Turkish Troops on Alert as Tensions with Syria Soar

Photo Courtesy of UN Photo/Marco Castro

Turkey has given its troops the order to treat Syrian military targets approaching their shared border as a “threat,” according to Today’s Zaman, following Syria’s shooting down of a Turkish jet last week. Meanwhile, Hurriyet Daily News, citing the Turkish daily Milliyet, said Ankara had sent an armored convoy of more than a dozen vehicles—including tanks—to the Turkish-Syrian border.

The already tense relations between the nations hit new lows after Syria shot down a Turkish plane they claimed was in Syrian airspace. Turkey said it was an unarmed jet testing Turkish radar systems and, after straying into Syrian territory, was shot down in international airspace. Today’s Zaman reported that Syria claimed they did not know the plane was Turkish.

While Turkey has escalated their response and rhetoric, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan made it clear they were not seeking a war, according to Today’s Zaman’s coverage of his comments.

Nonetheless, the Turkish leader said Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s regime “has become a clear and present danger to Turkey’s security… However valuable Turkey’s friendship is, its wrath is just as strong. Don’t take our common sense and cautious approach as a sign of passivity.”

Regarding the new rules of engagement, Erdoğan said, “Any military element that approaches the Turkish border from Syria, posing a security risk or danger, will be regarded as a threat and treated as a military target.”
As part of it’s “cautious approach,” Turkey already called a meeting of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) to discuss the incident. Member states in NATO can request such a meeting when they believe they are being threatened.

NATO played a key military role in the Libya revolution by enforcing a no-fly zone. However, NATO has so far chosen not to get militarily involved in the Syrian conflict, in which Assad is accused of killing thousands in a brutal crackdown on the country’s opposition.

NATO condemned Syria for the downed plane incident, although it does not appear that military intervention in Syria is on the table. “We consider this act to be unacceptable and condemn it in the strongest terms,” said a statement on NATO’s website from the group’s North Atlantic Council. “It is another example of the Syrian authorities’ disregard for international norms, peace and security, and human life.”

NATO emphasized their support for Turkey as well. “We continue to follow the situation closely and with great concern, and will remain seized of developments on the South-Eastern border of NATO. The security of the Alliance is indivisible. We stand together with Turkey in the spirit of strong solidarity.”

The plane crisis is the latest conflict between Turkey and Syria. In April, cross-border fire from Syria resulted in injuries in Turkey, which has taken in thousands of Syrian refugees. Ankara has also been extremely critical of the Syrian regime’s brutality against its own people.

(By Joshua Spurlock, www.themideastupdate.com, June 27, 2012)