Is the US Restraining Turkey From Military Action in Syria?
A Turkish F-4 Phantom jet
What’s going on between Turkey and the United States with respect to Syria? In the last fortnight:
• An unarmed Vietnam-era Turkish reconnaissance plane performing a military exercise was shot out of the sky by Syrian air defences. Turkey insisted that the plane, after having briefly and accidentally dipped into Syrian airspace, was downed in international skies, about 13 nautical miles off the Syrian coast, by an anti-aircraft missile. Damascus said the plane was in Syrian airspace and gunned down by machine-gun fire which can only reach a shore-hugging 1.5 miles. The rescue plane sent to look for the two missing F-4 pilots was also allegedly fired upon.
• Turkey invoked Article IV of the Nato charter and turned up at the resulting meeting a few days later asking the alliance to draw up no-fly zone contingency plans, a request which surprised other Nato members. Nato condemned Syria but took no further action and, for the umpteenth time in the last year and a half, Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen disavowed any desire for military intervention in Syria, while Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Martin Dempsey praised Turkey’s “measured” response to the incident.
• The Turkish prime minister’s chief foreign policy advisor announced that Ankara’s rules of engagement had been altered and “expanded” in the wake of the downed aircraft incident. The government wasted no time in demonstrating how this was so.
• Turkey deployed two armored brigades and anti-aircraft batteries to several positions along its 565-mile border with Syria, with three stations established in Hatay, the province where most of the 34,000 Syrian refugees are now being housed, including the military defectors known as the Free Syrian Army.
• On Sunday, Turkish F-16s were scrambled three times to chase away MI-8 and MI-17 Russian-made assault transport helicopters which had approached within about 4 miles of the Syrian-Turkish border, thus creating a de facto no-fly zone within Syrian territory. F-16s have since been scrambled twice more.