By Luca Foschi
This time the news barely reached the front page. Last week a gas attack in Kfar Zeita, a small town near the Syrian city of Hama, killed two people and injured scores. Footage on YouTube shows a medical team trying to revive several young children. Damascus and the splintered rebel front blame each other for the poison assault, but there are bigger questions at hand. Wasn’t the Assad government supposed to hand out all its chemical warfare in order to avoid a massive strike? Weren’t the unglued jihadists incapable of handling a sophisticated and fragile artillery system? A dinner at the White House could explain it all:
“Erdoğan fucking waved his finger at the president inside the White House”, national security adviser Tom Donilon apparently recounted to an “American foreign policy expert”, quoted by the investigative journalist and Pulitzer winner Seymour M. Hersh in a long and disturbing article published on the London Review of books on April the 4th. The argument took place during a private banquet staged in occasion of Turkey’s PM visit in Washington on May the 16th 2013. At the table were the secretary of state John Kerry, his counterpart Ahmet Davutoğlu and Hakan Fidat, chief of the Turkish intelligence agency (MIT).
What Erdoğan waved on Obama’s snout was the evidence of gas Sarin use by the Assad regime in the previous month near Aleppo, a clear violation of the “red line” the president drew in a speech at the White House the year before, a perfect trigger for a US-led intervention against the hated Syrian dictator. Obama, pointing now at Fidat, seemingly replied: “‘We know what you’re doing with the radicals in Syria”, understating the efforts MIT put in training some al- Nusra Front soldiers in gas- attack management.
Three months afterwards, on August the 21st, a massive gas attack was launched in Ghouta, Damascus suburb, killing hundreds, perhaps thousands, few miles away from the Hotel where an OPAC team was waiting the green light to verify the Aleppo’s ambiguous incident. The Obama administration was forced to face the stentorian red line proclaimed exactly one year before. Rows of little bodies wrapped up in white sheets pushed the contemplative president to switch on the American war machine.
Hersh’s reconstruction threads the following events and the related covert diplomacies with a coherent narrative. While David Cameron has to call back six Typhoon jets already deployed in Cyprus after being defeated in Westminster, British intelligence obtains a sample of the Sarin gas used in Ghouta. A gentle gift from the Russian secret service. The sample doesn’t match with the stockpile the Syrian army is believed to possess. It belongs, in fact, from what Washington and London call “the rat line”, a covert system of arms shipments they grease, with the help of Saudi Arabia and Qatar, through Turkish territory.
The gas originally comes from Libya, an old soviet toy bought by Muammar Gaddafi, toppled by an allied military intervention on March 2011. The gas attack in Ghouta is a trap set by the Turkish government, aware of the ugly twist the Syrian civil conflict has taken. Assad is gaining territory all along the front line and Erdoğan dream of a subordinate Sunni state in Syria is vanishing. Tugging the world’s policeman and his loyal affiliates to war seems the only solution. But Obama suddenly decides to procrastinate the final decision involving a hostile congress in the intervention’s approval few hours way from the beginning, planned by the early hours of September the 2nd.
During a press conference in London on 9 September Kerry, asked whether there is something the Assad could do to avert the bombing, replies: “Sure. He could turn over every single bit of his chemical weapons to the international community in the next week…But he isn’t about to do it, and it can’t be done, obviously.” Something that had already been discussed and that took shape with the Russian-brokered agreement that sets forth the destruction of Syria’s chemical arsenal, to the outrage of Erdoğan and the disappointment of the jihadist battalions.
The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights has recently stated that the conflict’s death toll has reached 150,000. An unprecedented drought is putting at risk the life of millions of people in the north-western districts of Aleppo, Idlib and Hama. The governmental forces have reconquered the Qalamoun region after months of fierce fighting. Crucial in the victory was the Hezbollah’s support. The Shia Lebanese party and militia counts at least 400 casualties since its involvement in the conflict.
Hezbollah has accomplished the encirclement of Zabadani, a city controlled by the rebel forces since May 2012. Further north, in the coastal city of Latakia, the rebels have launched an offensive from the mountains. For the second time in less than a year a region that has been almost completely spared from the struggle is under threat. Predominantly alawite, president Assad’s confession, Latakia and Tartus (the Russian fleet’s Mediterranean harbor) represented during the first days of the insurgence a possible stronghold for the surrounded regime.
Hundreds of miles away, at eastern border with Iraq, fighters of the al- Nusra front cleaned the city of al- Bumakal of their ex-allies of ISIS, the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria. At least 80 fighters died in what appears to be a feudal struggle for the control of the rich pipeline system. The Free Syrian Army is still in control of the border. On the other side the Iraqi army has reinforced its positions.
Quite a grim picture for Erdoğan’s new-ottoman plans. There’s still a possibility, though. While leaving Britain, Qatar and Saudi Arabia to funding and logistics of the “rat line”, Obama turned a blind eye on Ankara’s trade of gas and gold with Iran through a loophole, explains Saymour Hersh, in the sanction system of its arch enemy. The very same business that overshadowed for weeks the Turkish government with a corruption scandal, leading in the proximity of the election, easily won in March, to shut down the devilish Twitter and You Tube, where intelligence officials discussed how to mount a Turkish attack on the emboldened Syria of Assad.