Secret US Headquarters for Toppling Assad at Gaziantep, Turkey
By treating visiting US Vice President Joe Biden to the finest Gaziantep cuisine to be found in Istanbul, his Turkish hosts were signifying a shared secret meaningful enough for them to shepherd the vice president through one of Istanbul's busiest markets on Dec. 4 for a special lunch.
Gaziantep, a town of 1.3 million in southeastern Turkey, is one of the oldest continuously inhabited towns in the world. It is situated 185 kilometers (115 miles) northeast of Adana and 127 kilometers by road north of Aleppo, Syria.
So what stopped Turkish officials driving Biden to Gaziantep to sample its excellent food in situ?
Three compelling reasons, divulged here by DEBKA-Net-Weekly’s Turkish sources:
One: In Gaziantep, the US has established a top-secret logistical intelligence headquarters for orchestrating the campaign in Syria and across the Middle East to rid Damascus of Bashar Assad and his family.
Two: The Turkish and American security details guarding the US vice president decided it would be too dangerous for him to go to Gaziantep in person because the town is already swarming with Syrian, Iraqi, Iranian and who knows? other secret agents and he would be safer in an Istanbul restaurant.
Three: The flavors of Gaziantep delicacies sufficed to symbolize the close and intimate understanding President Barack Obama’s administration and Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan have cultivated and the near unison they have achieved – not only with regard to Syria but the trends afoot across entire Middle East
The Obama-Erdogan mutual trust duo
President Obama has come to appreciate Erdogan as the only Muslim leader in the region he can trust to bring to reality the vision he laid out in his June 4, 2009 Cairo University speech.
Obama declared then: “I have come here to seek a new beginning between the United States and Muslims around the world: one based upon mutual interest and mutual respect; and one based on the truth that America and Islam are not exclusive.”
Turkish officials for their part say President Obama is the only Western leader who understands their rulers and extends a helping hand for their Islamic and Middle East goals which center on promoting Islamic politicians willing to embrace the "Turkish model" of moderate, pragmatic Muslim rule.
On the basis of this friendship, the Obama administration set up in the ancient Turkish town a clandestine center for their joint campaign against Assad. Its location near the Syrian border enables US agents to interact directly with the various opposition factions fighting the Assad regime and so avoid the glaring shortcoming Washington suffered in the Tunisian, Egyptian and Libyan uprisings, namely distance from the active arenas.
A Turkish security source told DEBKA-Net-Weekly that the functioning of the US Gaziantep headquarters under Turkish security protection perfectly embodies American-Turkish collaboration in shaping the Arab Revolt.
US designates Syrian army for takeover from Assad
Unlike the Egyptian, Libyan and Yemen uprisings, in which the Americans were constantly taken by surprise, the US outpost in Turkey, which cooperates with Paris and Doha, invests heavily in keeping America two or three steps ahead of the action. It is also there to keep agreed goals on track and guard against the tumult in Syria veering out of control.
Washington and Ankara are worried, or rather terrified, that their loss of control in Syria might not just lead to a blow-out in the entire region, but would drop Syria itself into the pit of a civil war bloodier even than the communal conflict afflicting Iraq for the last decade.
To keep matters in hand, the Americans plan to topple Bashar Assad and his gang in careful stages, moving forward to the next only when the situation is under control and the transition promises to be smooth.
Our intelligence sources list five focal points of the American master plan for his ouster:
1. Action to keep heavy weaponry out of the hands of Syrian rebels, including the Syrian Free Army–SFA. This is not easy because while the Americans and Turks refrain from supplying this sort of hardware to opposition fighters, the Saudis, Qataris and certain elements in Jordan and Lebanon are providing them with heavy machine guns, anti-tank missiles and mortars. Of late, the US has managed to reduce this flow.
2. Keeping heavy guns out of rebel hands is essential to Washington's plan for the Syrian army to come out of the crisis in good enough shape to step in when the Assad regime is removed.
No other Damascus actor, the Americans believe, is capable of preventing Syria imploding into civil war – even though military brutalities brought the country to the brink of one. Therefore, arming the rebels with heavy weapons for fighting soldiers would be counter-productive to Washington's goal of preserving the Syrian army for its post-Assad role.
Qatar offers Moallem a palace and hard cash for defecting
3. The US has a covert operation going to penetrate the top military echelons and win their support. So do the Persian Gulf States led by Qatar – albeit by different tactics.
They aim at splitting the ranks of the Assad regime by tempting top officials to defect. Last week, Qatar offered Syrian Foreign Minister Walid Moallam a grand palace, lifelong protection and a gift of tens of millions of dollars for ditching Bashar Assad. He declined, reluctant to abandon his family to the mercies of the Assad gang.
The Americans are working on two tracks: One is to try and recruit Trojan horses from among high-ranking Syrian officers by appealing to their ethnic affinities through co-religionists or sect members (Kurds, Alawites, Christians or Druzes). The other is to head-hunt defectors to the West or Turkey from among the hundreds of Syrian officers of different ranks attending military academies outside Syria – about 400-500 in Russia and another 150 at Pakistan's command and staff school.
4. The Americans have turned their attention to the Aleppo Governorate, the most populous in the country, and the 3.5 million inhabitants of its capital, Syria's business and financial center and the backbone of its middle class. By balking at joining the uprising, Aleppo has made itself the opposition's Achilles heel and a strong asset for the Assad regime.
Gaziantep's proximity to Aleppo – 127 kilometers by road – was one of the reasons for its choice as the US center of operations.
In early November, Arab-speaking American agents infiltrated the city to organize groups for a sweeping campaign of civil disobedience aimed at bringing Aleppo to a standstill as the vanguard for other cities.
Aleppo to front a campaign of civil disobedience
DEBKA-Net-Weekly’s intelligence sources report that in the next few days, these agents aim to start the ball rolling in Aleppo with big street demonstrations and sit-down strikes at university campuses. Thousands, or even tens of thousands, of protesters will block traffic thoroughfares in the metropolitan area and shut down essential facilities such as power stations, bus terminals and railway hubs, actions designed to undermine government authority.
Undercover US agents are also telling activists to start instituting mass refusals to pay taxes, renew licenses, settle utility bills and use banks for trading – civic tools for upending the economy from within.
Because the army, security forces and the Alawite Shabiha militia have never had to grapple with civil disobedience on the scale of a large city, Aleppo will soon be shut down.
5. To bring the campaign to the rest of Syria, American agents and Syrian activists have smuggled in thousands of satellite phones and distributed them in the cities, towns and villages throughout the country.
They are wired to American telephone firms and paid for out of the US intelligence budget.
Opposition cell leaders can now stay in touch with the Gaziantep center and with fellow activists in other parts of the country without the Syrian security and intelligence officers tapping into their phones to locate their whereabouts or cut them off.
Syria for the dress rehearsal, Iran for the performance
According to our Washington sources, US intelligence circles make no bones about using Syria for the dress rehearsal ahead of the main performance in Iran within the coming three months before the Majlis elections in March, 2012.
Of course, this would depend on everything in Syria going according to plan. However, a sudden spurt this week of violent opposition clashes with the army and a surge in the rate of defections from the Syrian military were not taken into account in the American master plan. Therefore, the contest threatens to slide out of the control of the Gaziantep headquarters too – and not just of the Assad regime in Damascus.