Ankara and Damascus intelligence prepare “Adana II”

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Syrian regime President Bashar al-Assad (edited by Enab Baladi)

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Syrian regime President Bashar al-Assad (edited by Enab Baladi)

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Enab Baladi – Diana Rahima

Signs of a Turkish-Syrian rapprochement have emerged recently, although its essence is not yet known, following the statements of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who confirmed the existence of intelligence cooperation with the Syrian regime.

Intelligence cooperation

Erdogan’s statements were made to journalists on the plane after his one-day visit to Sochi last week, where he met his Russian counterpart, Vladimir Putin.

“Mr. Putin maintains a fair approach towards Turkey on the issue,” he said, commenting on plans to launch a new military operation in Syria.

“He specifically states that he will always be with us in the fight against terrorism. He has an approach like, “If you prefer to solve them together with the regime as much as possible, it will be much more accurate,” Erdogan told the reporters.

He also revealed the joint intelligence cooperation on such issues.

The Turkish president said, “We say that right now our intelligence services are already dealing with these issues with the Syrian intelligence, but the whole point is to get results.”

Adding, “If our intelligence is carrying out this work with the Syrian intelligence, we say that if terrorist organizations are still playing there, you need to support us in this matter. We also have an agreement on this matter.”

Turkish and Syrian intentions meet in the face of a common enemy, the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), which Ankara considers an extension of the outlawed and designated terrorist Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), and the Syrian regime views it as a “separatist force.”

Erdogan’s statements were preceded by the statement of Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu about Turkey’s readiness to cooperate with the Syrian regime if it stands on the same line in confronting the SDF.

The International response was promising for Turkey, as not a single country issued any condemnation or denunciation of the Turkish statements of political support for the Syrian regime at a time when Washington used to come out with a statement denouncing any cooperation or coordination with the regime, as it did previously with Jordan and the UAE.

On 27 July, Cavusoglu stated that his country was fully prepared to support the Syrian regime in confronting the YPG/PKK organizations, saying that his country had previously held talks with Iran regarding the expulsion of “terrorists” from the region, adding, “We will provide all kinds of political support for the work of the (Syrian) regime in this regard,” according to the Anadolu Agency.

The Turkish Foreign Minister assured that the Syrian regime has the natural right to remove the “terrorist organization” from its territory, but it is not right for the moderate opposition (the Turkish-backed Syrian National Army) to be viewed by it as “terrorist.”

Never broken

Researcher Abdullah al-Najjar, a former political security officer, told Enab Baladi that intelligence cooperation or communication between countries does not stop even in cases of war, within the framework of military operations.

This is due to the facilitation of cooperation in the event that the two parties want to reach an understanding on the scope of specific military operations, or to stop the existing military operations, or to release the wounded and dead, or in the event of pursuing terrorist organizations that are hostile and there must also be a hotline between countries, but this does not mean that there are political or economic relations between them, al-Najjar added.

The intelligence cooperation between Turkey and the Syrian regime and all the countries of the region has not been cut off in the first place. But the Syrian regime is unable to meet Turkey’s requirements of ending the “separatist entity represented by the (Kurdish-led Autonomous Administration of North and East Syria (AANES), the security expert confirms.

Al-Najjar gave two reasons why the Syrian regime may not be fulfilling its obligations.

The first is that the Syrian regime does not have the will to eliminate AANES, as it is still needed, so the purposes that prompted the regime to hand the borders to the PKK organization still exist, and the threat of the “Syrian revolution” still exists too.

As for the second reason, the regime does not have the means to eliminate this “separatist entity,” as he describes it.

The US imposes an air embargo east of the Euphrates, and it protects the SDF and the Autonomous Administration, and the regime cannot take any military action against it.

Therefore, any talk about security cooperation between the Syrian and Turkish parties at the moment is just talk that cannot be converted into action, al-Najjar concluded.

Is the Syrian regime tracking Kurdish leaders?

The Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) said last July that it had arrested “spies” who were involved in killing its leaders after a Turkish raid hit their car in northern Syria.

According to the statement issued by the SDF’s media office, its special units arrested a “spy cell” comprising three people (a man and two women) who had been working for Turkey in espionage activities in northeastern Syria.

The three people admitted during the initial investigation period that they had collected information and monitored the movements of Sawsan Berhat, the SDF Military Council member, and submitted it to Turkish intelligence, which in turn targeted the leadership, along with other leaders and elements, according to the SDF statement.

SDF indicated that the “spies” admitted receiving instructions and missions from Turkish intelligence, as they were in the process of carrying out another intelligence mission to identify new targets when they were arrested.

Researcher Abdullah al-Najjar ruled out the possibility of the Syrian regime’s involvement in the Turkish drone attacks on leaders of the SDF, which took place during the last period, and that there should be cooperation of this kind between the two sides.

Al-Najjar attributed the exclusion of the Syrian regime’s involvement in these operations to the large Turkish intelligence penetration of the SDF and the inability of the Syrian regime’s cells to follow the movements of the SDF, in addition to the existence of vast areas under the control of the SDF, where there are no regime forces.

“Adana II” carries five points

The London-based Syrian journalist Ibrahim Hamidi talked about five points in Al-Sharq Al-Awsat newspaper, which were on the sidelines of Erdogan’s meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin at the Tehran summit that took place last July, related to Russian-Turkish coordination and cooperation with the Syrian regime in the face of the SDF, it includes:

First, Russia would permit the expansion of drone strikes against the leaders of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) or the YPG, which Ankara says are linked to the PKK, rather than a military incursion.

