support US policy in the Middle East and keep Russia out of an anti-terrorist coalition at the same time. It wouldn’t be the first time this had happened, and it is very unlikely to be the last, as long as Western governments see everything and everybody as fair game.
Whispers in the wrong ears
The first sign that something was likely to happen on January 12 was that the German government made an announcement earlier that day. Generally, official announcements take the form of press releases, press briefings, messages on embassy pages etcetera. This one however was tweeted – Germans travelling to Istanbul were told to avoid large crowds, per se, in the capital.
Is a large crowd inherently dangerous? Germany hasn’t had a problem with its nationals joining large crowds in foreign countries before. It doesn’t warn Germans to steer clear of large crowds when they visit other countries for New Year, for example, though they are likely to want to see and get involved in big public celebrations if they are making the effort to travel.
So Germany must have heard something was up, and warned its citizens to cover itself. However it only did so semi-officially – it wasn’t going to stand up in public, before the press, with what it knew or had heard. It is a lot easier to deny a social media post than a press release sent on official notepaper, and all governments everywhere have such “failsafe mechanisms” – i.e., what to do if a statement rebounds on you – built into their communications strategies.
If Germany had reason to believe something was about to happen, it must have got this information from somewhere. In other words, Turkey knew, and so did Western intelligence. Indeed, the reaction to the bombing confirms all this for anyone who has seen enough of these incidents, and the dubious nature of many of them.
After the 9/11 “terrorist bombings” it was announced almost immediately that Osama bin Laden and his group were responsible, and we suddenly knew an awful lot about bin Laden. With all this knowledge available to Homeland Security, it remains an unanswered question how the attacks could have occurred in the first place, and why explosive material has been found at the site of the destroyed tower, and how a building which passed US safety regulations collapsed when struck by a plane, which architects insist cannot have happened.
Similarly, the “Boston Marathon Bombings” were videoed in all their gory detail, although some of the cameramen were wearing sunglasses and panned up to the damaged buildings at significant moments, such as when the man with the prosthetic leg loses it and it is replaced with a new one by those pushing him. The video also shows the same person in several places, and is superimposed at various points with two unconnected halves of the same body, which flash in and out of the footage when what is behind them is too incriminating to be seen.
The January 12 attacks conform to this pattern. The Turkish security services seem to have been well-prepared for it, having enough personnel vehicles on hand to take the wounded to hospital straight away. Compare this with the scene at most tourist areas anywhere, where even a high security complement doesn’t extend to having ambulances available.
Compare it too with the situation in countries ravaged by terrorist bombings on a regular basis – Northern Ireland suffered 30 years of terrorist atrocities, expecting them daily, and its security and medical services operated on this assumption. Yet its security and medical forces only “sprang into action” with such efficiency in incidents now known to have been set up by those same security forces, as the current programme of investigations into historic offences is making clear.
Victimhood is a weapon
If Turkey had any serious interest in keeping ISIS out of its territory it would close its eastern borders and keep track of those who are crossing them now. However it does no such thing. Time and again, people suspected of involvement in terrorist actions manage to travel via Turkey to wherever the next operation is. All the main oil and drug supply routes, the ones ISIS uses to fund itself, pass through Turkey and weapons and other supplies are also going to ISIS regularly via Turkey.
But Turkey now claims it is being targeted by the same ISIS. This makes the country appear unstable, a bad place to live and invest in. So why does its government want people to think such things?
It has long been a practice of governments at all levels to prolong negative circumstances for their own profit. For example, Europe is supposedly suffering from a “refugee crisis”. When people migrate from one country to another they do not go to all parts of that country equally, they settle in particular areas, usually near the airports. They then become the responsibility of the local authorities of those areas, rather than central governments, although central governments dealt with them on arrival and have effectively “passed on the burden”.
Local authorities discovered long ago that if you actually provide sufficient housing and welfare support for refugees and asylum seekers, no one thanks you and no one notices. If, however, you continually complain that your area is a “magnet”, and that you are “under siege” due to the number of applicants you become the focus of public policy and funding.
Making such claims presents the local authority as a positive force which cares for its people against uncaring government. They give it a voice and get it support. But in order to retain that voice it cannot afford to actually improve its services and make the problem go away. Such authorities routinely reject out of hand any proposal for improvement, on the grounds that “social workers aren’t very good at keeping figures of asylum applicants”, etcetera. There is more to gain from being a magnet for things people don’t want than from being prosperous and secure.
