On Thursday, Turkish hackers took down the websites of the Times of Israel, Israel’s largest-circulation news group, as well as Asia Times (atimes.com), the leading pan-Asian English language digital newspaper. Both sites were defended by top-of-the-line Israeli cybersecurity systems, so the hack could have been conducted only with the resource of a state intelligence service, according to Israeli intelligence. The hackers posted a pro-Palestinian message with reference to Gaza. That conforms to official Turkish policy, which backs the terrorist group Hamas as well as its mother organization, the Muslim Brotherhood.
This is Turkey’s evident response to the hundredth anniversary of the Balfour Declaration, which led to the establishment of the State of Israel.
The Jewish Telegraph Agency reported:
On Thursday morning, the English-language news site’s homepage featured an image of children waving a Turkish flag and a line that apparently vowed to protect “Palestine” and Gaza. Underneath that was a Quran verse that reads, in part, “And they wronged Us not — but they were [only] wronging themselves.” It was written in Turkish, Arabic and English. The page was signed by the group Akincilar, which hacked multiple Dutch websites earlier this year after Turkey and the Netherlands had a political falling-out in the wake of Turkish President Recep Erdogan’s controversial referendum win.
Asia Times has hosted my “Spengler” column since 2000. In 2015 the news site was relaunched under new management. I serve on the board of directors of its parent company.
The cyber-terrorist attack on the Israeli and Asian sites is consistent with Turkish government attempts to intimidate press criticism of Tayyip Recep Erdogan’s government, which has become a bizarre Islamist dictatorship. Since the June 2016 coup attempt by military officers seeking to oust Erdogan, the government has jailed 152 journalists and closed 173 media outlets. Turkey has jailed several prominent German journalists working in Turkey, despite the vehement protests of the German government, as well as foreign journalists of other nations. Earlier this month a Turkish court sentenced a Wall Street Journal reporter, Ayla Albayrak, to two years imprisonment for alleged “terrorism.”
Erdogan also provoked a diplomatic crisis with the United States by arresting a Turkish employee of the U.S. embassy in Ankara last month.
The cyber-attack on Times of Israel and Asia Times, though, is the first time that Turkish actors–presumably with the tools available to state security services–have tried to silence foreign media outlets entirely.
Erdogan operates with a sense of existential doom. His November 2015 election campaign included a campaign of violence against the Kurdish-majority Southeast of the country.
He killed civilians in the Kurdish majority Southeast during day-long curfews and “operations,” bombed the PKK in Turkey and in the Qandil mountains in Iraq, jailed democratically elected mayors, didn’t do anything to prevent violence against offices and rallies of the HDP (the leftist party rooted in the Kurdish movement) and increased the pressure on newspapers not yet under his control. And it worked — he won 49 percent of the vote.
As I wrote in 2011 book How Civilizations Die and more recently in Asia Times, the Kurds are having twice as many children as ethnic Turks and will be a majority of Turkish citizens under 30 by the early 2040s. That will collapse Erdogan’s dream of an Islamic Caliphate centered in Turkey. He will go to any length to postpone the demographic reckoning.
Notionally a member of NATO, Turkey has turned its back on the alliance by purchasing Russia’s S-400 air defense system. Erdogan has decided that his country’s future lies in the East, as a collaborator of Russia and an economic satrapy of China, rather than with the European Union and NATO, as his predecessors believed.
As the Middle East Forum’s Daniel Pipes wrote recently:
NATO seems unfazed that Ankara helps Iran’s nuclear program, develops an Iranian oil field, and transfers Iranian arms to Hezbollah. Erdoğan’s talk of joining the Moscow-Beijing dominated Shanghai Cooperation Organisation ruffles few feathers, as do joint exercises with the Russian and Chinese militaries. A Turkish purchase of a Russian missile defense system, the S-400, appears to be more an irritant than a deal-breaker. A mutual U.S.-Turkish ban on visas fazed no one.
At some point the West must tell Erdogan that enough is enough, and that his betrayal of the Western alliance, his violent suppression of political opposition, his attacks on the press and his penchant for dirty tricks have made Turkey a pariah state.