In less than a year, three airborne mysteries have clouded Turkey’s political skies. On Dec. 28, 2011, Turkish fighter jets bombed - based on intelligence gathered from unspecified sources - a flock of men who the military headquarters thought were Kurdish terrorists. They were Kurdish, but just smugglers, and 35 people - mostly teenagers – died in the incident. We still don’t know what caused this “mis-intelligence and the operation that followed.” No one has been brought to court and the Uludere affair remains a mystery.
Precisely half a year later, a Turkish military reconnaissance airplane crashed into the Mediterranean Sea inside Syrian territorial waters. Ankara claimed that the aircraft was on an innocent mission and was hit by Syrian missiles while flying in international airspace. Damascus claimed that it was on a hostile mission and was shot by artillery fire inside Syrian airspace. We shall probably never learn the truth.
Most recently, Turkish fighter jets last month intercepted a Syrian passenger plane on the Moscow-Damascus route and forced it to land in Ankara. Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan publicly stated that ammunition and arms equipment were found in the cargo on board the Syrian plane. However, despite repeated invitations by Moscow, Ankara has yet to produce evidence that the illegal cargo on board was actually ammunition and arms. In fact, we may have to wait for that forever. That was the incident that forced me into a mistaken guess.
In this column on Oct. 17, “Facts and lies about Turkey vs. Syria,” I wrote: “In all probability the confiscated cargo looks like it was only carrying radar equipment, unless of course the Turkish authorities ‘mistakenly added’ a few items to it. That would be a dangerous move, though, since it might expose several Turkish Airlines planes flying over, say, Russian or Iranian airspace, to the risk of being grounded. It would not be too surprising if Russian and Iranian security officials made a habit of ‘finding’ ammunition and military equipment bound to reach al-Qaeda.” Sorry, I was inaccurate about the means of transport the foreign authorities would find Turkish weapons in. I was also wrong about where they would possibly be found. But less than a month after the Turkish authorities seized “ammunition and arms equipment” aboard the Moscow-Damascus plane, Yemeni authorities seized a shipment of weapons from Turkey and “possibly bound to reach al-Qaeda.” Ah, eventually some relief after making two bad guesses: Turkish weapons bound to reach al-Qaeda!
As the Turkish authorities keep themselves busy trying to find out how a cargo cleared by customs officials ended up being firearms in cookie boxes, I recalled two “warning shots” in Yemeni and Iranian press, one shortly before the embarrassing cargo was found and the other after.
On Oct. 23, a Yemeni news website claimed that the Turkish government had asked Yemen to set up a military base for training Syrian rebels. And the Fars News Agency claimed that the Turkish weapons concealed in biscuit boxes and found in a container sent by a Turkish company were in fact intended to reach the Syrian rebels.
The Turkish Foreign Ministry says it never authorized a shipment of weapons and that an investigation has been launched. But in this part of the world, where mysteries come in abundance this investigation will also most probably fail to convince or impress.
Apparently, down there in the port of Aden there is a dubious cargo of Turkish biscuits sweetened with barrels, silencers and bullets. Not good for children, but perhaps food for jihadists.
I may have been too bad in predicting where exactly in the world Turkish arms shipments would be seized, but I shall insist that my guess about Turkish arms shipments being seized abroad while on their way to al-Qaeda or other jihadists was probably more accurate than Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu’s. What was the minister’s guess? He simply did not guess at all.
(The article was published in Hurriyet Daily News on Nov. 14, 2012)