Claims of arms transfers to Syria by Turkey are exaggerated, says expert

Claims of arms transfers to Syria by Turkey are exaggerated, says expert

Mete Yarar is a former member of the Turkish armed forces. As a member of the Special Forces Command, he was last on duty in Iraq, before leaving the army of his own will in 2004. Ever since, he has been working as a security consultant, and he frequently appears on television as a political and security expert.

In Turkey, there are several so called “experts” (and even unfortunately journalists) who appear on television with the sole purpose of amplifying the views of the government. But I believe that Mete Yarar is not one of these. Indeed, he has been quite critical of the government’s policies in the Middle East, accusing the government of making a number of wrong assumptions (such as thinking that the days of Bashar al–Assad were limited). Yarar also believes that, even today, the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) is not clearly explaining the severity of the security situation to the Turkish people, and is not taking the necessary measures to counter the increasing risks.

But on two issues in particular he does not share the widespread international criticism: Turkey’s role in the deterioration of the military situation in Syria, and Ankara’s stance on the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant’s (ISIL) siege of the Syrian Kurdish town Kobane.

“At the beginning, Turkey could have stopped the war using its soft power. But to claim that it has enflamed the war through arms transfers is not realistic,” he told me when we met for an interview.

“When the Syria events started, the United States set up its command in Jordan. The camps where Free Syrian Army (FSA) members are trained are in Jordan,” Yarar said, adding that arms transfers to the Syrian opposition are also taking place via Jordan. “Have you ever heard of Jordan in the international press with regard to FSA training or arms transfers? Even though the camps are in fact there. Do you know the number of people who have crossed from Iran to Syria to fight? Some 40,000.
 I’m not just talking about volunteers, I’m talking about uniformed soldiers of the regime - the revolutionary guards. That’s why I am angry about this. No one talks about them, but everyone keeps talking about Turkey”

Yarar underlined the fact that none of the arms being used in Syria are produced in Turkey. “Arms transfers, including their production, are monitored by international mechanisms. Turkey needs to buy the weapons that are used in Syria,” he said.

“I guess you could avoid doing it via legal means,” I suggested.

“No, you can’t just do it like that,” he replied.

“What about the trucks that were stopped near the Syrian border, which were found to be carrying arms?” I asked.

Yarar said he had examined the material and the weapons in the trucks appeared to be unsophisticated basic arms. “I’m not saying that no arms are going to Syria via Turkey. But the number of bullets used in one day in Syria equals the daily production of an arms factory. There are many other actors also sending arms to Syria,” he added.

In short, arms transfers via Turkey are not at a dimension great enough to change the outcome in the region, according to Yarar.

When it comes to Kobane, he also challenged the conviction in the international community that Turkey preferred the Islamists to the Kurds, and thus remained indifferent to the siege of the Syrian Kurdish city.

“If Kobane hasn’t fallen into the hands of ISIL, it is thanks to Turkey,” said Yarar. “First, it kept the border open for those fleeing: You cannot defend a town when you are surrounded by your relatives, your children, your daughters. Turkey accepted the arrival of civilians. Second, it kept open the corridor; it did not object to the international intervention … Allowing the Peshmerga forces to pass through Turkish soil in daylight, can you imagine the psychological trauma that this could cause the nation?”

These views are voiced by someone who is actually critical of Turkey’s policies in the region. As Yarar also underlined, at least one thing is for certain: Turkey is very unsuccessful when it comes to perception management.