Turkey has form for this. It has long aspired to be the regional leader, but is now being threatened by Iran, amongst others, just as it is growing exponentially. Following the US-Iran nuclear deal, it is desperate to thrust itself back into the spotlight by being an ever-more obedient US lapdog, having once been its only ally in the region, and any attack puts it at the heart of the US war on terrorism, which Iran is still theoretically on the other side of.
The timing of the attack is also interesting. Turks are fond of celebrating anniversaries significant for the state, such as Ataturk’s assumption of power and the dates of various battles. It is not a coincidence that this latest attack occurred a year almost to the day (not to make the set up too obvious) after the January 6, 2015 suicide bombing in the same district of Istanbul.
Sultanahmet Square is one of the main tourist areas, so any incident there would gain the maximum international exposure. This attack too was blamed on ISIS, the bomber being a Dagestani and the widow of a “Norwegian-Chechen ISIS fighter in Syria who had been killed in December 2014”. We know that most of these Chechens are trained by the US, in the Pankisi Gorge in Georgia, but the issue is that it is seeking to break away from Russia, thus dragging the Russian Federation into the picture.
Russia has long called for a broad international front against terrorism, having enough Islamic militancy of its own to address. The West has always resisted this, despite its own demonisation of the same “terrorists” Russia is fighting. So Russia has to be associated with terrorism itself to justify the Western position, particularly as it has removed ISIS from a number of positions in Syria and Iraq during its very limited bombing campaigns, exactly as the West would have done long ago had it had any real intention of doing so.
Local media close to Turkish president Erdogan are predictably blaming the bombing on the Russians. Erdogan himself says that the bomber came from Syria. This may be so, but this attribution is again interesting.
Russia is on the opposite side to the West in the Syrian conflict, in which the US and Turkey support, and are fighting with, those they call terrorists. Turkey has a vested interest in supporting its claim to be a magnet of terrorism by claiming that Russia, the biggest threat to the US-terrorist alliance, is somehow responsible for it.
The same script
Erdogan is well aware that Turkey is an ally on sufferance. If the West could ignore it, or even get rid of it, it would. Consequently, Turkey is continually reminded of its human rights record, democratic shortcomings and religious deviance through the Western press whenever its gets too high and mighty for its sponsors’ liking.
Erdogan can’t make his crimes against his minorities and opponents go away. Instead he is justifying them by ratcheting up the rhetoric this attack has given him an international platform to spout. His position is that of George W. Bush – either you are with us or you are a terrorist, and as terrorism is the great evil we can do whatever we like in the name of combating it.
This tactic is actually taken from Russia – Erdogan is seeking to call the West’s bluff. The US alliance has got away with such behaviour for years. Erdogan is now daring it to try and complain about Turkey doing the same thing. Back us or sack us, he is saying in the eyes of the world, knowing that if the West really wanted to sack Turkey or its government it would have done so long before now.
So everyone is left with no choice but to let Erdogan have his way until he can be overthrown. This might be achieved if ISIS creates its Kurdish state by getting the Kurds to rally in self defense, which would include parts of Turkey. Russia is actually preventing that by gaining ground on ISIS and the West in Syria, but Erdogan can’t change horses now, or his goose will be cooked by all sides.
So who was behind this terrorist attack? It was unlikely to have been a terrorist. Who would strike on the anniversary of a previous bombing, in the same place, where there is bound to be heightened security for this reason? No strategic facility was bombed, just random tourists, whose deaths will merely antagonise other countries, not hurt them.
The most likely culprit is Erdogan himself, and the Grey Wolves who support him. No one can be seen supporting a terrorist attack. Erdogan can blame who he likes and get away with it because too many others have too much to hide to prevent him. He will exploit that for as long as it takes, all the more so since his domestic political support is diminishing by the day.
In the wake of the bombing Erdogan accused those who object to his government of being “intellectuals”. Any analysis of what really happened on January 12 will implicate him, but will have to be explained as he denies this. Dismissing any argument as “intellectual” is the last resort of one who knows he cannot sustain his lies.
Seth Ferris, investigative journalist and political scientist, expert on Middle Eastern affairs, exclusively for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook”.