Seymour Hersh has an important piece up at the London Review of Books implicating Turkey in the August 2013 sarin gas incident that almost triggered a US attack on Syria. I wonder how much traction it will get.
Specifically, will it get more traction than the recent clandestine Youtube release of the confab between the Turkish foreign minister and the spooks concerning the mechanics of manufacturing a false flag operation in northern Syria to justify a Turkish incursion? In response the Turkish government banned Youtube, a ban that has attracted considerably less attention than its ban on Twitter.
Hersh states that Turkey, as a NATO member, gets special treatment that other Muslim states do not:
Barring a major change in policy by Obama, Turkey’s meddling in the Syrian civil war is likely to go on. ‘I asked my colleagues if there was any way to stop Erdoğan’s continued support for the rebels, especially now that it’s going so wrong,’ the former intelligence official told me. ‘The answer was: “We’re screwed.” We could go public if it was somebody other than Erdoğan, but Turkey is a special case. They’re a Nato ally. The Turks don’t trust the West. They can’t live with us if we take any active role against Turkish interests. If we went public with what we know about Erdoğan’s role with the gas, it’d be disastrous. The Turks would say: “We hate you for telling us what we can and can’t do.”’
The story is highly significant in that it gives the imprimatur of Hersh’s insider sources to what was widely bruited by Bernard at Moon of Alabama, myself, and some other commentators, namely that the sarin gas incident was a false flag operation intended to stampede the US into an Assad-destroying attack.
A couple quibbles.
Hersh reports the Joint Chiefs of Staff opposed the attack because the intel was weak. Are the JCS really so bogus-intel averse after Iraq? The Syria operation, after all, was envisioned as an airpower exercise with no boots on the ground that would presumably weaken if not depose Assad while yielding few if any US casualties. And there’s plenty of war crimes allegations to justify R2P, get Assad to The Hague, and tie up any “good war” loose ends even if the US turned out to be “heroes in error” and thumped Assad on the basis of incorrect intelligence.
The real reason that President Obama has shrunk from taking “all means necessary” to implode the Syrian regime and instead reconciled himself to years of murderous equivocation has yet to be told. Given the Syrian catastrophe of 150,000 deaths, millions of refugees, and the destruction of Syria’s cities and economy, I hope he doesn’t think he’s holding off for humanitarian reasons.
Second, the sarin gas false flag is presented as strictly a Turkish show. I had hypothesized that Saudi Arabia’s Prince Bandar was behind the attack. I wonder if Hersh’s account is complete, not just because I hate to be wrong, but also because it doesn’t make sense that Turkey would execute a murderously risky stunt like this without Saudi foreknowledge and backup.
Given the Turkish dithering over minor false flag exploits revealed in the Youtube audio (like manufacturing a threat to the tomb of a progenitor of the Ottoman empire, Shah Suleyman, which is inside Syria but claimed as sovereign territory by Turkey and protected by Turkish special forces), I tend to think that Saudi Arabia may have been on hand to provide Turkey with a little backbone for the sarin attack.
Saudi Arabia and Turkey are Sunni frenemies, divided about democratically tinged political Islam, support for the Muslim Brotherhood, Egypt, and Erdogan’s addiction to playing footsie with Iran; but they still share a desire to destroy the Assad regime. In 2013 the Saudis under Prince Bandar were pursuing a hyper-aggressive strategy in Syria (remember, Bandar allegedly raised the specter of Chechen attacks against the Sochi Olympics if Putin persisted in his Assad-supporting ways), and the KSA was all-in on a US attack against Assad for crossing the chemical weapons red line. If Turkey indeed executed the false-flag attack and Saudi Arabia instantaneously called for a US attack on Syria in retaliation, this would imply an admittedly rare but not unexpected area of cooperation between Turkey and Saudi Arabia.
Hersh’s story links the sarin false flag attack to Erdogan’s frustration that the US had cut off the “rat line” running arms from Libya through Turkey and into Syria after the Benghazi assault, thereby giving the advantage to Assad and driving Erdogan to consider how to get US power to bear. Again, I wonder if the Turkey’s support for the Syrian insurrection (2000 truckloads of materiel, according to the Youtube release) really relied on a CIA/MI6-managed flow of Libyan weapons. Prince Bandar bragged that he had arranged a large shipment of arms for the insurgents from Croatia, and perhaps Saudi Arabia would have been ready to make up whatever shortfall emerged after the “rat line” was cut.
