It has been reported that a Turkish fighter jet was shot down on Friday, June 23, 2012, by Syrian forces. The Syrian military forces had later confirmed the reports. Leaving aside the technical details about how the crash occurred, and who is to blame, this incident could significantly escalate the existing crisis between the two countries on the one hand, and offer the perfect alibi, as well as credibility, to Turkey and its western allies – namely, NATO – to actively and militarily intervene in Syria, on the other.
Importantly enough, the Turkish President, Abdullah Gul, said that Turkey will do “whatever necessary”. But what does “whatever necessary” means? In answering this question, one must take into account earlier reports saying that CIA officers have been helping Syrian rebels through Southern Turkey. Even though the Turkish government rejected this information, it raises concerns about the role of Turkey and other external actors in the Syrian conflict, as well as the near-future intentions of westerns powers. Furthermore, let us not forget that the Turkish Prime Minister, Tayyip Erdogan, in April, 2012, threatened to invoke NATO’s self-defense article 5.
A US State Department spokesperson stated that Turkey hasn’t “raised this [fight jet shot down incident] at NATO at this point.” The truth is that Turkey wants to avoid a direct conflict with Syria, as much as Syria itself does; this is evident because of the increased communication between the two countries, Syria’s non-hostility statements, and the joint operations for the finding of the missing pilots and the jet. Yet, the incident in question, depending on the final results of the investigation, could be the perfect alibi for those international forces that want to intervene in Syria. This could happen through Turkey, as the dispute would now be a bilateral one rather than a matter of western “moral” understanding of the situation. A full scale military conflict between the two countries would then, most probably, lead to the invocation of NATO’s article 5 by Turkey, thereby creating the conditions for a full intervention in Syria by the allies. And thus the “perfect alibi”.
An inter-state armed conflict initiated because of a bilateral dispute, or the violation of international law, would be opposed with more difficulty by regional and international actors that are currently against an intervention in Syria. Although much remains to be seen, Ankara’s reaction, despite its harsh rhetoric, has been relatively calm while there has been stated that Turkey is “not considering a military action now”. One can only hope that Turkey will respond and manage the situation in a non-confrontational way, thus also responding to the UN Secretary General’s, Ban-Ki Moon, request for restraint and diplomacy.
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