by Zafar Bangash (Editorials, Crescent International Vol. 41, No. 5, Sha'ban, 1433)
Syria’s shooting down of a Turkish fighter jet on June 22 reflects the deep Turkish involvement in the internal affairs of its neighbor and how far relations have nosedived between the two.
The jet was almost certainly flown into Syrian airspace to test its radar installations and response time. This appeared to have been done at the behest of the US and NATO that are both itching to go into Syria to overthrow the regime of Bashar al-Asad.
No self-respecting country would allow such a provocative act to go unchallenged especially when Turkey has been extremely vocal in its condemnation of the Syrian regime and has openly backed anti-regime rebel groups. Many of them are given facilities and training in Turkey while the Saudis and Qataris are providing weapons and money. Syrian media reports said the plane was shot down one kilometer off the Syrian port city of Latakia. The plane’s wreckage was found within Syrian territorial waters, confirming Damascus’ claims. On the day the low-flying Turkish plane was shot down, Turkish President Abdullah Gul confirmed that it had inadvertently strayed into Syrian airspace. Two days later, Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu seemed to back peddle from this admission by saying Syria should have first warned the plane. Given repeated violations of Syrian airspace by Turkish aircraft and provocative meetings of Syrian opposition groups in Turkey, such a demand appeared unreasonable, at least to the Syrians. Further, the plane was shot down close to the Russian naval base at Tartus. This incident occurred within days of a Russian freighter carrying Russian manufactured reconditioned Syrian helicopters being turned back near Scotland when British insurance companies withdrew coverage.
Turkey finds itself in a dilemma. Its hopes that the Syrian regime would soon collapse have not materialized. It has become so deeply involved with Syrian opposition groups that Ankara now finds it difficult to extricate itself from the mess. It turned to NATO for assistance. Is this a prelude to NATO imposing a no-fly zone on Syria like the one that was imposed on Libya last year to overthrow Colonel Muammar Qaddafi? The UN Security Council had backed the Libyan no-fly resolution but in Syria’s case neither Russia nor China are willing to oblige. In fact, Russia has shown visible irritation with the West as well as Turkey over how they are pushing Syria toward civil war. When Turkish Foreign Minister Davutoglu telephoned his Russian counterpart Sergey Lavrov on June 24 to seek support, his request was brushed off. Lavrov pointedly reminded him that the plane’s downing could not be seen in isolation from other developments in the region, a clear reference to Turkish meddling in Syria’s internal affairs.
Syria has tried to play down the incident despite provocative statements from Ankara and Western capitals such as Washington, London, and Paris. The Syrians said it was a “regrettable incident” and the two sides should put it behind them and move on. Syria insisted it meant no harm and to show goodwill, it helped in locating the plane’s wreckage. The Turks are not buying this line of argument and threatening to take appropriate steps without specifying what these might be. Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan has painted himself into a corner since the Syrian policy is his signature mark. Instead of escalating tensions to please the West, and the Saudis that have never done any good anywhere, Erdogan should work to reduce tensions. The policy he is pursuing is dangerous and might engulf the entire region in conflict. While this may help the Americans and the Zionists, Turkey will not come out unscathed from it.
It is interesting to note that while Turkey has soft-peddled the Zionists’ murder of nine Turkish humanitarian aid workers on the Mavi Marmara in May 2010, Erdogan and his cabinet colleagues are blowing hot and cold against Syria. In this policy, he does not enjoy the support of all the Turkish people. It is time to rethink this policy.