A warning shot for Turkey-Qatar axis By Alper Birdal and Yigit Gunay

29 May 2013 — Asia Times Online

A bombing in the Turkish town of Reyhanli on May 11 killed 51 people but was largely ignored by Turkish media. Turkey President Recep Tayyip Erdogan blamed the Syrian government – with no evidence.

Turkish hacker collective RedHack claims here that Turkish intelligence knew in advance that the Syrian jihadi outfit Jabhat al-Nusra was preparing three car bombs to be detonated inside Turkey. Erdogan remains mum.

The Reyhanli massacre was subjected to a press ban in Turkey after the ruling party’s clumsy attempt to cover it up fell short. But as far as the massacre is concerned, we believe it is possible to make a strong guess about the perpetrators.

Turkish media also did not really reflect upon why Syrian armed groups suddenly started losing Al-Qusayr, in western Syria. The fighters in Al-Qusayr belong to the Al-Farouq brigade. This is the group the leader of the Syrian Democratic Union Party (PYD, the Kurdish in Northern Syria, ideologically close to the PKK in Turkey), Salih Muslims, referred to as in, “We have made a deal with them in Aleppo.”

It is also the same murderous organization who said after having cutting out the heart out of a dead soldier and eating, “What is the problem? I have been butchering Alawites.”

A spokesperson of the Al-Farouq brigade, Yazeed Al-Hassan, explained that their recent setbacks were “the result of the recent decrease of shipments from Turkey”. The fact is that Saudi Arabia has stopped its weapons transfers through Turkey and moved their supply channels over to Northern Jordan.

Erdogan went to the US without visiting Reyhanli to offer his condolences to the families of the victims of the bombings.

In previous weeks, the leaders of three Arab countries had visited Washington: King Abdullah II of Jordan, Mohammed bin Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan, the Crown Prince of the United Arab Emirates, and the Saudi minister of Foreign Affairs, Saud Al Faisal.

They repeated the same message in meetings held separately: put your weight on the Syrian issue. A US official told the Wall Street Journal that the reason for asking the US to “put its weight” and lead the Syrian issue is because, “There is a need for someone to manage the players.”

The two players these countries had been complaining about were Turkey and Qatar. These two had been sending huge amounts of money, weapons and ammunition to Islamic organizations, especially groups linked to the Muslim Brotherhood, without coordinating with the “other” players.

The Wall Street Journal asked a Qatari and a Turkish official about it. The Qatari official declined to comment. The Turkish official, after denying the claim that the Erdogan government has been supporting Islamist parties in Syria or anywhere else in the world, said, “We are only defending the interests of the people of Syria.”

Right from the start of the “Arab Spring”, a great competition between Saudi Arabia and Qatar has raged, especially in Egypt. The domination of the Muslim Brotherhood in all the countries visited by the “Spring” troubled Saudi Arabia very deeply.

Of course, the problem was not about the “support of radical elements”. In a sense, Saudi Arabia was supporting the Salafi groups that are more radical than Muslim Brotherhood. The real issue was to gain the upper hand in political influence.

Since the initial Syrian crisis turned into a full-scale war through the provocation of foreign forces, in the polarization of these forces Turkey has openly sided with Qatar.

The forming of this two “block of alliances”, one by Qatar and Turkey and the other by Saudi Arabia, Jordan and United Arab Emirates, has sharpened to such an extent that triggered various bloody operations – such as the mysterious suicide attack on a Qatari convoy in Mogadishu, the capital of Somalia, on May 5.

Hitting Qatar in Somalia
Who were the targets of this attack that did not arouse much interest in global media?

When the bombs exploded, a Qatari delegation was visiting Somalia. The Qatari Minister of Interior was also part of the delegation yet, according to police chief Garad Nor Abdul, he was not in the attacked convoy. Abdul said there were no injuries among the Qatari delegation. But later on, ad-Diyar, a Lebanese newspaper, stated that the intelligence chief of Qatar, Ahmed Nasser bin Qassim al-Thani, had been killed in the attack.

According to ad-Diyar, in November 2012 Qatar Prime Minister Sheikh Hamad bin Jassim bin Jaber al-Thani and his intelligence chief had met with Mossad chief Tamir Pardo and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. In the meeting, a plan to assassinate Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad was discussed. In this meeting, the Israeli premier requested that the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) recognize Israel after Assad was ousted.

The Qatari intelligence chief had dreams of capturing Damascus and was working with Israel to realize this dream. According to ad-Diyar, al-Thani was the person who was responsible for the coordination of the transfer of Yemeni jihadists to Syria after they were trained by the US Special Forces in Qatar.

But who was behind the bomb attack in Mogadishu? There is only one group in Somalia that can pull off such a big and professional attack, featuring two vehicles loaded with plastic explosives: the al-Qaeda-linked Al Shabaab.

It is not yet clear if al-Thani actually died in this attack. But it is almost certain that he was targeted by al-Qaeda. In the background of the sequence of events that extends to Africa, there is the “subcontractor conflict”, ie the competition between the duo Turkey and Qatar with Saudi Arabia.

The US subcontractors have a dynamic relation with the armed groups fighting in Syria. The fact that Qatar and Turkey are working in close cooperation with the Muslim Brotherhood in Syria does not necessarily mean that these two countries do not work with groups such as Jabhat al-Nusra.

The situation in the “field” is in constant flow. Various special weapons transferred from the Balkans are provided to both the groups in the Free Syrian Army and Jabhat al-Nusra. The transitivity of weapons and militants among the groups is also pretty high. So is the transitivity of the support given by the “subcontractor” forces to these groups.

