Diplomats in Ankara wonder about the travels of intel chief Kalin

The meeting between the head of the Turkish National Intelligence Organization (MIT), İbrahim Kalin, and Hamas leader İsmail Haniyeh in Doha, Qatar, on February 3 has increased the curiosity of Ankara diplomatic circles recently.

A few hours after Anadolu Agency’s report, citing security sources, Hamas spokesman Osama bin Hamdan announced overnight that no new ceasefire or prisoner swap agreement had yet been reached with Israel in Gaza.
Foreign diplomats in Ankara were still trying to sort out Kalın’s meetings with the Iraqi government and Turkmen groups in Baghdad and Kirkuk on January 23 and with Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) leader Massoud Barzani in Erbil, the seat of the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG).
Of course, it should not be forgotten that just before Kalin met with the Hamas leader in Qatar, it was announced to the press that MIT had arrested another group of field operatives suspected of working for Mossad, Israel’s foreign intelligence service.

Points overlooked
An overlooked point is that even if Kalin’s visits had not been announced, would the intelligence agencies active in the region, such as the US, Russian, Israeli, Iranian, and Saudi Arabian intelligence, have been unaware of them? Or is every foreign trip of the head of the Turkish secret service announced? Don’t these announced trips send a message to everyone interested: “Look, we are here, don’t try to play games by excluding us”?
Iraq is the riskiest country for Turkey’s border security. It is also NATO’s southeastern border. The terrorism threat from Syria was met across the border with military operations between 2016 and 2019. Doing the same in Iraq is much more difficult geographically. The PKK as the number one threat to Turkish security has been in Iraq since the 1980s, in the Qandil mountains, near to Turkish and Iranian borders. On the one hand, Ankara wants to counter the PKK’s actions originating from Iraq across Turkey’s borders, and on the other hand, it is trying to prevent the geographical continuity between PKK’s Iraqi and Syrian branches. This is important not only for the PKK’s goal of a Kurdish state but also for preventing a PKK-controlled corridor from Syria to Iran. The SDF, formed around the PKK’s Syrian branch PYD/YPG, has been nurtured and strengthened by the US military for a decade under the pretext of fighting against ISIS (DAESH in Turkish terminology).

Are the travels of Kalin a surprise?
Let us turn from the wide angle to the narrow angle, to the current.
On December 19, it was known that Iraqi Foreign Minister Fuad Hussein would meet Hakan Fidan in Ankara. Iraq was unable to prevent the PKK from establishing bases in its country, but it was uncomfortable with the operations of the Turkish Armed Forces and MİT on its territory. Hussein arrived with Defense Minister Sabit Abbas and intelligence officials. The meeting turned into a bilateral security summit with the participation of Yasar Guler, the Minister of National Defense, and Kalın. In a joint statement, it was announced that they discussed “the threats posed by the PKK within the framework of security cooperation”.
On December 28, the PKK attacked one of Turkey’s observation posts in Iraq, killing 12 soldiers.
On December 29, it was announced that 29 ISIS suspects, who were preparing to attack churches and synagogues on New Year’s Eve, had been captured in joint operations by the Interior Ministry and MIT; among their targets was the Iraqi Embassy in Ankara.
On January 12, ISIS struck again, this time murdering 9 soldiers.
On January 16, Fidan said in a speech at the Parliament, “If the PUK (Kurdistan Patriotic Union, run by Talabani family) does not change its attitude in support of the PKK despite our sanctions against Sulaymaniyah (such as blocking flights), we will not hesitate to take further measures.” It was no coincidence that the recent spot operations of MIT and the Turkish Armed Forces were mostly carried out in Sulaymaniyah, where the Talabani-controlled Patriotic Union of Kurdistan is strong.
Against this backdrop, it would have been surprising if Kalin had not intensified his travels to Iraq.

Hamas, ISIS, PKK
On January 23, Kalin first met with government officials, including President Abdullatif Rashid, in Baghdad, and with officials of the Iraqi Turkmen Front in Kirkuk on January 24, before returning to Ankara.
On January 28, he flew to Erbil, the seat of the Iraqi Kurdistan Autonomous Administration. He met with KDP leader Barzani as well as administration officials. It did not take a clairvoyant to say that the PKK, Talabani, Iran, and ISIS were discussed during the meeting.
That day, ISIS stormed the Santa Maria Italian Catholic Church in Istanbul, killing one person. MIT found out that the terrorist act was the work of ISIS’s “Khorasan Wilayat” branch. According to security sources, ISIS had ordered attacks on non-Muslim places of worship in Turkey after Hamas attacked Israel on October 7 and Israel’s ongoing military operation in Gaza. Already a year ago, the Russian intelligence FSB had warned Ankara about “sleeper cells” of the ISIS-Khorasan organization in Turkey.
On February 1, Kalin gave a situation report to President Tayyip Erdogan. On February 3, it was announced that Kalın met with the Hamas leader in Doha.

Connect the dots and you get
It is also known that Erdogan underlined the concept of “intelligence diplomacy” at the ceremony held on January 10 to mark the 97th anniversary of the founding of MIT, while talking about the new duties of MIT in the process of transformation. It makes sense to see Kalın’s publicized travels within this framework.
It is important to mention a couple of important developments simultaneously with these developments.
Turkey’s approval of Sweden’s NATO membership opened the door for the purchase of F-16 fighter jets from the US. If there is no objection from Congress by February 9, the $23 billion sale will be realized and the Turkish Air Force will be strengthened with the new F-16V model, although it will not fully replace the F-35s. It should be noted that among the weapons that will come with the F-16s are bombs to be used against bunkers and oil depots that are important for the PKK. Will the warming relations with the US affect the Syrian theater? We cannot see this yet.
Erdogan is expected to host Russian President Vladimir Putin on February 12 (his first trip to a NATO country since the Ukraine war) and to visit Egypt on February 14 as the guest of Abdel Fattah al-Sisi. Issues such as the Gaza Crisis, Israel, and Hamas will also be on the table. Meanwhile, Turkey’s discomfort with the US-Iran tension has been openly expressed by Fidan: “The situation is not good“.
When we connect the dots, we may not be able to see the whole picture yet, but we can see that Turkey is preparing for a new move in the Middle East in a broad sense.
Yetkin Report

News Code 159440

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