NATO, Turkey to deploy Patriots for defense
In a sign of solidarity, NATO has approved sending Patriot missiles to Turkey as concern over the scale of spillover from Syria mounts.
By Alakbar Raufoglu for SES Türkiye -- 06/12/12
In a move meant to defend Turkey and send strong signals of unity against possible missile threats, NATO announced on Tuesday (December 4th) that it will deploy Patriot anti-missile systems near Turkey's southern border.
Soldiers walk past Patriot missile launchers in Bad Suelze, northern Germany on Tuesday (December 4th). [AFP]
"We stand with Turkey in the spirit of strong solidarity," NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen said in Brussels. "To anyone who would want to attack Turkey, we say, 'Don’t even think about it'."
"The Alliance has agreed to augment Turkey's air defense capabilities in order to defend the population and territory of Turkey and to contribute to the de-escalation of the crisis along the Alliance's border," a statement issued by NATO foreign ministers said.
Ankara requested the Patriots last month in the event that the country would need to intercept airborne attacks along its 910-kilometre border with Syria.
The Alliance and Turkey said the deployment was completely defensive in nature and that the missiles would be configured to shoot down any Syrian rockets that enter Turkish air space.
In a statement, the Turkish Foreign Ministry said the Patriots are not intended as a step toward a no-fly zone in Syria.
"These measures to be taken are in no way offensive. These measures aim to augment our national air defense. These defensive measures have nothing to do with the establishment of a no-fly zone," the statement on the foreign ministry website read.
In the meantime, officials in Turkey sought to reassure that the missile deployment would not lead to an escalation of the conflict in Syria.
"This is not an announcement of the war, but a warning that Syria must take steps to ease tensions in the region," Muzaffer Bastopcu, a governing AKP MP and deputy chairman of the Turkish Group at the NATO Parliamentary Assembly, told SES Türkiye.
"One thing should be clear here: neither NATO, nor Turkey is looking for war," Bastopcu said, adding, "We need these Patriots to make sure that our next message to [Syrian President] al-Assad is being sent. … Unfortunately, the Syrians didn't leave us any other language."
Final approval for the deployment must come from the parliaments of Germany, the Netherlands and officials in the United States – the three countries with available Patriot systems. The Patriots -- along with radars, command-and-control centres, and support systems -- will be placed in Turkey in the next few weeks.
Technical details, such as the number of missiles and their locations, still have to be worked out. A NATO mission was in Turkey last week scouting locations. The system will fall under the command of the supreme allied commander for Europe, the top NATO military officer.
NATO previously installed long-range Patriot batteries on Turkish territory during the 1991 and the 2003 Iraq wars. They were never used and were withdrawn a few months later.
Muharrem Hilmi Ozev, a Syria analyst at the Ankara-based Center for Turkey-Asia Strategic Research, said the main message of the Alliance's missile deployment decision was to demonstrate NATO-Turkey unity.
"This step was very important to see where we are and how to move forward together on regional security challenges," he told SES Türkiye. "Even though many in Turkey believe that our country needs to have its own Patriots, having NATO's full support backing Turkey is a direct message to the threat."
For Oktay Vural, an opposition MHP member of the Turkish Group at the NATO Parliamentary Assembly, the Alliance's commitment to protect Turkey at a high level has never been the subject of debate.
But he criticised the government for not including the public and opposition in the discussion over the missiles deployment.
"We don't mind asking for security help or Patriots from NATO, but we have a right to know why," he said.