Syrian Anti-Aircraft Shoots Down Turkish Warplane
Syrian anti-aircraft batteries shot down a Turkish warplane near the Mediterranean. Turkey (Ankara) ominously warned the Syrians there would be a “decisive response” to the incident. What that threat means is anyone’s guess creating an international dimension to the 16-month revolt against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
Syria quickly apologized to the Turkish government citing the Turkish aircraft was “flying low, well inside Syrian territorial waters.”
Turkey has the second biggest army in NATO, a veteran force of hardened, experienced combat soldiers who have been fighting Kurdish rebels in the north of the country for 30 years. A war with Turkey would put Syria in a precarious struggle against both the rebels and essentially a NATO power.
The Syrian Army is already experiencing mass defections to rebel forces. This situation could become the final ingredient to toppling the Assad regime.
Turkish and Syrian Forces Working Together
Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan’s initial comment and subsequent statement on the downing of the F-4 jet was low-key and measured. He mentioned that Turkish and Syrian forces were working together to search for the two missing crew of the aircraft.
However yesterday it was announced that Turkey has requested that their NATO allies look into the incident – further escalating a tense situation.
“Turkey will present its final stance after the incident has been fully brought to light and decisively take the necessary steps,” the Foreign Office said after a two-hour emergency meeting between the prime minister, the chief of general staff, the defense, interior and foreign ministers, the head of national intelligence and the commander of the air force.
Although the Syrian apology was monitored in the West, Erdogan made no mention of the apology publicly nor was it broadcast in Turkey.
Violence Continues to Rage Inside Syria
Meanwhile, violence continues to rage unabated inside Syria. The crisis is seen by experts as slowly sliding into a sectarian-like civil war between the majority Sunni Muslims against Assad’s minority Alawite sect.
Ankara, which had shown strong disagreement before the plane downing by favoring the rebel forces, may now go a step further with arms shipments to the rebel cause. Confirmation that Assad is responding violently to pro-democracy protests has provoked Turkey to provide refuge to the “Free Syrian Army” on its frontier with Syria.
Erdogan, whose relationship with Assad has taken on a personal nature, provided little hint of additional action being contemplated.
Turkish Plane Flying Low
The Syrian military command said the Turkish plane was flying low, only one kilometer from the Syrian coast. The coastal defenses responded with anti-aircraft fire and the plane fell seven miles west of the village of Um al-Touyour near Syrian waters.
Russia and China, Assad’s strongest backers abroad, have fiercely opposed any outside interference in the Syrian crisis, saying envoy Kofi Annan’s peace plan is the only way forward.
That has been an unmitigated failure and the question remains whether Turkey will escalate the conflict with its own troops participating.
Turkey presently hosts 32,000 refugees from the ongoing crisis allowing the rebel Syrian Free Army to operate from its territory. The opposition Syrian National Council meets in Istanbul regularly.
The Peace Process
The U.N.-Arab League envoy held a news conference in Geneva where he stated he’d encourage both sides of the conflict to be involved in a peace process, including Iran, Assad’s closest ally.
There was no mention of Turkey or its NATO allies.
The Obama administration and the State Department are watching the crisis with keen interest. After withdrawing from Iraq and dutifully in the process with Afghanistan, the U.S. Military itself is wary of yet another armed conflict in the region.
With Friday’s announcement of a Muslim Brotherhood victory in Egypt’s national elections, count the Israelis as being on high alert with their eyes staring intently east and south.