Op-Ed: Is Turkey preparing for war with Syria?
The downing of the Turkish F-4 jet fighter by Syria is a salient reminder of the uneasy relationship that exists between the two neighbours.
That incident has prompted many to seriously ponder whether or not a state of war between the two neighbours will soon become the case. Turkey is calling a meeting with its fellow NATO states by appealing
under Article 4 of the NATO charter, meaning that they will be discussing the extent to which they feel their security and sovereign integrity is being threatened.
Turkey's foreign minister has stated that -- contrary to the Syrian claim -- the Turkish jet was in fact downed in international waters off the Syrian coast. The Syrian Navy has aided the Turkish Navy in its attempts to locate and rescue the two crew members of the downed jet; however the hopes of finding them alive now look very bleak.
This incident seems to have given Turkey an apt time to invoke Article 4, whilst the question of whether or not they will respond militarily to this lone incident is bound to be one that many of its fellow NATO allies are pondering. Turkey's sovereignty has been threatened and its relations with Syria have been poor since the uprising against the Assad regime in Damascus began 15 months ago. The crisis has seen several thousand refuges fleeing Syria across the Turkish border
to escape the violence. In tense cross border violence, shells fired by the Syrian Army have landed on the Turkish side of the border. These too are factors that may have influenced Turkey following this latest incident, to call upon NATO to begin discussing the situation with its neighbour, and decide the course of action, or diplomacy, Turkey should take with regard to that neighbour over the next few weeks and months.
Turkey is also allowing the free flow of arms to Syrian rebels who are pitted in a brutal fight against the present regime in Damascus. Saudi Arabia and Qatar are directly arming the rebels and are using Turkey's border with Syria to provide arms to the fighters. In other words a proxy war is being fought out in Syria, Iran seems to be the only regional ally that is directly supporting Assad against this large 15-month-long insurrection. Turkey on the other hand, whilst not hinting towards direct intervention is allowing the Saudi proxies in the form of the Free Syrian Army to enter the battlefield and is therefore in a large part enabling the Saudi backed forces to engage Assad's forces -- this could in turn be interpreted as support for that side of the civil war. The actions -- or lack thereof -- on behalf of the Turkish government speak much louder than any statements they have made regarding their stance on the ongoing crisis south of their border.
As for a war or a direct military intervention from outside, if NATO is to intervene in Syria, Turkey would be essential given its strategic location which would allow NATO forces with relative ease to launch round the clock air raids to pummel Assad's forces.
However for the moment the war seems to be solely a proxy one, Turkey is turning a relatively blind eye to Syrian rebel forces which enables them a growing access to arms replenishment's -- and soon salaries for their work
-- provided by their state sponsors in the Middle East.
As indicated by Syria's quick response and offer of aid to Turkey to help them find their missing pilots following the controversial F-4 incident it is clear that the last thing the Syrian authorities want to do is to annoy their very large and powerful northern neighbour. A neighbour which is already supporting elements within Syria that are fighting in earnest to topple the regime in Damascus.