Will the Man Who Sold Israel's Secrets to Iran Be Turkey's Next Prime Minister?

Hakan Fidan, the former head of Turkish intelligence and 'keeper of all secrets,' is running for a seat in parliament. Is he going to help or hinder President Erdogan?

“He is the keeper of all the secrets,” said the president of Turkey, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, about Hakan Fidan, who up until about 10 days ago was the head of Turkey’s National Intelligence Organization.

“He is the person who sold Israel’s secrets to the Iranians,” Israeli intelligence officials say of Fidan.

“He will be the next prime minister,” Turkish commentators predict.

Fidan almost never speaks out in public, as is proper for the “keeper of secrets,” but he is apparently showing his desire to expand his power by deciding to quit his post – in opposition to Erdogan’ publicly stated position – and to run for a seat in parliament in the country's June election. But it is still not clear if he really rebelled against Erdogan’s wishes. Maybe it is all just a show?

What really led the 47-year-old intelligence official to abandon his successful career and post at the center of an institution with enormous power, so as to enter politics on behalf of the ruling Justice and Development Party? Turkish commentators are divided on this question.

One source in Erdogan’s ruling party told Haaretz that, “Fidan is building himself up as the next prime minister, who will replace Ahmet Davutoglu after the elections. He does not intend to be a regular member of parliament, but the most powerful person in the country, and it is not impossible that this has been agreed on with Erdogan. Such a step would not have been made without the president’s agreement, who sees himself as Fidan’s mentor.”

Fidan is actually considered to be close to Davutoglu, who also publicly supported Fidan’s political bid, possibly with the intention of jointly heading off Erdogan’s efforts to create a presidential system of government.

The disagreement between Davutoglu and Erdogan over the system of government is no secret, and within the Justice and Development Party there are also many influential politicians who object to the change. But Erdogan, who has made it clear in the past that he does not intend on making do with just a ceremonial role as president – and that the American model is what he prefers – has already proven he is capable of achieving his goals even in the face of opposition at home. Thus, Erdogan will not hesitate to remove Davutoglu if it turns out that the latter is thwarting the president's moves.

Essential to Erdogan

As opposed to Davutoglu, however, Fidan is essential to Erdogan, and not just in the political sphere. As someone who started negotiations with the leadership of the Kurdish separatists in 2009, and as the person unofficially responsible with reconciliation with the Kurdish minority – Fidan has enjoyed the trust of Abdullah Ocalan, the leader of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party, which is listed as a terrorist organization. Ocalan is serving a life term in the Imrali prison on an island near Istanbul.

The reconciliation with the Kurds may be the most important political act the Turkish government has taken for decades.

“Imagine that the prime minister of Israel decided to conduct negotiations with Hamas and thus all at once to destroy the traditional way of thinking upon which Israeli strategy stands,” the source in Erdogan's party said, trying to explain the significance of the change.

“Suddenly a window is opened to remove the threat of Kurdish terror. This constitutes almost open rebellion against the Kemalist view, which does not recognize ethnic or national minorities.”

Fidan is the focal point of this process, and even if he is not appointed prime minister but only interior minister, in that capacity he would likely be tasked with fulfilling Erdogan's dreams in the realm of domestic policy, and as such could very well be granted more power than the prime minister. He could be a sort of “fixer” in any area where the president needs “his own man.”

But the soft-spoken Fidan – who studied management and political science at the University of Maryland University College’s European campus, and did his master’s degree and doctorate at Bilkent University on the topic of diplomacy in the information age – has his own shortcomings and is not immune from criticism. For example, he suffered for not sufficiently appreciating the repercussions of the Gaza flotilla incident in 2010. Moreover, certain failures in managing Turkish foreign policy in the Middle East are attributed to Fidan too, including the loss of control over the events in Syria, the severance of relations with Egypt and Saudi Arabia, and the ups and downs in the relationship with the Kurdish region in Iraq.

“Failure follows failure,” wrote the Zaman newspaper about Fidan. Zaman is owned by the movement of Fethullah Gulen, now Erdogan’s bitter enemy. 

But criticism from Zaman and the Gulenists is what helps make Fidan even more worthy in the eyes of Erdogan, who sees him as the spearhead in his battle to purify the government, and in particular the legal system and the police, who are filled with loyal Gulenists.

Fidan will not be the only new political personality the Justice and Development Party will offer in and following the upcoming election. The entire party will undergo a general overhaul, in which 50 to 70 of its members of parliament will be replaced by new faces. Some of these replacements stem from the decision of the party not to allow a third consecutive term for its elected representatives, and some will be replaced out of a desire to enlist younger people who will represent new sectors of the population.

The result is that some of the senior ministers in the present Turkish government will disappear from the political arena in the next four years. Along with them, some of the means that succeeded to a certain extent to rein in Erdogan will also disappear. He is now putting his efforts into augmenting the majority he has in parliament – his ruling party now holds 312 of the 550 seats – in a manner that will allow him to change sections of the constitution without a need for agreement among coalition partners.