So maybe Hersh’s sources are shielding Saudi Arabia by leaking half the story, the Turkish half, and hanging Erdogan out to dry. In other words, in the passage above substitute “Saudi Arabia” for “Turkey” and you might have a more persuasive picture of the Muslim power that the US security establishment doesn’t want to embarrass.
I might point out also that Erdogan was responsible for an attempt to procure a Chinese missile defense system (the announcement was made just after the Syria attack fell apart, perhaps as an expression of Turkish pique), a decision that infuriated NATO and apparently caused it to encourage extensive opposition to the deal within Turkey’s defense establishment. So maybe the decision was made to give Erdogan a comeuppance by hanging the sarin false flag fiasco around his neck.
As for the “rat line” from Libya, that had been chugging along even before the CIA’s involvement which, according to Hersh’s article, was approved in early 2012. What might have cut the “rat line” and forced Bandar to turn to Croatia was the fact that Saudi Arabia pushed Qatar out of the leadership of the GCC anti-Assad initiative and Libya—a close Qatar ally—declined to play ball with Riyadh, and it would have been up to Prince Bandar to work out new supply channels, and a modus vivendi with Erdogan.
I wrote about the Qatari precursor of the “rat line” in November 2011. If I may be excused for patting myself on the back, it is a rather prescient piece, both about the mechanics of outside support for the insurgents, and for its bleak view of the fate of the domestic Syrian revolutionary movement. For bonus points, it also highlights the involvement of an enthusiastic State Department regime-changer, Victoria Nuland, who was very much in the news recently for her encouragement of the ruckus in Ukraine.
The piece in full follows below.
The Syrian revolution—a broad-based, non-sectarian, democratic anti-despot national movement—has failed.
Mass demonstrations never materialized in Damascus and Aleppo. The military and security forces didn’t crack. The Alawite on Sunni crackdown (Alawites form the backbone of the army/security forces/irregular goon squads) fomented sectarian divisions, with most non-Sunnis minorities cleaving desperately to the Assad regime. Prosperous Sunnis have presumably been hedging their bets by donating to the anti-government cause in recent days but have not explicitly abandoned the regime.
The Gulf powers and the West would have welcomed a Ba’athist regime collapse at the hand of domestic anti-government demonstrations.
That didn’t happen.
As the peaceful democratic movement has faltered, there has been no move from the Western/Gulf powers to encourage reconciliation and reforms.
Quite the contrary, in fact.
Whenever Assad makes an offer of reform, the Western powers dismiss it as too late and/or insincere.
Victoria Nuland, the State Department spokesperson, counseled Syrian dissidents to defy the Assad regime’s offer of an amnesty in return for handing in illegal weapons, as the LA Times reported:
Syria accused Washington of “inciting sedition, supporting the acts of killing and terrorism,” the official Syrian news agency said, quoting an official source at the Foreign Ministry.
The comments came a day after State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland declared that she would counsel Syrians to reject the amnesty, in which those the government terms arms violators were asked to turn themselves in with their weapons “to the nearest police station” during a one-week period that began Saturday. Those who surrender and have not killed anyone “will be released soon,” the Interior Ministry vowed.
“I wouldn’t advise anybody to turn themselves in to regime authorities at the moment,” Nuland told reporters in Washington.
Nuland, by the way, is married to PNACer and neocon pundit Robert Kagan. Recalling Dick Cheney’s enthusiasm for driving to Damascus post-Iraqi Freedom, maybe we should call the Syria enterprise Clean Break II: The Do-Over.
Anyway, democracy didn’t work. Time for Plan B.The foreign powers interested in Assad’s fall—and stripping Iran of a regional ally–have made the decision to piggyback a foreign-supported, foreign-funded insurrection on the faltering anti-government movement.
More accurately, the democratic revolution is now an uncertain and unwilling passenger on the Gulf-funded military machine rumbling toward Damascus.
