‘A new front against Iran being created in the Gulf’ – former Turkish Intelligence Chief Pekin

‘A new front against Iran being created in the Gulf’ – former Turkish Intelligence Chief Pekin

Israeli officials and a US delegation led by President Donald Trump’s senior adviser Jared Kushner boarded a first commercial flight to Morocco from Tel Aviv on Tuesday to hammer out details of Israel’s normalization agreement with the North African country.

They jointly made the first commercial flight from Tel Aviv to Morocco’s capital Rabat.

Morocco became the 4th Arab country to normalize with Israel, after the United Arab Emirates (UAE), Bahrain and Sudan.

Kusner reported that normalization efforts will continue. The Israeli newspaper Jerusalem Post, on the other hand, wrote that Oman and Indonesia may also line up to normalize relations with the Tel Aviv administration in the coming weeks. Indonesia denied the allegations.

Kushner visited Qatar the previous week, afterwards it was announced that an agreement would be signed between Saudi Arabia and Qatar.

Former Chief of Staff Intelligence Department, retired Lieutenant General İsmail Hakkı Pekin answered Elif İlhamoğlu’s questions on the developments in the Gulf and the possible repercussions of the US-Israel plans in the region.


1. What does Kushner’s visit to the Gulf mean? What are the possible consequences of the agreement between Saudi Arabia and Qatar for the region and Turkey?

Kushner’s visit means a guarantee for the Gulf countries against Iran. They plan to develop relations with Israel and to create a front against Iran in the Gulf. Relations with Iran have two important factors, the first is nuclear weapons, the second is the resistance line from Tehran to Damascus and Beirut; they are trying to break this line. One of the regions where this line can be broken is the Gulf countries. Saudi Arabia, on the other hand, is more cautious about normalization with Israel because it is waiting for Biden. When Biden comes to power, he will not be as open as Trump, so they are anticipating his attitude. Kushner made this visit to strengthen the cooperation of all Arab countries in the Gulf with Israel and to convey the message that America is behind them.

The Saudi-Qatari rapprochement could be positive for Turkey. The United Arab Emirates (UAE) and Saudi Arabia diverge over Yemen. The Saudis do not want Yemen to be divided. The UAE wants to be divided. Therefore, Qatar and Saudi Arabia can cooperate on this issue, and from our perspective, the possibility of cooperation with the Saudis in the region may develop. These developments do not have serious effects on our position in Syria and Iraq. The US’s attempt to establish a PYD / PKK state there continues.

Now operations are conducted on how the agreement between Saudi Arabia and Qatar can relieve Turkey. The improvement of the Saudi Arabia-Qatar relations is good for us, besides Saudi Arabia would be separated from other Gulf bloc which opposes Turkey.


2. Is there anything underlying the fact that Kushner’s visit comes right after Fahrizade’s assassination? What do you think was the target of Fahrizade’s assassination?

One week before the Fahrizade assassination, US Secretary of State Pompeo, Netanyahu and the Mossad President held a meeting in Saudi Arabia, which was also attended by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. Then he was assassinated. Kushner came after the assassination and traveled around the area. They thought that most likely Iran would somehow take revenge on the pro-American countries in the region. They talked about what they could do about it, and they worked to prevent countries from pulling out of the deal with Israel. During this visit, they assured the Gulf to move against Iran. Bahrain and the UAE were hesitant. In other words, this visit was not related to the assassination, but to develop a policy for the possible response Iran might give as a result of the assassination. They also create fear through Iran and use it as a trump card.

Fakhrizadeh is a scientist who has been on Israel’s radar since 2018. He is also an important personality in the revolutionary guard. He has been followed for a long time. Fakhrizadeh’s assassination cannot prevent Iran from developing nuclear weapons. Just as the assassination of Qasem Soleimani did not stop the movement of Iranian militia forces, it cannot, it may prolong the period, but it cannot. Of course, this assassination was something that could cause Iran to react greatly, but Iran remained calm. Iran might have been forced into war, but they could not manage to provoke Iran. Iran calmly replied.

