|Editorial | Turkishpedia | Jun. 07, 2017|

What we easily remember from Erdogan’s visit to Washington is his bodyguards’ beating up the protestors. Yet, what we missed from Erdogan’s scandalous visit is that he gave so much attention to the ongoing judicial case of the United States v. Reza Zarrab. He put his self-interest on the top of his busy agenda and made an early announcement that he would bring the case to the negotiation table.

Reza Zarrab is a wealthy Turkish-Iranian gold trader arrested in 2016 in Miami by the US officials for helping Iranian government to bypass the US sanctions and support terrorism. He is awaiting trial in a federal jail in Manhattan.  With similar accusations, the FBI arrested Mehmet Hakan Atilla, a senior executive of a state-owned Turkish bank, in March 2017. The top official of Turkey’s Halk Bank was charged of conspiring with Reza Zarrab to evade US sanctions against Iran.

These individuals, especially Reza Zarrab, have become infamous figures in Turkey after Dec 17, 2013 criminal corruption investigation against Erdogan’s cabinet members, their family members, state officials and businessmen. Based on large number of solid evidences, Zarrab was accused of graft and bribery to Turkish government officials to be protected by them during his illegal trade between Iran and Turkey. The investigation has been considered the largest and historic corruption investigation not only due to the involvement of top politicians, officials, and businessmen, but also multi-billions of dollars circulated between Iran and Turkey thanks to the crime ring based on those politicians and officials.

Unfortunately, Erdogan and his government backlashed against judiciary process and did not let the corruption investigation to continue. He undermined the judiciary process and dismissed prosecutors and investigators, who were then persecuted and accused of conducting a “judiciary coup” against Erdogan and the AKP government.  That is followed by the release of all the suspects, including Reza Zarrab. The December 17th corruption investigation explicitly revealed the clandestine networks and corrupt relations between Iranian regime and Erdogan’s government.

Another substantial indicator of Iranian influence on Turkish politics is the investigation on Salam Tawhid – Quds Force, which is a special force unit of Iranian Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) responsible for extraterritorial operations. The investigation unearthed Hakan Fidan’s clandestine ties with Sayed Ali Akber Mir Vakili, a leading commander of Quds Force to Turkey, who calls Hakan Fidan as “Emin” to cover his identity. The investigators alleged that Hakan Fidan was working with Mir Vakili, who maintained two safe houses in İstanbul and had connection with one of four cells in the Salam-Tawhid network.

Similar to the December 17th corruption investigation, Erdogan intervened and halted the Salam-Tawhid investigation despite solid evidences on Iran’s spying activities in Turkey and Fidan’s affiliation with the Iranian regime.  Salam-Tawhid was designated as a terrorist group by three different Supreme Court rulings in 2002, 2006 and 2013. They were responsible for the assassination of eleven people in 1990s, including journalist Ugur Mumcu, Ahmet Taner Kislali, and Professor Bahriye Üçok, and five other secularist intellectuals and three foreign diplomats. Again, the prosecutors and police investigators of Salam-Tawhid investigation were arrested and detained with lack of judiciary procedures.

Hakan Fidan’s affiliation with the Iran is not only disclosed by Turkish police, but also Israeli government raised their concerns when he was appointed to the head of National Intelligence of Turkey in 2011. Israeli government announced that they had to limit their cooperation and transfer of information with Turkey due to their concerns that the critical information might be passed to their enemy states, like Iran. Israel was right with their concerns that Hakan Fidan played a critical role in Iran’s nuclear deal and defended Iran to carry on its nuclear program for “peaceful purposes.” Fidan participated to the nuclear deal negotiations with no previous experience on nuclear energy. In collaboration with then Foreign Minister Davutoglu, he formulated controversial uranium transfer deal between Turkey, Iran and Brazil in 2010. Similar to Israel, the US National Security Agency (NSA) documents have revealed their concerns about Hakan Fidan’s connections with Iranian regime.

However, Erdogan considers Hakan Fidan as a “personal confidant,” and provided him broad privilege and immunity in his internal and external activities. On February 2012, Hakan Fidan was summoned by a “specially authorized prosecutor” to testify over his contacts with the PKK and major Kurdish militants. As expected, Erdogan did not let Fidan to summon, but instead, he removed police chiefs carrying out the investigation from their positions. To save his confidant, Erdogan granted greater immunity to Fidan and other intelligence officers. The tension between Erdogan and judiciary over Fidan has turned to be a pretext for Erdogan to redesign the independent judiciary and law enforcement.

The greater immunity provided to the MIT personnel and the ongoing state of emergency has extensively increased the prevalence and influence of paramilitary and clandestine unaccountable state forces in Turkey. These forces have started to exercise a reign of terror and fear over dissident voices. The human rights violations and abductions of civilians in Turkey are not rare incidents any more.

The substantial influence of Fidan on national intelligence and his clandestine networks with the Iranian regime has facilitated Iranian agents’ operations in Turkey, without having any interference from Turkish government.  Saeed Karimian, a dissident Iranian television executive was assassinated in Istanbul on April 30th, 2017. The National Council of Resistance of Iran, an exiled opposition group, claimed that the Iranian regime and IRCG were behind the assassination. Mr. Karimian had been sentenced to six years for spreading propaganda against the Iranian regime through his satellite dishes, which had been banned in Iran. Through the support of Fidan and other pro-Iranian Turkish politicians, Iran has gained a great capacity to conduct extraterritorial operations in Turkey soils as well.

Iran’s extraterritorial influence has reached out to various countries. Similar to Erdogan, the Qatar leader Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani has built strong ties with Iran, which led to the current diplomatic rift between Qatar and Gulf Arab Nations. Erdogan and Thani have a lot in common; they have financed and supported extremists and closed their eyes to, if not facilitate, Iran’s clandestine operations in the region.

The US government should be aware of embedded pro-Iranians and never be fooled by the “hypocrites.”

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