Havens for anti-Assad fighters have materialized in Turkey, and arms and money are flooding in from all over the place.
Weapons and money for anti-Assad insurrectionists has been trickling in for months, to the blissful disregard of western news outlets fixated on the images of democracy demonstrators struggling against oppression.
Now that the political option is sliding off the table and it is clear a foreign-funded insurrection is needed to remove the Assad regime, the gusher of arms and cash has become too big to ignore.
But the story doesn’t require old-fashioned reporting anymore.
Just go down to a Turkish foreign ministry presser for tea, cookies, and a targeted backgrounder.Turkey has positioned itself as the indispensable Western/Gulf proxy on Syria’s northern border.
Iran’s IRNA news agency passed on a report in Turkey’s Millyet tabloid, a major Turkish news outlet. IRNA is sometimes selective and/or inaccurate in its presentation of international news, so I’m passing it on with a caveat, but the report as presented passes the smell test for me:
According to Milliyet, as cited by IRNA, France has sent its military training forces to Turkey and Lebanon to coach the so-called Free Syrian Army — a group of defectors operating out of Turkey and Lebanon — in an effort to wage war against Syria’s military.
The report added that the French, British, and Turkish authorities “have reached an agreement to send arms into Syria.”
The Turkish daily said that the three have informed the US about training and arming the Syrian opposition.
According to Milliyet, a group of armed rebels are currently stationed in Turkey’s Hatay Province near the border with Syria.
The report comes as an earlier report had revealed that the British and French intelligence agencies have reportedly tasked their agents with contacting Syrian dissidents based in the northern Lebanese town of Tripoli in order to help fuel unrest in Syria.
Reports also said that French intelligence agents have been sent to northern Lebanon and Turkey to build the first contingents of the Free Syrian Army out of the deserters who have fled Syria.
For those of you who prefer to get your Turkey/Syria news from a reliable Crusader source, here’s an eyebrow-raising item from the Daily Telegraph, albeit via Hurryet on November 27:
Syrian dissidents held secret talks Nov. 25 with Libya’s new authorities and Turkish authorities in Istanbul with the aim of securing weapons and money for their insurgency against Damascus, the Daily Telegraph has reported.
Syrian opposition group requested “assistance” from the Libyan representatives and were offered arms, and potentially volunteers, during the meeting, the daily reported Nov. 25.
“There is something being planned to send weapons and even Libyan fighters to Syria,” a Libyan source said on condition of anonymity. “There is a military intervention on the way. Within a few weeks you will see.”
Preliminary discussions about arms supplies took place when members of the Syrian National Council (SNC) – the country’s main opposition movement – visited Libya earlier this month, said the daily.
“The Libyans are offering money, training and weapons to the Syrian National Council,” said Wisam Taris, a human rights campaigner with links to the SNC. Last month, Libya’s interim government became the first in the world to recognize Syria’s opposition movement as the country’s “legitimate authority.”
Large shipments of weapons have not yet been sent, said activists, mainly because of logistical difficulties.
But proposals for a “buffer zone” inside Syria, monitored by the Arab League, or the likely emergence of an area inside the country controlled entirely by rebels, could solve this problem. “The [Libyan] council’s offer is serious,” said Taris.
Sources in the Libyan town of Misrata suggested that some weapons may already have been sent. Some smugglers were caught selling small arms to Syrian buyers in Misrata, said a man who trafficked guns to Libya’s rebels during the country’s civil war.
Libyans feel closely aligned to the Syrian cause, said Hameda al-Mageri, from the Tripoli Military Council.
The Tripoli Military Council is the creature of Islamist strongman Abdelhakim Belhadj.
Belhadj is the preferred in-Libya muscle of the Gulf States—“proxy” is perhaps not too strong a term. He recently found it expedient to issue a non-denial denial that Qatar had dispatched nine planeloads of arms to Tripoli for the exclusive use of his forces.
Belhadj was denied a seat in the new Libyan cabinet thanks to Western anxiety over any overtly Islamist tinge to the proceedings. In an inspiring demonstration of the give-and-take of new Libyan democracy, a representative from Zintan was able to leverage his town’s continued and suspiciously prolonged local custody of Saif Qaddafi into a winning bid for the defense slot.