Second, Moscow would host a series of senior security meetings between Turkish and Syrian officials to investigate the possibility of fulfilling Turkish demands without Ankara having to carry out a ground invasion of Syria. And the Russian capital hosted those meetings over the past few days.

Third, Moscow is promoting renegotiating the 1998 Adana Agreement between Ankara and Damascus.

Russia wants to help the two countries sign a second version of the Agreement to reflect the new Syrian reality and allow for Syrian-Turkish security coordination, according to Hamidi.

Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu’s remarks about “political support” for Damascus against the Kurds were remarkable, Hamidi said.

Fourth, Russia is pushing for Damascus and the SDF to cooperate by conducting military coordination and joint maneuvers.

Boosting SDF-Damascus cooperation will set the foundations for the Syrian army to spread in areas of influence east of the Euphrates; continuing incrementally until Damascus has the upper hand over the SDF, according to Hamidi.

Fifth, there is a possibility of Russia allowing a limited Turkish military operation in Tal Rifaat in the countryside of Syria’s Aleppo governorate. The restricted campaign would aim to neutralize the threat of missile platforms attacking the Turkish army and its loyal factions in Afrin.

What is the Adana Agreement?

Turkish analyst Fehim Tastekin asked, in an article on the al-Monitor in 2019, “Will Adana accord take Erdogan to Damascus?” wondering about the possibility of restoring relations between Ankara and Damascus within the framework of the agreement, especially after Russia proposed the agreement for the first time by Putin, when he hosted his Turkish counterpart, Erdogan, in January 2019 in Moscow.

Drawing on a controversial 1998 accord between Ankara and Damascus, Russia wants to get Turkey on board with its game plans for Syria and beyond, including energy in the eastern Mediterranean, Tastekin said.

Putin’s original aim was to stave off Turkey’s plans to create a buffer zone with the United States to the east of the Euphrates River, according to the Turkish expert. 

The agreement was reached after the unanimous consent of the leader of the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), Abdullah Ocalan, to leave Syria.

Ocalan is the first leader of the left-wing party that seeks independence in Turkey. He was arrested in 1999 by Turkish intelligence, with CIA support in Nairobi, taken to Turkey, and sentenced to death, but his sentence was commuted to life imprisonment in support of Turkey’s application for EU membership.

The Adana accord targeted the PKK, and adapting it to the Syrian Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) is a contentious issue as well, said Tastekin, adding that Damascus may have recognized the PKK as a terrorist group under the Adana accord, but it does not view the YPG in the same way, an attitude shared by Moscow.

The Syrian regime’s policy on the Adana accord has been one of neither denial nor acknowledgment since Damascus conditioned the activation of the deal on “making the situation on the borders the way it used to be before between the two countries, Tastekin concluded.

What are the terms of the Adana Agreement?

Journalist Ibrahim Hamidi wrote in the Al-Sharq Al-Awsat on 20 July that after Turkey threatened to attack Syria in mid-1998, late Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak mediated between the two parties until a security agreement was concluded between Ankara and Damascus in the Turkish city of Adana. The text of the agreement and its annexes included, among others, the following items:

 – As of now, the leader of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party, Abdullah Ocalan (detained in Turkey since the beginning of 1999), will not be in Syria and will certainly not be allowed to enter Syria.

 – PKK members abroad will not be allowed to enter Syria.

 – As of now, PKK camps will not operate on Syrian soil and will certainly not be allowed to become active.

 – Many members of the PKK were arrested and referred to court. The lists containing their names were prepared and submitted by Syria to the Turkish side.

 – Syria, based on the principle of reciprocity, will not allow any activity launched from its territory that harms the security and stability of Turkey. Nor will Syria allow the supply of weapons, logistical materials, and financial and promotional support for PKK activities on its soil.

 – Syria has classified the PKK as a terrorist organization and has banned the activities of the party and its affiliated organizations on its territory, along with other terrorist organizations.

 – Syria will not allow the PKK to establish camps or other facilities for training and shelter purposes or to conduct commercial activities on its soil.

 – Syria will not allow members of the Kurdistan Workers Party to use its territory to cross to third countries.

 – A direct telephone line is immediately operated between the higher security authorities of the two countries.

 – The two parties appoint special security representatives in their diplomatic missions in Ankara and Damascus. Those are presented to the authorities of the host country by the heads of the mission.

 – Annex No.3: As of now, the two parties consider that the border disputes between them have ended and that neither of them has any claims or rights due in the territory of the other party.

What does the Adana Agreement mean at the political and security levels?

  • It gives the Turkish army the right to pursue the PKK at a depth of five km in northern Syria, according to Annex No. 4.
  • Damascus relinquishes any claim to its rights in Iskenderun (Hatay Province), which Turkey annexed in 1939, according to Annex No. 3.
  • The PKK, led by Abdullah Ocalan, is considered a “terrorist organization” in accordance with the agreement’s provisions.
  • Ankara interprets the agreement as meaning that the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) is a “terrorist organization” as an extension of the PKK.
  • The agreement means the start of direct security contacts, knowing that the Director of Syrian National Security, Ali Mamlouk, has held several meetings with Turkish Intelligence chief Hakan Fidan.
  • It also means re-operating the Turkish embassy in Damascus and the Syrian embassy in Ankara, noting that Damascus has a consulate in Istanbul, given that the agreement requires the appointment of a security liaison officer in each embassy.

 

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