|File photo from bioquell.com|
Syria’s potential use of chemical weapons against Turkish targets when its back is to the wall is a growing cause of concern for Ankara, according to a leading Turkish political analyst.
Abdullah Bozkurt, writing today for Turkey’s best-selling English-language daily Today’s Zaman, notes Syria is the only one of Turkey's neighbors not to have signed the 1993 Chemical Weapons Convention. So “we do not know how comprehensive a chemical arms program Damascus has been running so far, nor do we know the specific nature or capacity of its stockpile...”
Turkish, Arab and Western intelligence agencies estimate “Syria has a stockpile of approximately 1,000 tons of chemical weapons, including mustard gas and nerve agents such as Sarin and VX. Assad has stored these weapons in some 50 different sites,” mostly located in the north close to the Turkish border.
Bozkurt adds in part:
Last month, during a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing, U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta told members the administration had discussed with Turkey Syria’s stockpile of chemical and biological weapons, which he said was “100 times worse than what we dealt with in Libya.”
Marine Corps Gen. James N. Mattis, who currently heads U.S. Central Command, which covers the Middle East, North Africa and Central Asia, told the same hearing, Syria has a “substantial chemical and biological weapons capability and thousands of shoulder-launched missiles."
Both the use of chemical weapons by Syrian forces in future and the possible transfer of these weapons to terrorist groups, either deliberately or during a chaotic breakdown of the Syrian regime, were among the talking points of Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) Director David Petraeus, who came to Turkey unannounced in March. He met with Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan as well as with his counterpart, Hakan Fidan, director of the National Intelligence Organization (MİT), and senior military leaders.
Ankara is also troubled by Tehran’s supply of chemical components to the Syrian regime. Turkish authorities have had to force Iranian cargo planes flying through Turkish airspace to land at Turkish airports for inspection or have seized suspicious cargo carried by Iranian trucks overland en route to Syria.
In August and March 2011, Turkey intercepted an arms shipment from Iran and seized the cargo of an Iranian plane bound for Syria because it violated UN sanctions. In September 2011, Turkish naval forces intercepted a Syrian-flagged ship, but the nature of its cargo was not made public.
The most recent incident happened in early January, when four Iranian trucks were stopped in Turkey's Kilis province on the border with Syria and were found to be carrying raw materials for ballistic missiles as well as 66 tons of sodium sulfate, possibly for use in chemical warheads.
Acting on U.S. intelligence tip-offs, Turkey has on many occasions halted shipments bound for Syria, but these have not been publicized.
The red flag was raised last year when Turkish intelligence discovered Russia had supplied Syria with three million gasmasks. These were issued to regime loyalists in December 2011.
According to UN intelligence documents, South Korea reported in 2010 to the Security Council committee that was in charge of monitoring UN sanctions on North Korea that a shipment of chemical warfare protection suits from North Korea to Syria had been intercepted.
Meantime, Turkey has been preparing for chemical attack. Security measures around strategic vital assets like dams and water reservoirs in areas close to the Syrian border have been upgraded.
The Scientific and Technological Research Council of Turkey (TÜBITAK) has already developed technologies to protect Turkish troops and civilians from chemical attacks as well as early warning and detection systems using airborne scanning devices at the Marmara Research Center.
The Turkish Armed Forces’ (TSK’s) NBC (nuclear, biological and chemical) schools have been mobilized to offer what the army calls “wakeup” services to prepare personnel for exposure to chemical weapons. Turkish troops on the Syrian border have had contingency training for a possible chemical attack from Syria.
The chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear (CBRN) teams attached to the General Directorate of Civil Defense have been activated in the border provinces. The TSK has deployed mobile lab units for detection and inspection of chemical, biological and nuclear threats along the Syrian border. The TSK has been monitoring Syrian troop movements with an eye on mobile missile launchers capable of firing missiles with chemical warheads.
Turkey is also utilizing NATO assets, especially an early warning radar system installed in Kurecik, Malatya province, as part the NATO missile shield to track Syrian missiles.