Pulitzer-prize winning American journalist Seymour Hersh, in a sensational article “The Red Line and the Rat Line,” published in the London Review of Books, discloses that the Turkish government had secretly orchestrated the August 21, 2013 sarin gas attack in Syria, killing hundreds of civilians. Prime Minister Recep Erdogan had hoped that the Syrian regime would be blamed for that chemical attack, leading to a retaliatory US strike on Syria, since Pres. Obama had warned Syrian leaders that using chemical weapons against rebel fighters would cross a ‘red line.’
Erdogan’s plot almost worked! In the aftermath of the sarin attack, Pres. Obama began planning a massive US strike on dozens of Syrian targets, even though British intelligence had informed the US joint chiefs of staff that samples of the sarin gas obtained from the site of the attack did not match the chemical weapons in Syria’s possession. A former US intelligence official told Hersh that “Erdogan was known to be supporting the al-Nusra Front, a jihadist faction among the rebel opposition, as well as other Islamist rebel groups.” Hersh revealed that the US Defense Intelligence Agency had issued “a highly classified” document on June 20, 2013, confirming that “Turkey and Saudi-based chemical facilitators were attempting to obtain sarin precursors in bulk, tens of kilograms, likely for the anticipated large scale production effort in Syria.”
Last May, several members of the al-Nusra Front were arrested in Turkey with two kilograms of sarin. A Turkish court accused the group of planning to acquire other related materials to launch a chemical attack in Syria. Five of the arrestees were freed shortly, while the rest were released pending trial. They were not seen again!
After a special UN mission went to Syria to investigate two earlier chemical attacks in Spring 2013, a person with close knowledge of UN’s activity told Hersh that “there was evidence linking the Syrian opposition to the first gas attack, on March 19 in Khan al-Assal, a village near Aleppo…. It was clear that the rebels used the gas.”
Just before launching the joint US, British, and French attack on Syria in September 2013, Pres. Obama suddenly decided to postpone the strike, using the excuse that he needed congressional approval. The real reason for the delay was the President’s discovery that he was being set up by Turkey for an ‘unjustified’ attack on Syria, but did not want to publicly acknowledge his near blunder with potentially catastrophic consequences for the entire Middle East. Ironically, Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov was the one who rescued Pres. Obama from embarrassment by securing Syria’s agreement to hand over its chemical stockpile, thus providing the President a cover for canceling his threatened attack.
Investigative journalist Hersh further revealed that the chemical weapons had reached the Syrian rebels through a CIA operation code named ‘rat line’ -- a secret Turkish-US agreement in 2012 to funnel weapons and ammunition from Libya to Syria through Turkey. After the terrorist attack on its consulate in Benghazi, Libya, the hub of this clandestine activity, the US pulled out of this covert arrangement, yet Turkey continued to supply Libyan weapons to the Syrian rebels.
By the end of 2012, as the rebels were losing the battle against the Assad regime, a former US intelligence official told Hersh that “Erdogan was pissed,” leading him to concoct a scheme to have the rebels use sarin gas and falsely blame the Syrian government, thus instigating an attack by the United States on Syria.
To personally plead his case for a US attack on Syria to save the rebels from defeat, Turkey’s Prime Minister flew to Washington. On May 16, 2013, Erdogan, along with Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu and head of intelligence Hakan Fidan, had a working dinner at the White House, with Pres. Obama, Secretary of State John Kerry, and National Security Advisor Tom Donilon. Infuriated by Obama’s unwillingness to take military action against Syria, Erdogan “fucking waved his finger at the president inside the White House,” Donilon recounted the shocking episode to a foreign policy expert who reported it to Hersh. “The American decision to end CIA support of the weapons shipments into Syria left Erdogan exposed politically and militarily,” Hersh explained. “Without US military support for the rebels, the former intelligence official said, ‘Erdogan’s dream of having a client state in Syria is evaporating and he thinks we’re the reason why. When Syria wins the war, he knows the rebels are just as likely to turn on him -- where else can they go? So now he will have thousands of radicals in his backyard.’”
After the August 2013 sarin attack near Damascus, a former intelligence official told Hersh: “We now know it was a covert action planned by Erdogan’s people to push Obama over the red line…. The deal was to do something spectacular…. The sarin was supplied through Turkey.” Another indication of Turkish officials’ complicity was Hersh’s report that phone calls intercepted by the US revealed their joy with the success of their orchestrated chemical attack!
Hersh concludes his exposé by relaying a most worrisome observation from a former US intelligence official: “I asked my colleagues if there was any way to stop Erdogan’s continued support for the rebels, especially now that it’s going so wrong, the answer was: ‘We’re screwed.’ We could go public if it was somebody other than Erdogan, but Turkey is a special case. They are 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 Erdogan’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.’”
For almost a century, successive US governments have failed to understand a fundamental geostrategic truth -- Turkey needs the US much more than the United States will ever need Turkey. There is indeed something terribly wrong when the tail wags the dog!
Harut Sassounian is the Publisher of The California Courier.
The views expressed in the column are his own and may not coincide with those of Mediamax.