Is Turkey behind the chemical attack in Syria?
Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Seymour Hersh argued in his article published at the London Review of Books on April 17 that Turkey organized the Aug. 21, 2013 chemical attack in Syria to provoke a U.S. intervention in the country. Both Ankara and Washington had immediately blamed Bashar al-Assad for this attack.
I have spoken to top officials from the Foreign Ministry and the government in order to find out what Ankara thinks about the allegations. They have all dismissed Hersh’s claims. Ankara, however, also criticizes the U.S. for not having conducted a military intervention in Syria.
It also criticizes Washington for not having granted enough and regular support to the Syrian opposition groups. Yet, there is a strong expectation that there will be stronger support, including arms and ammunition from now on. And this expectation seems like it will be fulfilled soon. It has been the U.S.’s fear that arms will end up in the hands of radical groups, which has been the cause of disagreement between Turkey and the U.S. on this issue so far.
The two countries also disagree about al-Nusra, which is alleged to be an al-Qaeda affiliated radical opposition group in Syria. The U.S. had listed al-Nusra as a terrorist organization in December 2012, to which Turkey has been objecting. Turkey’s argument is that this prohibition would only bring in more support and visibility to the group.
When asked about the al-Nusra members who were detained in Turkey in May 2013 with chemicals, which are usually used to produce sarin gas, Ankara names the three following prerequisites to deport people: Either that person must have committed a crime within the territory, Interpol should be after that person, or that person’s country of nationality should be making a claim.
Ankara also thinks al-Nusra is not as dangerous as the Islamic State in Iraq and Levant (ISIS), which is also an al-Qaeda affiliated group in Syria. One of the main reasons is al-Nusra denies its connection with al-Qaeda and fights against the ISIS on the field.
Hersh also argues Prime Minister Erdoğan had waved his finger at President Obama during their meeting inside the White House in May 2013. This allegation is strongly denied by the officials. They all highlight that the two countries’ relations are on track, despite some disagreements.
I have also contacted Caitlin Haidlin, the Spokeswoman of the National Security Council. She replied by only dismissing the allegations. Washington had based its judgment on the attack on British intelligence. A top official from the U.K. Defense Ministry who I have spoken to said that the British intelligence was supplied by Russia, which he does not describe as an objective and reliable source, since Moscow is al-Assad’s strongest supporter.
The greatest weakness in Hersh’s article is that he does not provide any evidence that the opposition groups have conducted the attack. He has admitted this in a TV show last week, saying: “We don’t know what happened in Syria. We only know the gas used in the attack does not match the ammunition of the Syrian regime.”
Then who do the allegations target? They certainly whitewash al-Assad and make the possibility of an intervention even more unlikely. And why should Hersh, who has been the very devil of the American administrations since the ‘60s, be targeting the Turkish government or intelligence agency? It is not that difficult to see that his article puts the Obama administration behind the eight ball.
It is impossible to see the reality totally. Yet, still we can try to get close to it as much as we can. I hope we have managed that.