In case of Syria intervention, Turkey should prepare for attacks
People protest the chemical weapons attack on civilians in Syria near British Prime Minister David Cameron’s residence on Aug. 22. (Photo: Cihan)
The Syrian regime and its key regional backer Iran, the mastermind of the proxy wars in the Middle East, may unleash new terror attacks against Turkey, which is likely to join the international coalition that will possibly intervene into the Syrian civil war, whose course has changed with the latest chemical weapons attack last week.
“[Syrian President Bashar al-]Assad sees Turkey as one of the leading countries that causes pain to him and his country. That's why Turkey's participating in a coalition [that will intervene in Syria] may trigger possible terrorist attacks. It is possible for Assad to use different arms [terrorist organizations] to harm Turkey,” Mehmet Şahin, an analyst at the Center for Middle Eastern Strategic Studies (ORSAM), told Today's Zaman, adding: “You never know the moves of dictators like Assad when they realize that they will go away soon.”
Ankara, one of the harshest critics of Syrian leader Assad, conducted military drills and contacted world leaders to stop the bloodshed in the country after a chemical weapons attack that killed more than 1,000 and injured many more in the suburbs of Damascus. As part of its plan to prevent violence in the country, Turkey has started to ready itself against a possible intervention in Syria by increasing its military drills in its southern border provinces of Hatay, Kilis and Şanlıurfa.
Shortly after the intervention in the Syria issue came to the world powers' agenda, Turkish police found 177 kilograms of explosives in a car and detained two Syrian nationals at the border gate of Öncüpınar in the southern province of Kilis. The car, which was trying to enter Turkey, had been carrying two Syrians, including a gun, 15 cartridges and 177 kilograms of explosives. The incident was reminiscent of the Reyhanlı bombing in which 50 people were killed and as many as 100 were injured. On May 11, a car bomb exploded outside the town hall while another went off outside a post office in Reyhanlı, a main hub for Syrian refugees and opposition activity for those fighting in opposition to Syrian President Assad's regime in the southern Turkish province of Hatay. Reyhanlı was not the only threat that came from Syria. Turkey has experienced a few small-scale terrorist attacks since the beginning of the Syrian civil war in mid-2011.
Celalettin Yavuz, vice-chair of the Ankara-based Turkish Center for International Relations and Strategic Analysis (TÜRKSAM), also thinks that there won't be any direct attacks from Syria, but it might make every effort to use methods such as directing terrorists to Turkey against Turkey.
“There is a differentiation between the Kurds, particularly with the Kurdistan Workers' Party [PKK] and Syria's Democratic Union Party [PYD] on the northern border cities of Syria. Families that go in and out between the Turkish-Syrian border also see the PKK as closer to the Assad regime,” said Yavuz, underlining that it is likely that there are preparations on the Syrian side because the PKK has started to pick up male children from Kurdish families in Syria, a move that supports Murat Karayılan's latest statements on creating a professional army and strengthening the possibility of attack from Syria to Turkey.
Kurdish terrorist organizations in Syria are not the only ones that Turkey should protect itself from as the Revolutionary People's Liberation Party/Front (DHKP/C) is also active in the area. Greece started to expel terrorists at the Lavrion refugee camp after pressure from the US because of the bombing at the US Embassy in Ankara in January. Turkish intelligence indicated two months ago that the terrorists were making their way to Syria's northern Latakia Governorate. After allegations circulated in the media , four people captured in the operation were in a speedboat that was carrying arms -- two anti-tank weapons, four hand grenades, two guns and a large number of explosive devices and ammunition -- to Turkey from Chios Island, Greece, in late July.
It was also reported that only suicide bombers were sent to Syria while other terrorists remained in Greece, which creates immense danger for Turkey and its border security.
Ercan Çitlioğlu, head of Bahçeşehir University Strategic Research Center, also maintained that terrorist organizations that stand by the Syrian government, such as Lebanon's Shiite group Hezbollah, may carry out an attack aimed at Turkey on the condition of Turkey's participating in an international coalition that enters Syria.
“There is a high possibility of Syria using proxies [to attack Turkey] in the event of Turkey's taking part in the coalition that may intervene in Syria. The attacks that resemble Reyhanlı bombings --remote-controlled bombings -- and large-scale attacks may happen in border cities because infiltrating those cities is easier,” Çitlioğlu noted but called chemical attacks from terrorist groups as a “distant possibility.”
Although Çitlioğlu sees a chemical weapons attack from terrorist groups as unlikely, Turkey has strengthened its measures against a possible chemical assault along the Syrian border. After the use of chemicals in Syria, Turkey sent 400 Chemical, Biological, Radiological and Nuclear (CBRN) specialists to Turkey's southern provinces of Hatay, Kilis and Şanlıurfa as a measure to contain any chemical attacks from Syria. According to the information Today's Zaman received, the team deployed necessary technical equipment in those provinces and is screening injured Syrians at Hatay's Cilvegözü border gate to determine whether they have been exposed to any chemical attack.
After the beginning of the Syrian civil war in 2011, Turkey demanded patriot missiles, designed to counter ballistic missiles, cruise missiles and aircraft from NATO to protect its longest border -- 910 kilometers -- with Syria. NATO member countries, the US, Germany and the Netherlands, sent six patriots in total to reinforce Turkey's air defenses and calm its fears of a missile attack, potentially with chemical weapons, from Syria. NATO's early warning missile defense system in Turkey's Malatya province, some 200 kilometers from the Syrian border, became operational at the beginning of 2012.