Seymour Hersh: Turkey Behind 2013 Sarin Gas Attack in Syria

Tuesday, 15 Apr 2014 06:29 PM

By Cathy Burke

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Turkey was behind the horrific Aug. 21, 2013, sarin gas attack that killed hundreds of innocents in a Damascus suburb "to push [President] Obama over the red line" and strike Syria, Pulitzer Prize winning journalist Seymour Hersh claims in the London Review of Books.

The April 4 article states Turkish Prime Minister Recep Erdoğan was known to be supporting the al-Nusra Front, an insurgent group fighting the Syrian government, noting more than 10 of its members were arrested last May in Turkey with 2 kilograms of sarin.

Turkey’s ambassador to Moscow Aydin Sezgin had dismissed the arrests and claimed the recovered substance was "anti-freeze," Hersh reported.

"We knew there were some in the Turkish government," a former senior U.S. intelligence official told Hersh, "who believed they could get [Syria President Bashar al-]Assad's nuts in a vice by dabbling with a sarin attack inside Syria – and forcing Obama to make good on his red line threat.

"We now know it was a covert action planned by Erdoğan's people to push Obama over the red line," the ex-intelligence official added. "Off goes the gas and Obama will say red line and America is going to attack Syria, or at least that was the idea. But it did not work out that way."

In the wake of the deadly gas attack, the Obama administration blamed the Syrian government and ordered the Pentagon to draw up targets for bombing.

But Hersh reports post-attack intelligence on Turkey did not make its way to the White House.

"Nobody wants to talk about all this," Hersh quoted the former intelligence official saying. "There has not been one single piece of additional evidence of Syrian involvement in the sarin attack produced by the White House since the bombing raid was called off ... and since we blamed Assad, we can't go back and blame Erdoğan."

The report has been denied by officials in both the American and Turkish governments, Turkish press accounts say.

"Barring a major change in policy by Obama, Turkey's meddling in the Syrian civil war is likely to go on," Hersh wrote,  quoting the ex-intelligence official saying: "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 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. ... If we went public with what we know about Erdoğan’s role with the gas, it'd be disastrous...."

Turkish officials have been calling for outside intervention in Syria for years, The Daily Beast noted in its report of Hersh's assertions. But the website reported experts have dismissed Hersh's explosive claims, while backing up his reporting that Turkey and NATO allies are divided about how to deal with Syria's 3-year-old civil war.

Semih Idiz, a foreign policy columnist with the Taraf newspaper, told the website Turkey and the West are agreed Assad had to go, but that there were two “serious rifts” between Ankara and its NATO partners.

“One is about Turkey wanting its allies to bomb Syria after the chemical gas attacks and them refusing to do so,” Idiz told The Daily Beast. “Then there is a rift over whom Turkey is supporting in Syria — I am talking about the jihadists.”

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