[This analysis by Yossi Melman is based on an article he wrote for The Jerusalem Post on July 16, 2016, after it became clear that the attempted coup by elements of Turkey’s army failed — and President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who recently restored normal relations with Israel after several frosty years, has survived. Melman is co-author of the best seller Every Spy a Prince and of the current history of Israeli intelligence and security, Spies Against Armageddon: Inside Israel’s Secret Wars.]
The great irony in the coup attempt that failed in Turkey was obvious. President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has tried for years to stifle the operating freedom of social networks and has accused them of being dark forces attempting to undermine his rule. It was these same social media networks which helped him to put down the coup.
Erdogan broadcast from his smartphone — using Apple’s FaceTime — a statement to the people. He tweeted to his supporters and relied on the media, even those whom he deathly hates, to spread his message in the critical first hours of the coup attempt when uncertainty gripped the country.
In this respect, the attempt was reminiscent of the failed coup by the national guard and the Greek military junta in 1974 against the rule of Cyprus President Archbishop Makarios III. Makarios succeeded in sending out a weak radio signal saying that he was alive. Voice of Israel radio monitor Miki Gordus received the signal and broadcast the message to the whole world. As a result of that failed coup, the Turkish army invaded and partitioned Cyprus into two parts.
In the case of Turkey, it seems that those involved – apparently relatively low-ranked officers – would not have succeeded in their operation even if Erdogan would not have been able to deliver his broadcast.
The rebellion initially appeared to be going by the book. The rebels gained control of the bridges over the Bosphorous Strait in Istanbul, which connect Europe and Asia, as well as major junctions. Pilots involved in the plot bombed the parliament building in Ankara, the MIT intelligence agency’s headquarters and some military strongpoints, including tanks near the presidential palace.
They even took control of the state-run TV station, TRT, and forced a remarkably poised female newscaster to read their statement that they had taken over the government to preserve democracy, to remove Erdogan, to suppress terrorism, and to change the Constitution.
However, it appears that the number of soldiers in their command – apparently a few thousand – was insufficient to complete the job.
In Turkey’s previous four military coups since 1960, tens of thousands of soldiers took part, if not the entire army. This time, the rebels kidnapped the chief of staff and a number of other senior commanders, who have since been freed, but most importantly they failed to capture Erdogan, who was vacationing at a Marble Lake resort. Capturing the Turkish leader was probably the first thing they should have done.
Erdogan succeeded in broadcasting his remarks to the people, calling on his supporters to take to the streets, and they answered his call. They blocked the rebel soldiers’ path and together with the police, which remained loyal to Erdogan, fought them and took many of them prisoner.
The masses taking to the streets was reminiscent of the attempted coup by a group of Soviet officials in August 1991 against President Michael Gorbachev — in the hopes of preventing the fall of Communism and the disintegration of the Soviet Union. That rebellion was put down because of the leadership of Boris Yeltsin, who was then the head of the Russian Federation of the Soviet Union. The Soviet Union was dismantled in the wake of the coup attempt.
Turkey has previously experienced four military coups. According to the Constitution, since the establishment of the Turkish Republic out of the ruins of the Ottoman Empire in 1922, the army is the defender of democracy.
Anytime that the military commanders believed that the civilian leadership was straying from the constitution, they did not hesitate to carry out a coup, take rule into their own hands and eventually put a democratic government back in place.
For years now, there has been disillusionment within the army and the secular public with Erdogan, the leader of the Islamist AKP party. As prime minister and elected president he instituted a dictatorship in the hopes of establishing himself as a 21st century sultan, while increasing the influence of religion in the public sphere. This is also the reason that Erdogan purified institutions in the state and instituted changes within them to strengthen his hold on power.
He put his loyalists in key positions in Turkey’s intelligence agency, police, justice system, education system and the army. He harassed the media, trying to take it over and marginalized business leaders who he saw as hostile to the throne.
It can be assumed that now, with the defeat of the coup attempt, he will immediately increase his efforts to strengthen his hold on power and oppress his opponents. His supporters are already accusing his arch rival Fethullah Gulen, a powerful cleric who lives in exile in the U.S., of organizing the rebellion. Gulen has denied involvement, but that will not stop Erdogan from persecuting Gulen’s supporters.
In Turkey, conspiracy theories that Erdogan himself planned the coup in order to make himself stronger are even being voiced.
Despite the fact that the U.S. and most members of NATO, to which Turkey belongs, condemned the coup and voiced support for Erdogan and the elected government, there is no doubt that there is increasing concern among them about instability in the country.
For months, Turkey has been subject to an onslaught of terror from Turkish Kurds and ISIS (the so-called Islamic State in neighboring Syria feeling that he betrayed them after secretly aiding them for years).
The war on terror hurts tourism and the economy, and now the coup attempt is liable to throw one of the most important countries in the Middle East into a period of uncertainty and disquiet.
As for Israel, which just recently signed a reconciliation deal with Turkey, the failure of the coup will not affect relations between the countries and the status quo will continue.
However, it can be assumed that the Israeli government, the defense establishment and the intelligence community would not have shed a tear if the coup had succeeded, Erdogan had been ousted and the army had taken power.