|Photo from the Turkish daily Hurriyet|
“Suspense” is the predominant impression you get from reading regional news and views the morning after Syria shot down a Turkish F-4 Phantom jet over its airspace.
The buzzword is “suspense” because political analysts and opinion-shapers are hazarding conflicting guesses on the likely response of Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan after Syrian President Bashar al-Assad poked him in the eye with a blunt stick.
A Syrian military spokesman said an unidentified aerial object violated the country’s airspace and was shot down by anti-aircraft artillery, hitting it one kilometer off the country’s Mediterranean coastline, Syria’s state-run news agency SANA reported.
The plane turned out to be a Turkish fighter jet, and was dealt with in keeping with Syrian law, a Syrian military spokesman explained.
He also stated that Syrian forces are helping the Turks search for the two missing Turkish pilots.
Erdogan issued a statement, after an emergency security meeting in Ankara, saying a decisive response will be taken once all the facts about the incident are known.
Abdelbari Atwan, publisher and editor-in-chief of the London-based pan-Arab daily al-Quds al-Arabi, believes Erdogan’s talk of a “decisive response” after the emergency security meeting in Ankara “implies that the matter is extremely serious and warrants some kind of retaliation (by Turkey)… We could be on the brink of a regional war.”
By downing the jet, says Atwan, “the Syrian leadership meant to send four strong messages”:
- The first message “warns Turkey not to overreach itself in its support of the Syrian opposition by supplying it with advanced weapons and by providing safe passage to Muslim extremists seeking to bring down the Syrian regime.”
- The second tells NATO “and the United States in particular that Syria is not Libya and that any recourse to the use of force against it -- including aerial ‘carpet bombing’ -- won’t be consequence-free.”
- The third message is addressed to “some Arab countries, chiefly in the Gulf, that are arming the opposition via Turkey.”
- The fourth and last is for the public at home and is meant “to make up for the defection of a Syrian pilot with his MIG-21 to Jordan and show that cohesion of the regime is inviolate and ready to foil the ‘external plot’ to bring it down.”
To Atwan’s mind, the Syrian leadership could not have gone this far in the escalation “without getting a green light from its Russian counterpart.” He says the fighter jet went down near the Russian naval base in Tartus, “and might have been brought down by Russian air defense systems there.”
Accordingly, “will the Syrian leadership succeed in dragging Turkey, and thus the United States, into a mistimed pre-emptive war they want to avoid at all costs pending the U.S. presidential elections and preparations for taking out Iran’s nuclear facilities?”
“It is noteworthy,” Atwan writes, “that Turkey’s response to the downing of its fighter jet was muddled, much as its reaction to stepped up Syrian support for Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK)” terrorist attacks on Turkish targets.
What is certain is that “Syria is not Libya and Assad is not Gaddafi. The former has an impressive arsenal comprising S-300 (Russian surface-to-air) missiles while the latter could not intercept s single Western plane except the one over Lockerbie -- that’s if he were the one who brought it down after all.”