by Hay Eytan Cohen Yanarocak and Jonathan Spyer
The Jerusalem Institute for Strategy and Security
January 27, 2021
Turkey seeks to be the dominant regional force, projecting power over neighboring countries and across seas.
„Since 2010, centralized authority has collapsed in many Middle East states, including Libya, Iraq, Syria, and Yemen. States able to support, mobilize, and make use of irregular and proxy military formations to project power enjoy competitive advantages in this environment.
Under President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and the AKP, Turkey seeks to be the dominant regional force, projecting power over neighboring countries and across seas. In cooperation with a variety of bodies, most significantly the SADAT military contracting company and the Syrian National Army, Turkey has developed over the last decade a large pool of well-trained, easily deployed, and effortlessly disposable proxy forces as a tool of power projection, with a convenient degree of plausible deniability.
When combined with Turkish non-official, but governmentally directed and well-established groups such as the Gray Wolves, it becomes clear that Erdoğan now has a private military and paramilitary system at his disposal.
The use of proxies is rooted in methods developed by the Turkish „deep state“ well before the AKP came to power. Ironically, the tools forged to serve the deep state’s Kemalist, anti-Islamist (and anti-Kurdish) purposes now serve an Islamist, neo-Ottoman (and, once again, anti-Kurdish) agenda.
Erdoğan deploys this apparatus for domestic and foreign operations without official oversight. Syria was the first place where he put this into action. Proxies subsequently have been employed in Libya and in Nagorno Karabakh to further Turkish foreign policy goals. There are now reports of Turkish-controlled Syrian fighters being deployed to Qatar.
Thus far, the proxies have delivered modest achievements for Turkey in Syria, Libya and Azerbaijan. As such, all Middle Eastern countries should pay close attention to the nature of this system, the advantages it conveys, and its potential vulnerabilities.
This study is the first attempt to systematically trace the roots, development, structure, and deployment of Erdogan’s „unofficial“ military frameworks. It also is the first foreign policy/national security study to be published jointly by an Israeli and an Emirati think tank. The authors hope it will be the first of many such joint research initiatives.“ (…)