Turkish intelligence agency MIT engaged a jihadist charity organization to orchestrate a nationwide march targeting a military base in the southeastern province of Adana that hosts US Air Force personnel. This move was part of a strategy to create leverage for President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s government in talks with the US, according to information obtained by Nordic Monitor.
The march, coordinated by the Foundation for Human Rights and Freedoms and Humanitarian Relief (İnsan Hak ve Hürriyetleri ve İnsani Yardım Vakfı, or IHH), is called the “Freedom Convoy for Palestine.” The organizers seemed to aim at capitalizing on the increasing anti-Israeli sentiment in Turkey to rally large crowds, with the intention of exerting pressure on the US government and potentially furnishing President Erdogan with leverage in discussions unrelated to events occurring in Gaza.
Ismail Songur, head of the Mavi Marmara Derneği, an association established by the IHH, made the following statement during a press conference in Istanbul on October 31, when he first announced the planned march: “Right within our borders, a small Israel [Incirlik Airbase] has been established, and now, after almost 75 years in the region, the presence of this Incirlik Airbase should be questioned. All relevant authorities, our civil society, and our people must now make a decision. What is Incirlik Airbase doing here?”
Songür claimed that Incirlik has played a crucial role in safeguarding Jews, supplying arms to Israel and supporting Israel’s actions against Palestinians for the past 75 years.
During the same meeting IHH president Bülent Yıldırım alleged that the US was plotting to invade Turkey and has already encircled Turkey by stationing military assets in Greece and the eastern Mediterranean. He further asserted that Incirlik Airbase is at the heart of these occupation plans.
“We are heading towards Incirlik with hundreds of thousands of people. Turks, rise up! Take to the streets by the thousands. Don’t stay home, don’t sleep,” Yıldırım said.
Referring to Israeli Prime Minister Bibi Netanyahu as the new Hitler, the president of the IHH stated, “Hitler’s bosses are the American leaders. That’s why we will march towards Incirlik from all over Turkey, from every district and neighborhood.” He also pledged that people from all around the world would march toward US bases and lay siege to them.
The head of the IHH also issued a threat to European countries, accusing them of supporting Israel and suggesting potential street provocations on the streets of European cities. “We will see. If those in European countries who support the massacre against Palestine do not withdraw their support, the streets will also be in turmoil. We will all witness this,” he said, emphasizing the possible repercussions of ongoing support for actions against Palestine.
The vehicle convoy started its journey in Istanbul on November 3 and will end the trip in front of Incirlik Airbase in two days.
During the launching ceremony on Friday, Yıldırım continued to criticize the US, claiming that there are eight American bases in Turkey and alleging that the US has occupied everywhere.
The IHH head also lambasted Egypt and pledged to mobilize Muslims worldwide to enter Egypt if Cairo does not open the border with Gaza. He mentioned that the IHH had overcome approximately 3,000 Egyptian troops mobilized against the first Palestine convoy organized by the IHH in 2009.
“Don’t force us to call the world activists to Egypt again. Are you afraid of America? I say to the honorable soldiers of Egypt, rise up. Your brothers are dying. … What is happening to you? You still haven’t opened that door. … Are you so cowardly that you can’t die like Palestinian women and children?” he asked.
Yıldırım also called on Muslim states to send their navies to the eastern Mediterranean, stating, “Can’t you bring your military ships to Gaza’s harbor in the eastern Mediterranean? Why did you maintain these soldiers? Why did you acquire these naval ships? Why? Send them to the eastern Mediterranean… Is America’s navy intimidating you? Allah is the greatest.”
He pledged that the IHH would find a way to access Incirlik Airbase. “It’s either life or death. There is no third way. Turkey knows this very well, and the people of Turkey are ready. You should also take this message very seriously,” Yıldırım said.
He also said a new flotilla being organized worldwide is set to sail for Gaza and that the Turkish navy will provide protection for the flotilla at sea.
The IHH has been known to have supplied logistical support to jihadist groups outside Turkish borders in close coordination with Turkish intelligence. Nordic Monitor previously published confidential wiretaps that revealed how IHH head Yıldırım was coordinating his organization’s actions with the Turkish spy agency in hosting jihadist groups in Turkey.
Whenever the Erdogan government has encountered challenges in its bilateral relations with the US over the past decade, it has considered the option of closing Turkey’s Incirlik Airbase as part of a blackmail strategy to exert leverage during difficult negotiations between Turkey and the US on a variety of contentious issues.
