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Is Turkey on the brink of war with Assad’s Syria? The rhetoric of Prime Minister Tayyip Erdoğan, generally known for his short-fused disposition, is becoming increasingly bellicose. After the Syrian air defences shot down a Turkish reconnaissance jet on Friday and then fired at a second plane involved in the rescue effort, Turkey’s leader issued a warning that any move of Syrian troops towards the 822 km long common border would constitute a military threat. He spoke of “new rules of engagement”, upping the ante even further. The daily Hurriyet reports that the Turkish Armed Forces have deployed 15 tanks along with long-distance guns and other military vehicles near the border town of Mardin, in the Kurdish-majority southeast (video here). Even before the Phantom 4 incident there reports surfaced that CIA operatives are running weapons to the Syrian opposition via Turkey. The Turkish government has strongly denied such claims.
Despite the growing tensions it appears unlikely that Turkey will make the step forward to outright intervention in Syria’s civil war. This is not the first time that Syria has challenged its northern neighbour (which sides with the opposition). Back in April, Assad’s forces fired at a refugee camp across the border injuring Turkish citizens, including a police officer. This time around Ankara has come under pressure to respond in a credible manner, including troop deployments. This move is aimed at assuaging public opinion which, though opposed to direct intervention, expects the government to stand firm. As senior commentator Mehmed Ali Birand writes, not losing face was amongst the key imperatives in such a tricky situation. But it is still the case that even the backers of the AKP government are wary of the costs of an open clash, not least of Ankara doing Washington’s bidding in Syria.
Turkey’s approach to Syria has been pronouncedly multilateralist. It has long sought cover from the Arab League and other collective bodies for its diplomatic initiatives. Now it looks to NATO for support, just as in April. There is, however, a twist: last time Ankara invoked NATO Charter’s Article 5 on collective defence. Now, by contrast, its approach is softer, turning to Article 4, providing for consultations by the allies if "in the opinion of any of them, the territorial integrity, political independence or security of any of the parties is threatened".The end result of the NATO talks was a condemnation “in the strongest terms”. This must have impressed Damascus for sure.
The question is whether this dual strategy, clinging to NATO while showing teeth to the Assad regime, is sustainable. Even though Turkey has shown a great deal of restraint, events might drag it incrementally into the conflict as tensions ratchets up along the border. Back in October 1998 Turkey successfully used military brinkmanship to force Syria to expel the PKK leader Abdullah Öcalan from its territory. Nowadays Turkey says it wants to stay at arm’s length from the Syrian conflict and let the opposition forces win the battle against the regime. But it also seems to be siding with powers like Saudi Arabia and Qatar, who are actively helping the armed opposition. To be sure, there are legitimate questions as to what the Phantom was up to flying into Syrian airspace. Though Turkey might be trying to stay clear of direct confrontation we might be observing a step-by-step spill-over from civil war to an inter-state conflict.
2nd May 2013 at 11:05am
So what do the two nations stand to gain from the war? Some things are a real waste of money and time.
2nd May 2013 at 05:05pm
This war is foolish actions of both sides between turkey and syria. Many victims because of this war.
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