Turkey revisits secret Suga navy plot to provoke Greece, raising specter of clashes

Turkish navy special operations forces team SAT is seen in a military excersize during a port visit to Malta in July 2020.

Abdullah Bozkurt

 

Turkey appears to have doubled back to a previously exposed secret plot called Suga that was planned in 2003 as a false flag operation to deliberately create tension with neighboring Greece for domestic political goals.

The activities of the Turkish navy and coast guard that bend the rules of engagement, the nationalist euphoria in the Turkish media’s coverage, hawkish comments made by talking heads on government-controlled TV networks and irresponsible remarks by Turkish leaders mimic the playbook devised in the Suga plan by its creator. Interestingly enough, retired naval officer Ramazan Cem Gürdeniz, who was convicted of drafting the insidious and illegal plan to provoke Greece as part of Suga, and his fascist associates have been openly beating the war drums on Turkish television networks these days with open support from the government of President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, raising the specter of clashes between the two NATO allies in the event something goes wrong on the ground.

Against the backdrop of recently escalating tensions between Turkey and Greece and belligerent talk from the Turkish leadership, partly to distract Turks from economic troubles at home, recalling what the Suga secret plan was all about may provide some clues to the mindset of the rulers of the current government led by Islamist President Erdoğan and his backer, the neo-nationalists (Ulusalcı), a former foe-turned-ally led by militant politician Doğu Perinçek.

The documents related to the Suga plan were discovered at a naval base and seized in a police operation on December 6, 2010 on a tip claiming that naval officers were disposing of confidential documents in the Gölcük Naval Command’s intelligence unit after a series of investigations were launched into a renegade group within the military for clandestine and illegal activities. The police found a secret archive that included a large number of documents labeled “confidential” and hard drives hidden in a vault under the floor of the intelligence department. The Suga plan was discovered on a disc drive, numbered five.

 

The detailed Suga plan with a roadmap for preparations, force allocations, assignments, coordination and media coverage:

Suga_secret_plan

 

The investigators found that Suga was prepared by Navy Col. Gürdeniz, the then-head of the Naval Forces Command Planning Project Department, on January 10, 2003. It was presented for signature on behalf of Navy Commander Adm. Özden Örnek on February 3, 2003. According to a report by military experts, hundreds of documents found on the hard drive indicated that the plan had actually been put into motion and that significant progress had been made for the preparatory stage.

The task in the plan was defined in general terms as creating a deliberate problem through military exercises carried out in the Aegean Sea and escalating tension that would bring Turkey to the brink of war with its neighbor. It did not envisage an open conflict with Greece. For that, the Turkish flag would be displayed in the territorial waters of Greek islands. “When ordered, activities aimed at escalating the crisis will be carried out by taking deterrent and challenging measures in the Aegean and eastern Mediterranean against Greek elements,” the plan stated in its mission task.

The general plan was later fleshed out with a detailed action plan, and the planners laid out specific proposals on how to accomplish the stated goals of the mission. The proposed operation plan listed three sub-sections — the preparatory stage, the operational environment-shaping stage and and a final action stage — as a to-do list with the goal of creating small conflicts in order to incrementally escalate tension to force the Turkish government into declaring a limited military mobilization in parts of Turkey along the Aegean coastline and the Marmara region including Istanbul.

 

August 10, 2020 video footage from the Haberturk TV network in which Cem Gürdeniz advocates a confrontation with Greece and claims Turkey is actually fighting against the US and the EU:

 

In the preparatory stage, the plotters advised the staffing of key positions in the Turkish military with their loyal men during the period when promotions and assignments in the military were decided. They wanted to make sure that Turkish military officers who might object to the plot would be removed and replaced by neo-nationalists. They also advised the placement of retired military in the bureaucracy and in political positions. Moreover, places close to the Greek islands would be identified as new areas for conducting military drills in order to raise tensions.

As for the process of shaping the operational environment for the military to make its move after the necessary preparations, the Suga plan included the following recommendations: Conferences, seminars, symposiums, etc., would be organized in the field of maritime law in order to inform the public and draw attention to the Aegean problems between Turkey and Greece;  incidents of interventions by Greece in Turkish sea and air transport would be highlighted by using the media to increase the public’s sensitivity to the issue; all kinds of news about Greece and the Aegean Sea would be covered in the media to make people aware of Greece; and tactical training to be carried out in the Aegean Sea would be planned with the participation of a small number of troops, but especially in the South Aegean, where continuous activity would be pursued.

