Syrian crisis soars over downing of Turkish jet
A NATO meeting on Tuesday will focus on Friday's downing of a Turkish fighter jet by Syrian forces off the coast near Lattakia.
By Alakbar Raufoglu for SES Turkiye -- 25/06/12
Pressure from Turkey against the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad mounted over the weekend, after the downing of a Turkish F-4 by Syrian forces off the coast near Lattakia on Friday (June 22nd).
Turkey's President Abdullah Gul (right) receives Turkish Air Force Commander General Mehmet Erten in Istanbul on Monday (June 25th). [Reuters]
Calling the incident a "hostile act," Turkish officials say they have evidence that Damascus knew it was their jet before shooting it down without warning.
"Turkey will take decisive action with regards to Syria's aggressive actions against our aircraft, [which was] not equipped with weapons," the foreign ministry said on Sunday.
The warplane was on a routine test of Turkey's own radar system, according to Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu. "It had no covert mission against Syria," he said.
Turkish search-and-rescue teams found the wreckage of the fighter jet in the Mediterranean Sea on Sunday, about 1,300m underwater. No news has been received about the fate of the pilots. The attack may have been the last straw for some in the Syrian military. According to the BBC, Turkish media is reporting on Monday that several ranking Syria military personnel, including a general, two colonels and two majors were among those who crossed into Turkey's Hatay province on Sunday night.
Ankara took its case to NATO, and called for a meeting under Alliance's Article 4, which deals with what happens when the "territorial integrity, political independence or security of any of the parties is threatened."
The EU foreign ministers are scheduled to meet on Monday afternoon and discuss the matter ahead of a special NATO meeting on Tuesday.
The incident had also raised the temperature in Ankara, as some opposition leaders questioned whether the decision to call the NATO meeting meant the prospect of military intervention would be discussed.
Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan held talks with Republican People's Party (CHP), BDP and MHP leaders on Sunday to present a united front on the steps to be taken.
Faik Oztrak, deputy leader of the CHP, who was at the meeting between Erdogan and CHP chairman Kemal Kilicdaroglu, said the government needs to review its Syrian policy, "not focus on one incident, but overall its attitude and response to the challenges of Syrian uprisings."
"It turns out that Syria knowingly attacked our peaceful jet. But the question is why? It might also be Syria's response to Turkey's policy," he told SES Turkiye, adding, "in any case, our countries shouldn't carry this issue into today's level."
Now, he added, the government needs to take "all the steps needed."
Atilla Sandikli, former head of the International Relations Department at the Turkish War College and current head of the Wise Men Centre for Strategic Studies, said that if NATO decides to intervene in Syria, Turkey would be essential given its strategic location which would allow the Alliance forces with relative ease to launch round the clock air raids to pummel al-Assad's forces.
The Friday incident is, he says "a Syrian declaration of war" as it puts Turkey's regional security under the threat.
"This is not a first time that al-Assad forces are attacking Turkey, its citizens and properties, since last year," Sandikli told SES Turkiye, adding that "clearly, Assad has shown the very real dangers of this regime to its neighbourhood."
Mustafa Kabakci, ruling AK Party MP and chief of administration of the Turkish parliament, said that the government is acting in the framework of an action plan.
Turkey's massive campaign to rightly inform the international community is the first phase, he said, adding that Ankara will act on the basis of international law reserving all its rights.
"We're not a country making unrestrained or sudden reactions", he told SES Turkiye, "Everyone I've met in the streets this morning, is not on the side of the war, but they're on the side of answering Syria."