More on the Turkey-Syria Incident

Some insight on that Syrian shootdown of a Turkey military jet today over the Mediterranean from a knowledge TPM reader who lives in Turkey …

Wanted to offer my two cents on this.

Someone got to Erdogan, and got to him quickly, to keep him from saying something that couldn’t be walked back. Erdogan’s an incredibly charismatic and successful politician, but he has a hot temper, which often leads him to get out ahead of the positions his ministers and allies would like him to stake. (Case in point: Mavi Marmara.)

A few months ago Syrian military forces chased some rebel forces across the Turkish border and kept shooting. In the process, they killed at least one Turkish citizen who was on the Turkish side of the border and killed/injured a few Syrian citizens who were in the Syrian refugee camp on the Turkish side of the border. (Foolishly, all of these camps are within easy firing range from the border.)

The PM initially squawked about invoking the NATO self defense clause, but he quickly changed his tune, presumably after lots of intervention from Brussels and Washington. The Syrian side never apologized for it, to the best of my knowledge – they’re pretty upset about the refugee camps and the porous border that allows opposition forces, weapons, and foreign journalists to cross back and forth. If initial reports about the Syrian apology are true, then the Atlantic Council’s observation is correct, that this was the “quickest national apology in diplomatic history.” Accidentally killing a civilian in Turkey is one thing, but shooting down an air force plane is pretty hard to gloss over. It would be difficult to deny if Turkey invoked the NATO self defense clause, though I’m sure that everyone in Brussels is working overtime to prevent that, as it’s pretty clear that NATO wants nothing to do with the Syrian conflict. (Side note: the planes are based at the central/eastern Anatolian air base in Malatya, which is also where the NATO air defense radars are located and where Turkish forces under the auspices of NATO are training Afghan national police. In the current events of Turkey, Malatya is almost synonymous with NATO.)

Another thing – this event comes on the heels of several Turkish soldiers being killed in clashes between the PKK and government forces in Hatay province earlier this week. (Interestingly, Hatay is the small thumb of Turkey that sticks out to the south, along the Syrian coast. It belonged to Syria until the French mandatory powers passed it to Turkey in the 1930s, and I believe that Syria has never recognized it as part of Turkey. Supposedly the downed plane was doing maneuvers off the coast of Hatay.) I won’t get into the back history of that conflict, as it’s long and festering, but one thing to keep in mind is that the government and many media figures in Turkey have long worried about the potential for the Syrian government to resume its arming and assistance to the PKK if Turkey continues to take a hardline stance against Syria. The two countries almost went to war in the 1990s over Syria’s harboring of Abdullah Ocalan, the head of the PKK, and Syria’s allowing PKK fighters to base themselves in the northeast corner of Syria. This event will take the heat off the government for its alleged mishandling of the deaths/its policy towards the PKK and the nation’s Kurdish population, and if it can be proven to have been caused by the Syrian government, that will set the nationalists in Turkey (a very large chunk of the population) to frothing at the mouth.

If it’s true that Syria did shoot down the plane, as initial reports said, then it is one of the dumbest things the Syrian government has done in over a year of phenomenally stupid moves. It’s poking a notoriously thin-skinned politician right in the eye, and he has bigger guns and more allies than the Syrians do. Watch what Russia does about all of this – I’m not a Russia expert, so I can’t make any predictions there, but given their arms deals of late and their vote on the Security Council, they will certainly have something to say about it.

Masthead Masthead
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