Politics Meets War as Turkey Downs Syrian Plane

War as usual, or politics? Turkish PM Erdogan. Illustrative. Photo Courtesy of UN Photo/Marco Castro

War as usual, or politics? Turkish PM Erdogan. Illustrative. Photo Courtesy of UN Photo/Marco Castro

It’s not very often that the leader of a nation announces a military victory at an election rally, but that’s what happened on Sunday in Turkey. Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, under heavy political pressure for multiple reasons, announced at a pre-election rally that Turkey had shot down a Syrian fighter jet.

The Hurriyet Daily News quickly linked the politics with the incident, noting in their report that the political opposition leader in Turkey had warned last week that the Turkish army could enter Syria ahead of the municipal elections, presumptively to bolster support for the current political leadership. The jet incident comes as Erdogan is under fire himself—politically speaking—for banning Twitter in an effort to control Turkey’s social media.

US State Department spokesperson Jen Psaki said in a statement on Friday that Turkey’s Twitter move didn’t sit well with the Americans—a key military supporter of Turkey.

“An independent and unfettered media is an essential element of democratic, open societies. Today’s shutdown of Twitter is contrary to Turkey’s own expressed desire to uphold the highest standards of democracy,” said Psaki. “We have conveyed our serious concern over this action to Turkish authorities.”

In addition to Erdogan’s decision regarding Twitter, a corruption scandal and protests are among the political problems that have faced Turkey’s leadership over the last 12 months.

While the jet incident isn’t necessarily linked to the Turkish political turmoil, as Syrian aircraft have reportedly troubled Turkey in the past, the latest skirmish does raise some questions. Primary among them is where the plane was engaged by Turkish forces—over Turkey, or Syria.

The Hurriyet Daily News reported that the Turkish Armed Forces version of events said that Turkey warned the Syrian fighter four times before it entered Turkish territory and saw it fly in Turkish airspace for close to a mile. According to Turkey, the plane entered Turkish airspace and was shot down one minute later. However, even the Turks admitted the plane went down over Syria.

Syria, not surprisingly, was outraged over the incident. The government-controlled Syrian Arab News Agency called the downing of their jet “a blatant aggression that proves Erdogan’s involvement in supporting the terrorist groups” in Syria.

Of course, Syria’s government has a tendency to stretch the truth or even tell outright lies. So who’s telling the truth when two overbearing regimes are trying to score political points?

More importantly, as politics and war become at best muddled, will the tensions blow up? Will Turkey really get involved in Syria if Erdogan’s political seat gets too hot? Or will Syria keep pushing the limits with Turkey—as they already have done with Israel—and just ask for a flare-up with another neighbor?

With just one week to go until the Turkish elections, guess the final vote will be cast soon.

(By Joshua Spurlock, www.themideastupdate.com, March 23, 2014)


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