Sunday 24 June 2012

Expect “a lot of bark but little bite” from Turkey

Turkey today called a meeting of NATO member states to discuss its response to the shooting down of one of its fighter jets by Syria on Friday.
Djemal Pasha (from Wikipedia)
Ankara invoked Article 4 of NATO's charter, under which consultations can be requested when an ally feels their security is threatened. But the move also signals that, for now, Ankara is looking for a concerted diplomatic response rather than taking military action of its own.
Earlier, Turkey's foreign minister said the F-4 Phantom was in international airspace when it was hit.
Ahmet Davutoglu said the unarmed plane was not on a reconnaissance or secret mission related to Syria, but had mistakenly breezed in and out of Syrian airspace a quarter of an hour before the incident.
In an interview with TRT television, Davutoglu stressed the unarmed jet had briefly entered Syrian airspace by mistake on Friday but had left by the time it was shot down several minutes later.
“Our plane shortly violated Syrian airspace, but not at the time it was shot down,” he said.
"According to our conclusions, our plane was shot down in international airspace, 13 nautical miles (24km) from Syria," he said.
Davutoglu also insisted the jet had not been on a "covert mission related to Syria" but had instead been carrying out a training flight to test Turkey's radar capabilities.
The unarmed F-4 Phantom was not sending hostile signals, and identifiable as Turkish, he said.
"You have to first send a caution, a warning," he said in the first detailed Turkish statement on the international incident. "If the warning doesn't work, you scramble your planes, you send a stronger signal, you force the plane to land. There wasn't enough time to do any of that in the time our plane was in Syrian airspace."
"We have to question how it is that an unarmed, solo flight got this response from the Syrians," he said.
He also said Turkish intelligence intercepted radio communications from the Syrian side suggesting that they knew it was a Turkish plane.
Davutoglu said Turkey's response will be clear after Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan's scheduled meeting with opposition leaders later today. “We will, without any hesitation, decisively take the necessary steps regarding the Turkish plane downed by Syria,” he added.
This is an unusual move that raised speculation about a possible parliamentary decision, which is a requirement for any military action out of the country according to the Turkish Constitution. “We are not considering military action now,” a source told Turkey’s Hurriyet Daily News. “But we want to inform the opposition and we want to keep all options open.”
In his daily column for Saudi Asharq Alawsat, Egyptian political analyst and talk show host Imad Adeeb quotes an unnamed Turkey expert as giving four reasons why Ankara’s response to Friday’s plane incident will be all bark but no bite.
The four reasons are:
(1) Relations between the Turkish military and the ruling Justice and Development Party (AK Party) of President Abdullah Gul and Erdogan are stretched and the military are opposed to any impetuous escalation.
(2) Military escalation against Syria would help the regime’s political floatation. Fact is that an external military threat usually shores up a regime swimming in troubled waters by rallying citizens around it.
(3) A Turkish military blitz would destroy Turkey’s so-called “zero problem” foreign policy and evoke memories of the Ottoman Empire and of Djemal Pasha, who was appointed with full powers in military and civilian affairs in Syria in 1915.
(4) The regional reactions of Iran and Hezbollah and trade relations with Russia and China give Ankara cause for concern.
Accordingly, “You can expect Ankara to talk tough politically and take retaliatory political measures. But it will choose to pass up a military riposte as it did in the case of the Israeli naval commando raid” on a Turkish boat in the 2010 Gaza Freedom Flotilla.
“Turkey will be making a lost of noise, but the maximum it will do is increase its military assistance to the Syrian opposition.”