by Zafar Bangash (Editorials, Crescent International Vol. 44, No. 10, Safar, 1437)
Turkey’s shooting of a Russian plane near the Syria-Turkish border on November 24 has refocused attention on some nasty truths: Turkey acts as the takfiri terrorists’ air force. It does more; Ankara is also the shipping terminal for oil the takfiris steal from Syria and Iraq to fund their criminal activities. There is a huge illegal trade under way in which not only Turkish businessmen but also senior officials are involved. These include President Recep Tayip Erdogan’s son, Bilal, as well as his son in law, Berat Albayrak, who was appointed energy minister the same day Turkey shot down the Russian plane.
Bilal Erdogan owns a shipping company while Albayrak is now in charge of the energy portfolio. Between them, they will do brisk business in oil that the takfiris are transporting across the region. This was already going on but now President Erdogan’s own family will be in direct control of this illegal business. Even the UN Security Council has confirmed this.
On February 12, 2015, the Security Council had passed Russian drafted resolution 2199, banning any oil trade with the takfiri terrorists in Syria and Iraq. Russian Foreign Minister Sergio Lavrov pointed this out in a meeting with his Syrian counterpart Walid al-Muallem on November 27. President Vladimir Putin was more forthright; he said the same day that some Turkish officials were involved in the illegal oil trade. He also accused Turkey of supplying weapons to the terrorists, calling it an “accomplice of terrorists.”
One reason why Turkish F-16 planes attacked the Russian SU-24M plane was because the latter was attacking the terrorists’ oil tanker convoy near Azaz inside Syria. The takfiri-Turkey oil pipeline was under attack; Ankara had to defend it.
Turkey is also a major conduit for weapons and mercenaries into Syria. Ankara has allowed thousands of mercenaries from Chechnya, Saudi Arabia, Europe, and other places to enter Syria. The Turkmen of Syria with backing from Turkey are also involved in the campaign against the government of President Bashar al-Asad. In the Turkish-Syrian border region, Turkey has created the Sultan Abdülhamit Brigade manned by the Turkmen. It is trained by Turkish Special Forces and collaborates closely with the Army of Conquest and al-Qaeda’s Nusra Front in Syria. Since Russian planes are targeting these Turkish proxies as well, this has enabled the Syrian army to make progress against the terrorist groups, especially in the border region with Turkey.
Ankara has been pushing for a no-fly zone in this region ostensibly to house Syrian refugees but the real aim is very different. First, this area would be used to train terrorist groups and unleash them against al-Asad’s government, which Turkey has demanded must be overthrown. Second, Turkey wants to prevent the Kurds in Syria from linking up with fellow Kurds, especially the PKK in Turkey that Ankara considers an enemy. Russian operations were undermining both objectives, hence Ankara’s desperate move.
The Turkish attack was illegal. Russian planes are operating in Syria with the permission of the government in Damascus, which none of the other regimes attacking Syria have obtained. They — whether the US, France, Saudi Arabia, or any other regime — are operating illegally and in violation of Syria’s sovereignty. Besides, the so-called US-led coalition is not attacking the takfiri terrorists in earnest. It is merely involved in pinprick operations.
There is great anger in Moscow at this unprovoked attack. The Russians dismiss Turkish claims that the plane had violated Turkey’s air space. Even if it had, the plane could not have been in Turkish space for more than a few seconds over a tiny sliver of territory. While US President Barack Obama said Turkey had the right to defend its air space, he conveniently ignored the fact that his country and its allies are openly violating Syrian air space. Besides, the Russian plane posed no threat to Turkey unless the latter was concerned about its assets inside Syria being degraded.
There will be retaliation for such aggression. Russia has demanded an apology from Turkey that has so far not been forthcoming. Erdogan has simply said he is “saddened” by the downing of the Russian plane. He has called for a meeting with President Putin that the latter has spurned including refusal to take any phone calls from Erdogan. Moscow has also halted Turkish trucks carrying goods into Russia. Further, the Russian foreign ministry has announced that effective January 1, Turks will no longer be allowed to enter Russia without a visa and has called upon Russians to avoid traveling to Turkey. Further, Putin endorsed French President Francois Hollande’s proposal during their November 26 meeting in Moscow that the Syrian-Turkish border should be sealed. This came in the aftermath of the horrific attacks in Paris that killed 132 people.
Aware that Russia will exact revenge for Turkish aggression, Erdogan has ordered a halt to all Turkish air operations in Syria. Russia has moved its latest missiles, the S-400, into Syria and Russian defence officials have said henceforth, Russian bombers will be escorted by fighter jets that will immediately react to any provocations. Turkey’s aggression has made the world a lot more dangerous place to live in.