Instead, Belhadj now has the opportunity to pursue profitable mischief in Syria on behalf of the Gulf states and their anti Sh’ia/anti-Iranian counter revolution (and perhaps dissipating the intimidating shadow of Belhadj and a number of his well-trained and hardened fighters from the streets of Tripoli).
In an amusing sideline, Belhadj–presumably on his way to the Istanbul meeting–got a friendly hazing at the airport from his Zintan buddies. The brief detention was noted by the local Libyan press; the thing about the money was apparently glossed by a pro-Gaddafi website (they still exist!):
The battalion of Zintan men has arrested him after the discovery that the passport is registered with the competent authorities and carrying fake name.
The democratic revolution ship has sailed. What’s going on today is a foreign-supported insurrection.
The Chinese and the Russians have a clear-eyed understanding of what’s going on.
The PRC is loath to get on the wrong side of Saudi Arabia, its largest energy supplier, by going too far to defend Syria.
Moscow, which has a real stake in its Iran alliance and cares about the fate of Assad’s regime, has shown no such qualms.
A selection of headlines from RIA Novosti gives an idea of what a responsible multi-lateral response on Syria—as opposed to a hurried military ass-kicking enabled by global anti-Iranian forces meant to obscure the failure of a peaceful “color revolution”—would have looked like:
None of this is happening, of course.
As to where this all ends up, I will outsource the increasingly plausible endgame–Turkey is ready to invade Syria–to the estimable M. Badhrakumar of Asia Times (and his personal blog, Indian Punchline):
Turkey and its western allies are transferring the Libyan fighters whom they trained and armed to depose Muammar Gaddafi to Syria. Around 600 Libyan ‘volunteers’ have entered Syria. Daily Telegraph reported that secret meetings were held on Friday in Istanbul between the Turkish officials and the Syrian opposition representatives and the Libyan fighters. Large-scale infiltration of weapons from Turkey and Jordan have been going on for months to create civil-war conditions in Syria, but this is the first move to introduce ‘volunteers’.
The move is necessitated by the failure to induce defections form the Syrian armed forces, except a mere handful. Turkey and the western powers are desperate to create the myth of a ‘Syrian resistance’ force without which their blatant aggression will be in full display. …Things seem to be heading for a flash point, indeed. The sure sign is that US V-P Joseph Biden is heading for Ankara in the weekend. It is a major signal of the US giving the go-ahead to Turkey to act on Syria without fear. Again, Jordanian King, Abdullah, travelled to israel. He is Saudi Arabia’s ‘back channel’ to Israel and a key regional ally for the western intelligence.
Turkey is indeed shedding its fear of the unknown and is coming out into the open on the Syrian situation. Turkish FM Ahmet Davitoglu indicated today for the first time that Turkey is all set for invasion of Syria once it gets the green signal from its western allies. He said this before heading for the combined meeting of EU foreign ministers and Arab League representatives (read Saudi Arabia and Qatar).
The day Davutoglu spoke, November 29, will stand out as a notable date in the chronicle of the Turkish Republic that Kemal Ataturk founded. Ataturk’s ‘red line’ used to be that Turkey should never get entangled in the affairs of the Muslim Middle East but should instead concentrate on its own ‘modernization’. Evidently, the Islamist government in power today thinks Turkey is today ‘modern’ enough already and can now go back and reclaim its Ottoman legacy.
A Turkish army moving into an Arab country – it is a historic point. It is a century after the Turks were driven out by the ‘Arab revolt’. The matrix is dripping with irony. The Arab revolt against the Turks was instigated by Great Britain. And Britain, although a far weaker power today, is still playing a seminal role – except, it is encouraging the Turks to return to the Arab world. One hundred years ago, Britain successfully pitted the Arabs against the Turks. Today, Turks join hands with some Arabs who have a grouse against some other Arabs.
The Syrian revolutionaries were too weak to get the nation they wanted.
They’ll have to make do with whatever state that Turkey, the Gulf powers, and the western democracies decide to give them.