The truth about Turkey’s role in Syria illustrates the deeply duplicitous debate going on in this country over military intervention, says Ben Chacko Editor of the Morning Star.
“EVEN if the plane was in their airspace for a few seconds, that is no excuse to attack.
“It was clear that this plane was not an aggressive plane. Still, it was shot down.”
Vladimir Putin? No, those were the words of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on June 27 2012, after the Syrian military shot down a Turkish warplane flying over Syrian airspace.
How “clear” it was to the Syrian army that Turkey’s incursion was not aggressive is, well, unclear. Because while this week’s shoot-down of a Russian jet has captured the headlines — rightly, as the most dangerous confrontation between Nato and Russia since the cold war — Turkey has intervened repeatedly in Syria’s civil war.
Whether the plane was shot down after briefly overflying the border, as Turkey asserts, or never left Syrian territory as Russia claims is a moot point.
Turkey clearly planned the act. No pilot would dare take it upon themselves to attack the military of a UN security council member, and one bristling with nuclear missiles.
And it acted to defend Syrian insurgents, in this case not Isis specifically but the Syrian Turkmen Army.
Barack Obama suggests this group is “moderate” and if Russia concentrated on attacking Isis its planes wouldn’t get shot down.
These “moderates” murdered an ejecting pilot as he parachuted to earth and bragged about it.
They then destroyed a Russian helicopter searching for survivors. We now know that the group that did this was led by a member of the Grey Wolves, a fascist paramilitary organisation with a decades-long history of terrorism and racially motivated murder.
They regularly co-operate with more familiar jihadi fanatics, such as the al-Qaida-affiliated Nusra Front.
Those who say that these forces are in Syria to fight Isis are lying, even if rival extremist groups do occasionally come to blows. They are fighting the Syrian government alongside Isis. The Grey Wolves’ focus is on battling the Kurds.
Together with Isis they are part of what Turkey’s intelligence chief and key Erdogan ally Hakan Fidan calls the “Islamic revolution” in Syria.
Last month Fidan was reported as saying that Isis ought to be allowed to set up a consulate in Istanbul and Turkey should work openly with the organisation against Syria’s secular government and the Russian forces defending it.
The Anadolu News Agency quickly denounced the story as a fabrication. Whatever the truth, if Fidan did say those things he was only articulating what his government has been doing for years.
The Turkish border has been the key crossing point for foreign jihadis, many from Britain and France, to flood into Syria on their murderous mission. The alleged consulate suggestion would merely formalise this arrangement.
In September 2014, a Turkish train delivering armoured vehicles and weaponry was filmed entering Syria.
In May this year Reuters recorded testimony from Turkish intelligence agents who said convoys supposedly carrying “humanitarian aid” into Syria were full of weapons for rebel fighters and that many of these weapons had ended up in Isis hands.
The daily newspaper Cumhuriyet published photographs of aid consignments being searched by inspectors near the Syrian border. Under a layer of antibiotics the boxes were stuffed with mortar shells.
The prosecutors who ordered the searches were subsequently arrested. Turkish security officials who carried out the searches were also arrested, charged with espionage. The newspaper was put under investigation for “terrorism.”
If Saudi Arabia is Isis’s main source of donors and provides the terror group with its extremist ideology (right down to a penal code that involves mutilations, beheadings and stonings) then Turkey has been its principal facilitator in terms of access to Syria and is its main customer for oil sales.
Reports that top-level Isis militants are treated in secret Turkish hospitals (possibly linked to Erdogan’s own family), Reuters interviews with Turkish officials recording the military assistance given to Isis, reams of evidence submitted by Kurdish forces and an extensive study by Columbia University’s Institute of Human Rights allow no room for doubt.
The same organisation that butchered the citizens of France a fortnight ago is being supported by one of our Nato allies.
So when Putin says Isis is backed up by “the armed forces of an entire state,” he isn’t far wrong. And the truth about Turkey’s role illustrates the deeply duplicitous debate going on in this country over intervention in the Syrian war.
The missile the Turkmen rebels used to blow up the Russian helicopter was supplied by the United States.
That same US which admitted there were no “moderate” rebels in Syria in September but resurrected the concept after Russia entered the war.
It is not a question of “when” Nato intervenes in Syria. Nato powers have intervened from the beginning, but on Isis’s side.
Liberal commentators have belched out clouds of misinformation about what is going on in the country, claiming the West supports the non-existent “moderates.”
They have parroted the Nato line that Russia is not targeting Isis. “Russia’s military involvement in Syria has overwhelmingly focused on targeting Western-supported anti-Assad rebels — not Isis,” a Guardian editorial intoned again earlier this week.
But sharper-eyed columnists such as the Independent’s Patrick Cockburn and Robert Fisk have exposed the untruth of these statements, which anyway make no sense.
“Russia is not trying to defeat Isis, but to shore up the Assad regime,” goes the liberal cry. But it would be impossible to shore up the Assad regime without fighting its most powerful opponent by far, which is Isis.
Despite all the talk about targeting Isis, politicians and pundits repeatedly talk of arming other rebel groups, of “bringing Assad to the negotiating table.” It is time they realised that there are only two potential winners in this war, the Syrian regime or Isis.
There’s no point in getting dewy-eyed about it — Russia is not backing Assad for humanitarian reasons, but because he is a regional ally and it fears the spread of Isis and its extremist Saudi-sponsored Wahhabi terror across the region and beyond.
But as the atrocity in Paris showed, so should we fear its spread. And we should stop making excuses for the Erdogan regime and call it out on the butchery it is letting loose.
Nowhere is the contrast clearer than over the Kurdish forces fighting Isis — the heroes on the lips of Western politicians struggling against the odds. Indeed, since the continued obsession with regime change in Syria among Western politicians precludes any mention of the Syrian army, the Kurds are often presented in Parliament and on our TV screens as the only ground force fighting Isis.
The People’s Protection Units of northern Syria are indeed heroes, and not merely struggling against Isis but doing so in the teeth of Turkish opposition. They have been bombed by Turkey and warned against liberating Isis-occupied towns along the Turkish border on pain of massive retaliation from Ankara.
Now Erdogan has shown he is not only reckless enough to unleash and arm a legion of genocidal terrorists on his own border to destabilise a regional rival, but he is so rash he does not hesitate to risk armed conflict with a nuclear power.
And this is a Nato member. The Tories and their Blairite imitators constantly harp on about how Nato membership is essential to our security. But the events in Syria this week show the opposite is the case. Turkey is fighting its own regional war and Britain risks being dragged in on the side of the most murderous terrorist organisation on the planet. The very organisation we say we are trying to crush.
Ben Chacko is editor of the Morning Star.