Incirlik has often been publicly and incorrectly portrayed as an American base, but in reality it serves as home to Turkey’s Air Force 10th Tanker Base Command, providing essential logistical support for the Turkish military. Additionally, the US Air Force’s 39th Air Base Wing is stationed at the same base, as part of a joint agreement between the two countries in December 1954. This cooperation was further expanded in March 1980 through the Defense and Economic Cooperation Agreement between Turkey and the US.
On certain occasions Turkey has entered into bilateral agreements with other NATO members, permitting them to temporarily use the base for the deployment of their air force assets in support of specific missions in the Middle East.
Several groups aligned with President Erdogan have been demanding the closure of the base in the aftermath of the Hamas terrorist attacks on October 7 and the Israeli military’s response. These groups include extremist Islamist factions, nationalists, neo-nationalists and Turkey’s Iran-backed Hizbullah.
Turkish Hizbullah, which primarily focuses on Turkey’s Kurdish population, is one of the sponsors of the vehicle convoy and is assisting the IHH with logistics. Iran has also shown interest in the closure of the base, as well as NATO’s Kürecik Radar Station, situated in the southeastern province of Malatya. The radar station serves as an early-warning system against ballistic missile attacks and was initially installed and is currently operated by US military personnel.
The IHH organized the Mavi Marmara flotilla in 2010 with the stated goal of providing aid to Palestinians and challenging the Israeli naval blockade of Gaza. During the flotilla’s interception by Israeli forces, clashes occurred between some activists on board the ship and the Israeli forces, leading to the death of eight Turks and one individual with dual Turkish-US citizenship. It was subsequently revealed that the idea for the flotilla was conceived by Turkish intelligence and put into action after receiving approval from the spy agency.
The incident not only triggered a diplomatic crisis but was also extensively utilized by then-prime minister Erdogan as a significant political tool during domestic rallies. Turkish-Israeli relations have never fully recovered from the blow dealt by the IHH’s aggressive campaign, which rejected Israeli proposals for alternative aid delivery routes.
The IHH and its president were investigated in Turkey between 2011 and 2014 as part of a confidential probe into Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) Quds Force activities. The investigation revealed how the IHH was secretly collaborating with Palestinian Islamic Jihad, an organization backed and funded by Iran.
The IRGC Quds Force case in which the IHH was flagged never went to trial because the Erdogan government hushed it up in February 2014 after learning about the probe. The investigating prosecutor was sacked before he had a chance to secure detention warrants for the suspects or file an indictment. The suspects avoided the long arm of the law thanks to the intervention of Erdogan, who apparently protected pro-Iranian assets and helped their Quds Force handlers escape from Turkey.
During the Erdogan government’s time in office over the last decade, various institutions, including the police, judiciary, intelligence and military, were staffed with individuals espousing Islamist, nationalist or neo-nationalist views. These individuals typically shared common characteristics, which included strong anti-US, anti-Israel and anti-Western sentiments.
In an effort to promote the view that the US was seeking to harm Turkey, the Erdogan government imprisoned US citizens and employees of US consulates through fabricated court cases.
In 2017 the Erdogan government orchestrated the arrest of Metin Topuz, who had been working at the US Consulate General in Istanbul since 1982. Topuz had moved to the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) at the consulate in 1993 and had served as a liaison between Turkish police and the DEA. The Turkish government constructed a false case to convict Topuz on terrorism-related charges in June 2020. He was sentenced to eight years, nine months in prison, a decision that the US government contended lacked credible evidence.
Hamza Uluçay, who had worked as a translator at the consulate in Adana for 36 years, was arrested in February 2017 and subsequently sentenced to four and a half years in prison in January 2019. Several US nationals were also prosecuted by the Erdogan government, leading to their imprisonment on fabricated charges.
These actions by the Erdogan government provoked a response from the US, which implemented a series of measures, including sanctions against senior government officials such as the interior and justice ministers.
Nordic Monitor previously published confidential documents that revealed how Turkish authorities secretly investigated the US secretary of defense, Pentagon officials, US diplomats, German generals and NATO military leaders and diplomats in Turkey because they visited Incirlik Airbase.
The criminal investigation, incorporated into case file No.2016/46625-16 by the Adana Chief Public Prosecutor’s Office, was nothing but a fishing expedition that helped feed into the false narrative of the government of President Erdogan, which claimed that the US was the mastermind behind an abortive putsch in 2016, although there has been no evidence presented to support that claim.
The 2016 coup attempt was a false flag operation orchestrated by Turkish intelligence to help President Erdogan consolidate his authoritarian rule. The operation was designed to provide a pretext for justifying mass purges within the military, police and other government agencies as well as overcoming the Turkish army’s resistance to launching an offensive in Syrian territory.