The key weapon in the hands of an al-Nusra militant is the M60 rifle, imported from Croatia. These weapons, bought by Saudi money, have been transferred to the militants through Jordan and Turkey. In a short time, the weapons were visible in the hands of both FSA and al-Nusra gangs.

In previous weeks, there was an interesting development under this perspective. Saudi Arabia, which is known to be in close relation with al-Qaeda groups in Egypt, Tunisia, Libya and now in Syria and which keeps its distance from the Muslim Brotherhood, has convened the leaders of the Syrian Muslim Brotherhood in Riyadh.

All 12 people who went to Riyadh were members of the Syrian National Council, which is promoted by the US as “the legitimate government in Syria”. Among them, was a senior Muslim Brotherhood leader, Mohammad Faruq Tayfur. Tayfur came to an agreement with the Saudis on the withdrawal of Gassan Hitto, a US citizen and a Muslim Brotherhood member, from the presidency of the transitional government formed by the Council.

On the other hand, the Syrian National Council was formed in Qatar with direct US involvement. It is known that the general secretary of the organization, Mostafa Al-Sabbagh, is a Muslim Brotherhood member that is responsible for directing the policies of the organization in alignment with Qatar.

The Muslim Brotherhood connection of Muaz Al Khatib who had been appointed as the head of the organization but who had resigned when Hitto became the Prime Minister is also well known. So the Muslim Brotherhood is everywhere.

The meeting in Riyadh may have been a sign of Saudi Arabia interfering with the role Qatar and Turkey will be playing. The Saudis presented it to the US as the curbing of radical Islamist groups. Another part of this operation was the decision to make the transfer of weapons to the militants in Syria through Salim Idris, the head of the SNC’s Supreme Military Council.

So on one hand, the Saudis are getting their hands on the Muslim Brotherhood and on the other hand, they are giving Qatar a message via the al-Qaeda bombs in Somalia. And on top of all these, the explosions in Reyhanli.

After the fatal attack in Reyhanli, US Secretary of State John Kerry issued a statement of condolence. In a message constituted of just three sentences, it was mentioned that US would stand with its ally Turkey. The message did not condemn the perpetrators of the attack. Kerry only stressed, “how closely they were working in partnership with Turkey”.

After the bombings in 2005 in London, the US government had issued a very detailed statement that was four paragraphs long. In other words, issuing a dry three-sentence-long message that does not condemn the perpetrators of an attack is not an appropriate diplomatic practice.

Moreover, after the attack at the Boston Marathon, the president and the prime minister of Turkey were very prompt in issuing a statement condemning the attack.

So could the attack on Reyhanli be a message to Turkey to “back off”? Just as the message given to Qatar in Somalia.

Message in a bomb
The outcome of the meeting between Erdogan and Obama is not exactly clear.

As far as Turkish mainstream media was concerned, the outcome was “consensus”; “Erdogan and Obama were in agreement on the issue of the necessity to oust Assad.” There were a lot of reporters from Turkey in that press conference, which lasted for 38 minutes. Others watched it on TV or the Internet. Did they really watch it or did they all turn deaf?

In the question and answer session for the press, the first question was asked to Obama by an American reporter. The question was about tax. The next question to Erdogan was about the status of the relation with Israel and whether he would go to Gaza or not. Another US reporter asked Obama about the Ministry of Justice, the Associated Press leaks and the attack on Benghazi. To Erdogan, the question was the following: “In case US doesn’t step in on the issue of Syria, what will you do about the bombing in Reyhanli?”

There is more. The US news channels broadcast the press conference live. But during the parts where Erdogan was speaking, the broadcast went back to the studio to analyze points Obama made about domestic issues. And this was true for all the channels.

Let’s attribute this phenomenon to the haughtiness of the US news channels. But two of the reporters from Turkey who asked questions in the conference drew attention to very important issues. One asked Erdogan whether he had brought with him anything related to his claims of chemical weapons use in Syria. In summary, the response he got back was “We are already sharing all this information.”

The same reporter asked Obama whether he would do something to oust Assad. Obama started his response with the claims of chemical weapon use and he reiterated the US thesis that he had been repeating in the last weeks: “We have evidence on the use of chemical weapons. But we need more intelligence on this.”

He continued: “Independent of this, thousands died over there. Due to this, we need to increase the international pressure on the situation in Syria. We need to mobilize the international community. I don’t believe anyone, including PM Erdogan, would want defend the idea of US intervening in Syria unilaterally and directly.”

After that, another reporter from Turkey asked Obama once more: “You said Assad must go. How and when will he go?” Maybe he was trying to get a sentence from Obama worthy of a newsflash. But the response wasn’t that exciting. The US president pointed to the international conference to be held in Geneva and repeated his promise to “continue to help the opposition”.

The first Geneva conference on Syria was not a success. Its most important result was not “consensus” but the buying of time for each side to strengthen their position. It can be said that the sides are not going to the second conference with expectations of “consensus”.

The West has convened the Muslim Brotherhood-centered armed marauders and plunderers that they call opposition under a new umbrella in the Syrian National Council, making a more open political engagement possible. And then it got this team which like a jack-in-the-box produced Muslim Brotherhood figures like Muaz Al Khatib and Gassan Hitto to form a government. In a sense, if the West asks for “consensus for a transition government” in the second Geneva conference, it will have torn its own umbrella.

This new Geneva conference will help the sides once again to buy time – and strengthen their political positions. On the US side, the process will establish the curbing of the impact of the Qatar-Turkey block in the opposition forces. To the extent that they don’t want to be restrained, the message to “back off” will be given with exploding bombs.

Alper Birdal and Yigit Gunay are members of the editorial board of Turkey’s soL newspaper.