Now Iran says that they did the assassination with the help of satellite weapons. It may be, but I think the main reason why they say this is that Iran’s intelligence weakness has emerged and they do not want to show it to the world. I think this assassination was carried out on Iranian soil through purchased men. It is very difficult to match this timing and guarantee from satellite. It is aimed to provide guarantee in such assassinations. Iran has an intelligence weakness and they could not protect such an important man, Qasem Soleimani should have been a lesson.

Those who committed this assassination tried to provoke Iran saying, ‘Be careful, we will kill your people on your land whenever we want’. Iran acted smart and remained calm. They are waiting for Biden to take office, and then they will answer accordingly. Israel likely conducted the assassination. Iran must be very careful, others might be targeted too. This deed could grow and turn into an attack on Iran’s nuclear work. There was an attack on the Natanz nuclear facilities before, an attack on its strategic port. They are pushing Iran. Will this lead to a regional war or attack and how does it affect us? One of the attack routes passes through Turkey. We shall see. But Iran must be very careful and prepared for increased attacks.


3. Morocco became the 4th Arab country normalized with Israel. Israeli Intelligence Chief Cohen recently announced that a country in the Horn of Africa will go to normalization, as well. ‘Normalization’ plans extend from the Gulf to Africa. Do you think this will result in new conflict areas for Turkey, which has strategic relations with Africa?

It can create either conflict or cooperation. Israel has a close relationship with Africa. China, the States, France, Russia and us are competing in Africa. In terms of the strategy against Turkey, Israel and France are working together. There is a great competition in the region. Who do we stand for in this competition? Africa is a big market. The US is trying to drive China and Russia away from the region. It is very productive in terms of mines, cultivation and underground wealth. For example, Israel is trying to monopolize agriculture in the region globally. On the other hand, there are terrorist organizations. In this respect, there are areas of both cooperation and conflict before us. Turkey may try to take side with the States. The USA even used FETO there before you know. We need to look at who Turkey sides with. This issue is of course also about the Eastern Mediterranean. How will we be with Israel and Egypt in the Eastern Mediterranean? At this point, it is necessary to look at whether Israel is our rival or cooperation. If Israel becomes a rival, Israel, France and the US bloc will be against us, and Russia may be with us. It is difficult to predict our exact foreign policy. This bloc will be our competitor unless they do not take the same attitude in the Mediterranean, of course. But it is said that Turkey appointed an ambassador to Israel. If this is true, and Turkey, Israel and Egypt develop their relations, consequently cooperation may also arise. But what I saw, mainly US-Israel wants to exclude Turkey from that region and to imprison into her own land.


When we look at where Turkey is located; the Caucasus on the one hand, Central Asia on the other, and then the Middle East, the Mediterranean, the Balkans and the Black Sea… Turkey is connected to many different places. NATO has a new plan for ending the period attributed to Turkey and NATO had roles in the 2030 plan. Why do not they want to exclude Turkey from NATO, they want to keep it in a certain place under pressure? Why do they make certain agreements despite not accepting them to the EU? Who could be NATO’s partners? How to prevent China and Russia from going south? All these are being prepared. These preparations will begin rapidly with the Biden era. Many things will be ready by January 20. The first meeting of Biden after the oath is the NATO leaders summit.

Where the attitude of Turkey in the Eastern Mediterranean and the Middle East will lead us to? Turkey should stand firm. Does Turkey now at the stage prefer the Eurasian over the Atlantic? If it does, where will Turkey itself be, West or East? Or Will Turkey conduct balance policy as so far, will it continue to communicate with everyone? Turkey will make its choice, and while making this choice, it will consider the fact that the economy, trade, and technology centers have gone over to Eurasia.

Ismail Hakkı Pekin

Retired Lt. Gen. Ismail Hakkı Pekin is the former Head of Türkiye’s General Staff Intelligence Agency between 2007-2011. He was born in 1951 in Iznik. He is married and is the father of two children.

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April 2024