Troop Exercises: Turkey Prepares for Retaliatory Syrian Gas Attacks

What would happen if NATO intervenes in Syria? Turkey, for one, fears that it could be attacked with chemical weapons in retaliation. The country has criticised the United Nations for being too hesitant and is willing to take action itself against Assad — without a UN mandate if necessary.

Since the nerve gas attack in Syria last Wednesday, in which hundreds of people were reportely killed near the capital Damascus, politicians and generals in Turkey have been asking a frightening question: If the situation escalates, for example if the US carries out a military strike, would Syria fight back? And would Syrian President Bashar Assad dare to attack Turkey, and therefore NATO, using chemical weapons?

Such a course of action is seen to be “unlikely but definitely possible”, according to an official at the Turkish Defense Ministry in Ankara. In recent days, the government has strengthened precautions against a nerve gas attack in the country’s southern regions along the border with Syria. “Our armed forces are aware,” he says. Turkish media have reported that troops have been conducting exercises in preparation for the worst.

By all accounts, Turkey is not calling for military action against Damascus for the time being, but instead is endorsing international sanctions. Clearly, it could do without a war right on its doorstep. But the government has not commented on specific steps which could be taken against the Assad regime. Ankara has long been one of Assad’s fiercest critics. When a Turkish fighter plane was shot down off the coast of Syria in June last year, the relationship deteriorated dramatically even further. Erdogan promised then that he would support the Syrian people to free them from the “dictator Assad”.

Diplomatic Restraint Abandoned

Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu said on Monday, however, that Turkey would join an international coalition against Syria, even if no UN mandate existed. If no decision came from the Security Council, there would be alternatives on the table. Currently, “36 or 37 states” would discuss these alternatives, he said. He also criticized the stance taken by Russia and China, both of which refuse to act against Assad.

“From the beginning Turkey has argued that the international community cannot simply stand by idly in the face of the Assad’s regime massacres,” said Davutoglu according to Turkish newspaper Milliyet. The credibility of the international community would be damaged if its failure to act continued. Those such as Assad who commit war crimes and crimes against humanity must “definitely be punished”, the Foreign Minister demanded. Turkey, a NATO member, has been put in an awkward position by the events in Syria and Egypt. It is not powerful enough to enforce its own course in these conflicts by itself, but it is also too important to be ignored. Erdogan has given up all diplomatic restraint in recent days and has sharply criticized the West.

Full article: Troop Exercises: Turkey Prepares for Retaliatory Syrian Gas Attacks (Spiegel Online)

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