In the action phase of Suga, the planners drew up operational plans that targeted all Greek activities in areas called EGAYDAAK –Egemenliği Anlaşmalarla Yunanistan’a Devredilmemiş Ada, Adacık ve Kayalıklar, or islands, islets and rocky islets, the sovereignty of which was not granted to Greece under treaties — where Turkey disputes Greek sovereignty. They asked Turkish forces to stand by to execute such plans. When a determination was made that the Greek government could open EGAYDAAK areas to settlement, an appeal would be made to the government to serve notice on the Greek side under relevant National Security Council (MGK) resolutions. The MGK, set up in 1982, acts as a shadow government in Turkey in which the political and military leadership provides secret directions to government agencies on countering perceived threats.

 

Investigators found that the Suga plan had been partially executed: 

Suga_secret_plan_execution

 

The action plan mentioned using Turkish fishermen as pawns and urged the use of coercive measures against Greek fishermen. The disputed area, a 12-mile stretch around the Greek islands, would deliberately be used as passage routes not only by the Turkish navy but also by helicopters. Turkey has not recognized 12-mile territorial waters for Greek islands in the Aegean and advocated the view that islands can have only six miles of territorial waters. Greek boats would be monitored by the Turkish coast guard, which would intercept them when necessary. In the last item the plotters made clear that when the order was given, deliberate activities would be undertaken to escalate tension in the Aegean and the eastern Mediterranean.

As for the distribution of assignments, four military units were authorized to take action to carry out the Suga plan. The Gölcük navy unit was tasked with identifying officers who were the “right” candidates to implement the plan and weed out officers during promotions who might present obstacles, and also with monitoring Greek activities in the sea during the preparatory phase. To contribute to the process of shaping the operational environment for the Suga plan, the Gölcük unit was ordered to send all reports, news and information to the Suga Forces Command, which was established by the renegade group to oversee the execution of the plan. The command in turn would leak them to the media to help shape public perception.

As mentioned previously, the Gölcük navy unit was also instructed to organize conferences and seminars to raise awareness in the public about Greece. More comprehensive information would be shared with the media about Greek interventions in the sea and in the air, which would be reported regularly from the General Staff website. “Tactical training to be carried out in the Aegean Sea with the participation of up to 4 FFGH [guided-missile carrying frigates] will be planned to carry out continuous activity around EGAYDAAK between the Sisam-Ahikerya line in the Southern Aegean and the Sömbeki-Kerpe-Crete line,” the plan noted in this stage.

 

A total of 195 suspects in the Sledgehammer case were indicted on charges that they planned to overthrow the government by provoking a conflict with Greece, among other plots.

 

In the action stage, Gölcük was asked to be ready to take action when Greece ran the Parmenion military exercises and whenever Greek fisherman built shelters in the EGAYDAAK region. It was ordered to harass and intervene with Greek ships and boats, deliberately escalate tension and implement coercive measures.

The Ankara unit in the Suga plan was mandated to work as the main coordinator among the Gölcük, Izmir and Istanbul units operating under the Suga Forces Command and insure the flow of information, intelligence and reports. It was also tasked with running the intelligence, coordinating promotions and assignments, updating plans when necessary and developing contingencies. The Ankara unit would amplify the tension between the two countries, leak information to the media to create awareness among the public and initiate actions to force the government to respond, such as issuing notices to Greece.

The Izmir and Istanbul units’ mandates were similar to the one given to the Gölcük unit with the exception that both were ordered to provide logistics to Gölcük on a priority basis when asked. All units were instructed to help the Suga plan succeed when the order was given. The temporary halt command code “LAÇKA” and complete cancellation code “VİRA” were identified in the plan. suggesting that the planners thought about all the details and developed contingencies in the event of problems. The plotters asked for secrecy in communications and ordered the use of military channels only. Suga has 13 annexes to supplement the plan such as for logistics, personnel deployment, masking and deception tactics and a code of conduct for relations between civilians and the military as well as with the media. It was a full-fledged plan to trigger a crisis between Turkey and Greece.

 

More documents on verification of the Suga Plan: 

Suga_more_documents

 

Although the plan was approved by Adm. Örnek, it was not part of the chain of command and certainly not authorized by then-Chief of General Staff Gen. Hilmi Özkök. Testifying at the Istanbul 4th High Criminal Court on on November 3, 2014 as a witness during the trial of suspects who drew up the Suga plan, Özkök said he had never heard of Suga when he was serving as the top commander of the Turkish armed forces.

