by Ahmet Aslan (Main Stories, Crescent International Vol. 42, No. 8, Dhu al-Qa'dah, 1434)
Commentators in Turkey are pointing the finger at the Turkish government of Recep Tayip Erdogan of being involved in the Syrian chemical attack in order to force the US’ hand. What is the truth?
A Western military attack came close to being launched following allegations that the Syrian government had used chemical weapons in Ghouta, near Damascus. The gas attack claimed hundreds of lives according to most sources while the Americans insisted 1,400 people were killed. The news evoked strong international outrage; this was deemed sufficient justification for military intervention against the government of Syria. Seizing this opportunity, leaders of US, Britain and France, without even waiting for the outcome of UN investigation in order to identify the guilty party for this heinous crime, immediately blamed the Syrian government. They appeared determined to punish President Bashar al-Asad by skipping authorization of international mechanisms that they themselves have put in place.
Yet events turned out differently. The British Parliament rejected David Cameron’s attempt to get approval for military strikes. This left the US bereft of a close European ally and, therefore, alone. The warmongers’ only supporters were the tribal monarchies of the Gulf Cooperation Council led by the Saudis, and Turkey, which has been desperate to remove Bashar al-Asad from power. Apart from these few regimes, the rest of the international community opposed the plan. It rightly feared the dire consequences of an attack and the possibility of war spilling over to the entire Muslim East. The Obama regime, therefore, bowed to the Russian initiative saving face of “the mighty” US by convincing the Syrians to give up their chemical weapons stockpiles. The Russian proposal also pre-empted any future Western military intervention on the pretext of the use of chemical weapons by the Syrian government.
American, Russian and Syrian officials are now working on a viable disarmament timetable hoping to agree on a permanent peace plan that may eventually end the bloody conflict that has gripped Syria since March 2011. However, despite these positive developments, the identity of the perpetrators of the chemical attack has remained a mystery. The Syrian government including President al-Asad has categorically denied its army’s involvement in the attack and pointed the finger of blame on the rebels. In an interview with a Russian TV channel, al-Asad stated that it was the rebels that launched the attack in order to frame the government. Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Turkey aided them in obtaining chemical weapons. The Russians have also backed up this claim by providing evidence for the rebels’ use of chemical weapons.
While Russian evidence has not been formally verified, there are strong indications regarding Turkey’s motivation and involvement in such an attack. These include the uncompromising attitude adopted by Ankara, which has been desperately seeking to overthrow the Syrian regime. Since the beginning of the conflict, Turkey has been pushing for a military solution. This policy has been implemented in a very unsubtle manner thereby creating the impression that Turkey is an aggressive country and a warmonger. This was very clear during the initial talks of unilateral US intervention in Syria as opposed to a limited air strike. The AKP government pushed for all-out war. In this regard Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayip Erdogan talked about the ineffectiveness of an air strike and suggested that it should be a full-scale military attack in the manner of the assault on Kosovo in 1999.
When Obama announced his reluctance to attack Syria, Erdogan lambasted the West for being complicit in the “killing of the Syrian people” and held them responsible for future “massacres.” He considered Syria’s decision to dismantle its chemical arsenal as a “time gaining tactic” and argued that al-Asad would never dismantle his weapons.
Turkey is well aware that Obama has been very sensitive about the use of chemical weapons in the conflict — for the sake of Israel’s security — and he has already declared it is his “red line.” That is why when Erdogan visited Washington in May 2013 he handed a thick dossier to Obama that allegedly contained proof of the Syrian government’s use of chemical weapons. He then tried to convince Obama to launch a military strike, a suggestion Obama politely declined on the grounds that the US was not sure who has been using chemical weapons. Since then there have been several reports in the Turkish media regarding chemical weapons smuggled from Turkey into Syria.
In one of those reported incidents Turkish police raided a house and seized chemical weapons. There is an ongoing court-case in the city of Gaziantep that has served as headquarters of the Syrian rebel groups since the beginning of the civil war. A Syrian national is being tried for possession of chemical weapons; the police have recorded his phone conversations for attempting to sell 10 tons of chemical weapons.
More interestingly, the Democratic Union Party (PYD), a group that claims to represent Syrian Kurds and has been fighting against the rebels in their territories, has published a paper on their official website (www.pydrojava.net) that documents the relationship and co-operation between Jabhat al-Nusra (Nusra Front) and the Turkish intelligence organization, Milli İstihbarat Teşkilatı (MIT). According to the document, MIT has promised to provide the Nusra Front with chemical weapons that could be used in Syria.
The document also revealed that in April 2013, MIT held a meeting with representatives of the Nusra Front, the Syrian National Coalition and the Free Syrian Army in Gaziantep. In this meeting Turkey pledged to provide medium and heavy weapons and anti-aircraft guns to the Nusra Front. MIT also pledged to support the Nusra Front to obtain chemical weapons on the condition that they be used only in Syria and with the cooperation of the Islam Battalion of FSA. The document further states that “the only way to resolve the Syrian crisis is to resort to weapons and conflict.”
PYD obtained the document through the Kurdish Strategic Research Centre but it is not certain how they got hold of it. If the contents of the report are genuine it would show the extent of desperation of the government and would make it clear who was behind the recent chemical attack in Ghouta.
In another recent incident, Turkish police stopped a car on September 21 in the city of Malatya and discovered missile parts that contained a form of liquid. The chemical hazard signs on the container immediately alarmed the police who then arrested one Syrian and two Turkish nationals and asked for help from the army to identify the nature of the liquid. According to initial reports there is strong possibility that the liquid was poisonous and was to be used in chemical weapons.
The involvement of the Turkish government in the use of chemical weapons in Syria is a very serious allegation and deserves strong reliable evidence and thorough investigation. Yet Turkey’s clandestine relations with some of the most marginal rebel groups would inevitably prompt some to think such an attack would not take place without the knowledge of high level officials in Ankara.