Extreme concern was quietly voiced Sunday, Dec. 18, by American and European official circles over the state of Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan's health – and especially its impact on present and impending events in Syria and other parts of the Middle East, including Iran, debkafile's Western intelligence sources report. Those sources say Erdogan is suffering from Rectosigmoid cancer, but were not sure if it had reached the advanced Stage TIII (spread out of the colon to regional lymph nodes).
They also said they did not know what treatment he had received at the Istanbul hospital where he was first admitted and latterly at the Hacettepe Hospital in Ankara.
Sunday, Turkish Health Minister Recep Akdag, talking to local journalists, told them not to pay attention to the "gossip" that the hospital had prepared a special room for the prime minister to conduct affairs of state, but did not deny it. No denials were issued either of Turkish news reports about Erdogan undergoing "abdominal surgery " on Nov. 26. They also reported that, since he was released, an air force ambulance helicopter had been standing outside his home.
According to reports flying around Ankara Sunday, which were neither confirmed nor denied, the Turkish prime minister is back in hospital.
debkafile's sources would only admit they are worried because the lengthy medical treatment he needs has already had an effect on the state of Middle East decision-making, especially in relation to the urgent Syrian crisis.
Thursday night, Dec. 15, Erdogan and President Abdullah Gul led a top military command council meeting in Ankara to review preparations for war on two possible fronts – Syria and Iran, if Tehran decides to come to Bashar Assad's aid.
On Friday, the Turkish prime minister met US Defense Secretary Leon Panetta who flew in from Baghdad.
When Turkish journalists asked after his health, Erdogan replied: "I'm fine and I will be better."
Our sources point out that whatever decisions were made at the Turkish military council conference and the consultations between Turkish and American security chiefs, Erdogan's ill health was clearly uppermost in every mind in Ankara – and not only there.
In Washington, there is considerable anxiety. US President Barack Obama regards Erdogan as a personal friend and his senior ally in the execution of administration Middle East policies, especially with regard to Iran and Syria. The two leaders were recently described by insiders as having developed "intimate relations of trust." According to some sources, they had at least 14 phone conversations in recent months.
The question asked in Washington is this: Is the Turkish leader in fit condition to continue to help the Obama administration carry forward their agreed plans in the region?
They were not encouraged by the comment heard from Deputy Prime Minister Bulent Arinc while Erdogan was away from Ankara.
He chastised the ruling Justice and Development Party –AKP for "divisions… in Edrogan's absence…" over a bill for regulating the nomination of party candidates.
Turkish pundits saw those "divisions" as symptoms of a power struggle already afoot over the Erdogan legacy.
And so the next day, Arinc admitted "he had made a very big mistake" in bringing the argument out in the open.
There were no comments in Israel on the Turkish prime minister's medical condition.