In the last two weeks, Turkish media have started reporting about Iranian intelligence activities. The Türkiye daily, for instance, reported in a lead story on how Turkey's National Intelligence Organization (MİT) was disappointed by its Iranian counterpart. Following that piece of news, police in the border province of Iğdır conducted an operation in which they arrested nine people -- two Iranian and seven Turkish citizens -- allegedly working for Iranian intelligence and sharing information about strategic infrastructure.
These nine agents and informants were allegedly looking for strategic targets and conveying the information on to the PKK, and the PKK was acting on the information. There was indeed a noticeable increase in PKK activity in and around Iğdır and its neighboring province of Ağrı.
Those who closely follow the PKK's activities know that there is no strategic reason for the PKK to intensify its activities in a remote corner of Turkey, its eastern provinces, where most of the population does not support the PKK anyway. PKK activities in this area intensify when the PKK calculates a strategic gain. For instance, the PKK deployed 1,000 militants here back in 1993 because Turkey and Azerbaijan had agreed at the time to build a crude pipeline which goes through this region.
The PKK deployed its militants in this region to prevent the building of the pipeline at that time. Indeed, because of PKK activities, the cost of insurance increased and the route for the pipeline was eventually changed. One of the reasons was increased PKK activity.
The second period during which the PKK increased its activities in this region was late 2006, 2007 and 2008. In this period, the PKK intensified its activities and mostly targeted a Turkey-Iran natural gas pipeline nearby the town of Doğubayazıt. This period was very critical for the PKK because the PKK was seeking international support to maintain its existence. When we look at the timing of the attacks, there is a strong correlation between the timing of Turkey's efforts to sign contracts with Iran to invest in Iranian natural gas fields and the PKK's attacks.
This is the third time that the PKK has increased its activities in this strategic location; however, unlike in 2007 and 2008, this time the PKK did not target the strategic infrastructure that is the Turkey-Iran pipeline. To those who closely monitor the PKK's activities, its decision to not target the Turkey-Iran pipeline itself says a lot about possible Iranian support of the PKK.
When we read media reports about Iranian intelligence activities, the PKK's increased activities on the Turkey-Iran border, the PKK's cease-fire with Iran, and Turkish and Iranian officials' statements about each other, we can easily argue that Turkey and Iran are in a cold war.
Unfortunately, in this war, the Iranian side is in a more advantageous position than Turkey. On the economic front, Turkey depends on Iranian natural gas in the coming winter, which Iran will use against Turkey. Iran considered Turkey an area in which to conduct economic activity while the rest of the world sanctions Iran. Indeed, the Turkish press reported that between January and July Iran had imported gold from Turkey worth $7 billion. On the economic front, both parties have tools that can harm the other.
On the political front, however, Iran has more tools to use against Turkey. Given the fact that Iran is a country best known for its proxy wars, Iran would use tools such as the PKK, and to some degree the Kurdish Hizbullah and other sleeper cells pretending to be Islamists in this country, to destabilize Turkey. Turkey, however, has very limited groups inside Iran which it could mobilize against the Iranian regime. Furthermore, Turkey does not know how to wage a protracted proxy war.
Moreover, there are influential intellectuals among the Islamists, even in the Cabinet, and members of Parliament who have sympathy towards Iran. For this very reason the government, despite the warnings from inside and outside, insists on its policies to support Iran in the international arena and to keep the doors of economic activity open.
Thus, Iran can easily destabilize Turkey if Turkey further deepens the cold war with Iran.