Why the coup in Turkey failed and what comes next
Nearly 200 people were killed in the failed coup attempt in Turkey yesterday, with hundreds wounded and nearly 3,000 military personnel arrested. President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has promised "retribution" against the coup participants who apparently never numbered more than a few thousand.
As bloody as the coup attempt was, the chances of success were slim. The plotters gambled that once begun, a large part of the Turkish military would either remain on the sidelines or join them.
Erdogan broadcast from his smart phone a statement to the people, 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 military forces, including tanks near the presidential palace. They even took control of the Turkish broadcasting authority and forced the newscasters to read their statement that they had taken over the government of the "traitor" Erdogan and were changing the Constitution.
However, it appears that the number of soldiers in their command - only 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 possibly 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 rebels seized strategic points, temporarily captured key media centers, and surrounded parliament. But in addition to their failure to grab Erdoğan, the plotters didn't have the manpower to hold their positions from even the police, who remained loyal to the government.
It's hard to know what was in the minds of the rebel leaders. In hindsight, the attempted coup looks amatuerish and not very well thought out. That said, they sure put a scare into Erdoğan's Islamist government. The coming purge of the military will be bloody, and the dragnet for coup sympathizers will almost certainly sweep up some who are innocent.
The instability comes at the absolute worst time for Turkey as they are beset by Kurdish and Islamic State terrorists while the government takes on a low level insurgency by the Kurds. The coup attempt won't help Turkey's flagging tourist industry which has been severely damaged by several high profile terrorist attacks.
But it's the political ramifications that will be most significant. Erdoğan is likely to accelerate his plans to change the constitution from a parliamentary based government to a presidential one. He will accumulate even more power and speed up his plan to make Islam the dominant force in government and culture.
And with the military now in shambles, there will be no one to stop him.