Turkey, Syria Deny Reports of Syrian Threat against Israel

An Iranian news agency made headlines this week when they reported that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad threatened to fire rockets at Israel should NATO attack Syria. The warning reportedly came during a meeting with Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu. There’s just one problem: Both Syria and Turkey are denying the conversation ever took place.

The Iranian Fars News Agency had quoted Assad as telling Davutoğlu, “If a crazy measure is taken against Damascus, I will need not more than 6 hours to transfer hundreds of rockets and missiles to the Golan Heights to fire them at Tel Aviv.”

He also reportedly threatened that in such a scenario Iran would attack United States warships in the Persian Gulf. The alleged warnings came as Syria’s regime has been under international pressure over their brutal crackdown on protesters in their country.

Turkey has denied the report. Turkish Foreign Ministry spokesman Selçuk Ünal told The Mideast Update by phone that the last time Davutoğlu met with Assad was in August, and that no conversation “in that framework” occurred. The Turkish spokesman called the reported threats “totally incorrect.”

Syria’s Foreign Ministry also denied the report. According to the official Syrian Arab News Agency (SANA) website, an official source at the ministry called the reports untrue and accused some in the media of fabricating the report.

Turkish spokesman Ünal told The Mideast Update that in the August meeting, Turkey did discuss with Assad the ongoing violence in Syria, saying the bloodshed should stop and stability should be restored in the country via “peaceful means.” Turkey also called upon Syria to enact political reforms.

However, the situation in Syria has not markedly improved since the August meeting, and the Turkish Hürriyet Daily News has reported that Turkey is planning sanctions on Syria over the regime’s brutality.

Ünal told The Mideast Update that they are “working on some steps in order to avoid further bloodshed” in Syria. He said they are looking into the measures now.

An upcoming visit by Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan to Syrian refugees in Turkey may provide the context for announcing the steps as part of a “Turkish roadmap” for Syria. Ünal said that Erdoğan has announced he is planning a visit to Syrian refugees “soon.”

The Turkish spokesman told The Mideast Update that currently there are 7,500 Syrian nationals in six refugee camps in Turkey who have fled the violent situation in Syria. The camps are located in the Hatay province, near the Syrian border.

The province where the camps lie is not only set to be the scene of Erdoğan’s visit, but also a Turkish military reservists exercise. Despite the proximity to the Syrian border, Ünal said the reservist maneuver’s timing and location is a “coincidence.” He said maneuvers are held in different parts of the country at different times and it so happened that this month it will be held in the Hatay province.

Ünal said the Turkish military staff have announced the maneuver was preplanned months ago.

Turkey and Syria had previously been regional partners with deepening bilateral ties prior to the vicious crackdown by Syrian President Assad on the protesting citizens. Turkey has been highly critical of the ongoing violence.

(By Joshua Spurlock, www.themideastupdate.com, October 6, 2011)