Why Turkey is holding back, for now, after Syria downed its jet
NATO and Turkey talked tough about Syria's shooting down of a Turkish military jet at an emergency summit in Brussels today. But they sought to calm fears of a broader escalation.
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"This shooting down of a Turkish plane will not be a casus belli, but Syria, one way or another, finally, ultimately, will pay the bill," says Mr. Demir, now the Ankara bureau chief for the mass circulation Hurriyet newspaper. "But how? Time will show us."Skip to next paragraph
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Erdogan called the Assad regime "cruel," and sought to justify his previous personal warmth with Syria's leader – before the uprising began, when they referred to each other as "brother" and close friends.
More recently, Erdogan said he recognized that the Syrians were "not telling the truth" about departing from the methods of Assad's father, Hafez, who as leader killed 30,000 people – Erdogan's number, though estimates vary – in the crackdown on the city of Hama in 1982. The younger Assad's regime, he said, was now maintaining the father's "hostile attitude to Turkey."
"The Syrian administration is not a legitimate administration anymore, and that we can see clearly," Erdogan told members of parliament. "Children, elderly, women, innocent people, civilians, were killed in a relentless manner by this tyranny."
Assad cornered 'like a cat'
Tensions have been high along the border for more than a year, with Turkey hosting defecting Syrian military officers who have formed the Free Syrian Army (FSA). Another general, two colonels, and some 30 other soldiers crossed into Turkey on Sunday night with their families.
Past incidents have involved Syrian assault rifle shooting toward camps in Turkey, where more than 32,000 Syrian refugees are being housed.
Syria says it is fighting "armed terrorists" and will stamp them out with force. Heavy shelling in recent months, especially in opposition strongholds like Homs, have turned apartment blocks to rubble, and created waves of homeless Syrians inside the country.
Syria has made clear that Turkey's actions are provocative. The New York Times reported last week that CIA operatives in recent weeks had begun helping funnel light weapons and other gear, paid for by Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and Turkey, to the FSA and opposition groups.
"Low intensity clashes between the two sides [may happen], but I don't think it will go to war," says Demir. "Some people accuse the Erdogan government of cornering Assad too much.... Like a cat, if it is cornered too much, finally it attacks you, it doesn't [care] if you are strong or not ... it reacts."
Turkey's counter-reaction will determine the scale of escalation. While Erdogan said there would be "zero tolerance" of any future Syrian transgression, he did not lay out a series of measures against Syria today, as widely expected.
"Even a punitive retaliation [against] the offending radar base ... may escalate already tense relations in the region to a completely new level," Abdullah Bozkurt wrote in a commentary in Today's Zaman newspaper. "Turkey may be venturing into dangerous and uncharted territory here."
Mehmet Seyfettin Erol, the head of the International Strategic and Security Research Center, told the newspaper that a broader conflict was under way, which pitted Syria – as the "resistance front" for the policies of Russia, Iran, China, and Iraq – against Turkey and its Western allies.
"By shooting down the Turkish plane, these countries wanted to give a message to the international community that they would protect this front at all costs, including a war," Mr. Erol said. "The incident is an open challenge from the Syrian regime. Turkey was not prepared for this challenge."