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Turkey Worried About Potential Syrian Chemical Strikes, Report Says

Turkey's defense strategists are preoccupied with the potential for neighboring Syria to mount chemical weapons strikes on Turkish assets, a columnist for Today's Zaman wrote on Friday (see GSN, March 14).

Damascus has never acknowledged a chemical arsenal to the international community, nor has it joined the Chemical Weapons Convention, which forbids members from holdings or using lethal materials such as sarin and VX nerve agents. Still, Western, Arab, and Turkish spy services believe Syria holds roughly 1,000 tons of nerve and blister agents, according to the report.

The Assad regime is thought to have dispersed his chemical stocks in approximately 50 locations, primarily in the nation's northern region, not far from the Turkish border.

U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta in March testified before Congress that the Obama administration had held talks with Turkey regarding Syria's chemical weapons and rumored biological arsenal. CIA head David Petraeus' meeting last month with Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan and other high-ranking government and military officials included talks on the possibility that besieged Syrian regime forces would mount chemical attacks or could either intentionally or unintentionally provide such materials to extremist organizations.

Ankara is reportedly worried that the Syrian army could attack civilians living near the Syrian border with chemical arms as a means of provoking a large-scale refugee flight across the border to Turkey.

The current head of the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, Ahmet Üzümcü, is from Turkey; Ankara has used its connections with the director general to feed the CWC-monitoring organization data on the chemical weapons situation in Syria.

Four Iranian vehicles traveling through Turkey's Kilis region, which abuts Syria, were discovered in January to be carrying a substantial quantity of sodium sulfate as well as materials that could be used to build ballistic missiles, the newspaper said. The interdiction by Turkish authorities has not been publicly confirmed.

In 2011, Turkish intelligence agents reportedly learned that Russia had exported 3 million gas masks to Syria. Turkish officials think the gas masks, which were handed out late last year to soldiers, their relatives, and Baath Party loyalists, could signal that Damascus is readying to mount chemical strikes, which it has thus far refrained from doing in more than a year of protests and fighting with opposition forces.

In 2009, Greek authorities seized 14,000 protective outfits on a North Korean ship bound for Syria (see GSN, Nov. 17, 2011).

Turkey is enhancing security operations at strategically key locations such as reservoirs and dams near the Syrian border. The Scientific and Technological Research Council of Turkey has prepared certain technological capabilities to safeguard civilians and military personnel; a chemical attack alert and monitoring network that employs airborne sensors has also been readied.

Turkish military units that have been prepared for responding to biological, chemical, radiological and nuclear incidents have been called to supply "wake up" trainings for troops on the dangers of chemical weapons. The Turkish military has sent  ground-transportable laboratories up and down the Syrian border to detect possible WMD threats. The armed forces have also been tracking Syrian military activities to see if any transportable missile platforms are being readied.

The recently installed U.S. early warning radar station in Kurecik province is also being used to detect any possible Syrian missile attacks, according to the report.

Finally, Ankara has discussed with friendly nations the potential for using U.S., Turkish and Saudi jets to eliminate a particular Syrian arsenal that is thought to house chemical warfare materials. Israel, which has a history of mounting successful surgical air attacks, might be asked to participate in such an endeavor, which is viewed as a last measure if it is not feasible to use ground forces to secure the site (Abdullah Bozkurt, Today's Zaman, April 14).

Note to our Readers

GSN ceased publication on July 31, 2014. Its articles and daily issues will remain archived and available on NTI’s website.