Based on new findings, Turkish investigators made a determination that the rogue military group had actually put the Suga plan into motion, established working groups to fine tune the plan and had meetings to monitor its progress. As suggested in the plan, meetings were held with Turkish fishermen to use them as pawns in the plan to provoke Greece, the duration of military exercises in the Aegean was extended and preparations were made to make it appear that Turkey would launch an amphibious attack on the Greek islands. The group also discussed the possible legal problems that could emerge during the execution of plan and adopted counter measures to apply the brakes if things got out of control. A working group was set up to update and revise the Directive for the National Rules of Engagement for the Turkish Armed Forces (TSK Milli Angajman Kuralları Yönergesi) in order to make the execution of the Suga plan as smooth as possible.

The Suga planners even suggested that the authority to revise the rules of engagement should be delegated to the commander of the naval forces rather than the chief of general staff. This makes sense given the fact that Gen. Özkök, then the military chief, was not made aware of the Suga plan as it was planned secretly by Adm. Örnek, the then-naval forces commander, and a secret group of his subordinates. The group was apparently concerned that it could not easily manipulate the chief of general staff to put the Suga plan into action and did not let him in on the plan.

In a memo dated Jan. 10, 2003, Navy Col. Mustafa Karasabun submitted plans to make changes to the rules of engagement in the Aegean, giving a free hand to provocations. The plotters debated different scenarios on how to best trigger a conflict with Greece, short of war. For example, one proposal envisaged creating the impression that the Turkish navy was about to conduct a major amphibious assault on the Greek base on Nisos Leros Island (İleryoz Ada in Turkish) near Turkey. Air assets were to be mobilized to boost that impression. The plan was intended to precipitate a change in the Greek navy’s level of alertness, resulting in a panicked response, stated Cdr. Murat Saka, the planning project officer, in a document submitted to a court.

 

The Supreme Court of Appeals upheld the convictions of officers who were involved in the illegal Suga plan: 

Suga_verified_Supreme_Court

 

Other documents found on the seized hard drive from the Gölcük naval base revealed meeting, information notes, studies and reports about the Suga plan that bore the signature of Rear Adm. Deniz Çora, the then-head of the Operations and Training Department.

The investigators also discovered that the 2003 Suga plan was later updated. When the police executed a search warrant on the house of retired Col. Hakan Büyük in Eskişehir province in February 2011, an updated version of Suga plan was found.

A voice recording of Gen. Çetin Doğan, one of the senior figures in the group who was also convicted, that was submitted to the court as evidence showed that he spoke at a seminar held at the Selimiye Barracks in İstanbul on March 3-5 in 2003 and urged bending the rules of engagement as stipulated in the Suga plan. During a discussion about possible scenarios that would lead to tension and conflict with Greece, Gen. Doğan emphasized that the rules of engagement were made by a man, hinting that they could be ignored. He encouraged his officers to inflict casualties on Greek forces with sneaky approaches with or without the rules of engagement. “This is inevitable,” he noted.

The suspects who drew up the Suga plan were later convicted as part of the Sledgehammer trial heard by the Istanbul 13th High Criminal Court. The convictions were upheld by the 9th Chamber of the Supreme Court of Appeals on October 9, 2013, which verified the authenticity of the Suga plan. However, President Erdoğan made a secret deal with the neo-nationalists and their rogue officers in the aftermath of December 2013 corruption investigations that incriminated him and his family members. In exchange for help in hushing up and whitewashing his own crimes, Erdoğan orchestrated the release of the convicted officers and secured them a retrial with the pre-determined outcome of acquittal for the group’s members under his government’s political directives. The overwhelming body of evidence in terms of seized secret documents, statements, wiretaps, audio recordings, fingerprints, witness and suspect testimony and research reports were ignored. For the sake of political expediency, the case was declared bogus when in fact it exposed dirty dealings in the military.

Gürdeniz, the author of Suga, was forced into retirement in August 2012 after his arrest in February of the same year. He is one of the convicted felons who was released by the Erdoğan government. He has been appearing on pro-government networks these days, preaching a hawkish line and promoting the idea that Turkey should engage militarily with Greece. In the meantime, moves similar to those mentioned in the Suga plan were being made by Turkey, suggesting that Turkey had actually revisited and updated the plan to achieve the political goals pursued by both Erdoğan’s Islamists and his partner neo-nationalists, who jointly run the Turkish military, the police and intelligence services in today’s Turkey.

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