The Turkish president, who in recent months has repeatedly threatened an invasion of Greek islands in the Aegean Sea, plans to deploy a secretive, specially trained unit attached to intelligence agency MIT to escalate tensions with Greece, a NATO ally and neighbor.
The MIT unit, the existence of which has never been publicly admitted, is a relatively new tool in the arsenal of Turkey's intelligence agency and will be put to use for the first time in setting up a clandestine, military-style operation against a Western country.
The plot includes several options, ranging from sabotage in Greek islands close to the Turkish mainland to raising a Turkish flag on one or several uninhabited islets and rock formations as well as conducting a false flag operation to justify a Turkish response. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan is still considering the alternatives submitted to him by his confidant, Hakan Fidan, the head of MIT, and has not yet decided which course of action he wants to take.
According to information obtained by Nordic Monitor from sources familiar with the plot, it will be up to this special unit created within the intelligence agency to carry out the operation in the Aegean Sea with logistical support from the Turkish military's air and naval assets. The plot, kept strictly confidential on a need-to-know basis within Erdoğan and Fidan's close circle, will be put into motion sometime near the general election in 2023 to rally the nation behind Erdoğan and bring a windfall vote for his ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) and its nationalist allies.
For decades, MIT had no military-type operational capability, and its mandate had been mainly confined to information gathering operations to provide the best intelligence to policymakers in Turkey.
That started to change when Fidan, a hard-core pro-Iran Islamist who had no experience in intelligence, was appointed to lead the agency in May 2010. Fidan set out to transform the agency in line with instructions from his boss, transferring new people from other government agencies and at times recruiting some from the outside, especially from Islamist groups.
Fidan, who admires Iran's mullah regime and was groomed in Shiite study circles when he was a young noncommissioned officer in Ankara, wanted to create a Turkish version of the Quds Force within the agency. He instructed his newly recruited staff to make that happen.
One of the key recruitments Fidan made happen once he took over the reins of MIT was the transfer of 57-year-old former soldier Kemal Eskintan, who had some intelligence experience. Eskintan served as a project officer when he was a major between July 2006 and June 2007 in the General Staff Directorate for Counter-intelligence and Security.
When Turkey was involved in Libya and sent Syrian jihadists to fight there, it was Eskintan who had carried out the clandestine operation on behalf of the intelligence agency. He made repeated trips to there to oversee operations.
Since 2016 Eskintan has also been involved in cross-border operations to kidnap Erdoğan critics and opponents in Turkey and among diaspora groups in order to sustain a climate of fear, and in the intimidation of critical journalists who are still exposing the wrongdoings of the Erdoğan government under challenging circumstances from exile.
Now he is in charge of the false flag operation against Greece to deliberately stoke tensions in order to serve his boss. He will rely on this secretive unit groomed within the intelligence agency under his stewardship in order to make that happen once the final go-ahead is given by President Erdoğan.
Now the MIT is prepared to strike Greek assets, not to advance Turkey's strategic objectives or address urgent national security concerns, but rather to promote an embattled Erdoğan in advance of the general election amid the mounting financial difficulties voters are facing in their daily lives. If and when that happens, the public discussion will move beyond bread-and-butter debates to conflict with Greece, and Erdoğan hopes to ride out the critical elections amid a heightened nationalist euphoria.
Abdullah Bozkurt, a Middle East Forum Writing Fellow, is a Swedish-based investigative journalist and analyst who runs the Nordic Research and Monitoring Network and is chairman of the Stockholm Center for Freedom.