Ankara is trying to get the most out of the incident when a Turkish reconnaissance aircraft was downed flying over the Syrian territorial waters on June 22. The North Atlantic Council will meet on June 26 to hold consultations on the issue.
NATO spokesperson Oana Lungescu said Turkey would submit a corresponding report in Brussels. On June 22. a Turkish Air Force RF-4E Phantom fighter aircraft disappeared from radar screens an hour and a half after taking off from the Erhach airbase in the Hatay province in southeastern Turkey bordering on Syria (1). A bit later Damascus said the aircraft was hit after entering the Syrian airspace stressing the incident was not to be considered as a “hostile act against Turkey”. Ankara responded saying Syria was to warn the crew about the planned action according to international law. By putting it this way Turkey admitted that its plane violated Syrian air space. Even in a much less tense situation than the one taking place in Syria now it couldn’t do without consequence. True, Turkey added later that while in international airspace the downed fighter “accidently” came near Syria but it sounded absolutely unconvincing. Right after that Ibrahim Kalyn, foreign policy advisor to the Turkish prime minister, accused Syria of “violating international law” and posted remarks on his microblog saying Turkey would take “strong and resolute measures” in response to the downed fighter.
According to the data available the brought down reconnaissance plane made two circles over the Syrian shore invading the country’s airspace. Flying that low it had the mission to test the Syrian air defenses and report the information to a respective NATO center. Having flown over Latakia, the invading aircraft tried to get away with impunity crossing the space over the Syrian territorial waters. A second Turkish plane operated in the vicinity coordinating the flight. As NATO sources report the mission was to test the Syrian air defenses combat readiness. NATO needs to know precisely if the Syrian shore based air defense units have an order to bring down without delay a foreign aircraft in case it violates the national airspace or the military would report to Damascus and lose time. They know the answer now: the Syrian air defense will react immediately without warning in case any air target invades the national airspace.
Some say the bold intrusion had relation to the recent defection of a MIG-21 pilot to Jordan. The same way two Libyan Air Force fighters defected to Malta on February 21. The defectors asked for political asylum, the “Friend or Foe” identification systems got into the hands of NATO. In a month the Alliance started to strike Libya that was actually left without air defense capability.
The “multifunctional” Turkish plane provocation will be used to discredit the Moscow efforts aimed at finding solution to the Syrian crisis and making Russia-Turkey dialogue even less distinct. The responsible position of Moscow that rejects the option of foreign intervention into Syria has come under harsh criticism from some forces in Turkey. President Gul thinks Moscow will finally see it has no other choice but join those who try to make Bashar Assad step down. It’s not enough for the West – they want the Turkish leaders anti-Syrian rhetoric toughened and be converted into deeds.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and his Turkish counterpart discussed the downed plane incident by phone. It should be noted that, unlike in the case of Libya, the Syrian armed forces maintain high combat capability. The efforts exerted by the West and its allies aimed at disintegration of its armed forces have been futile. Except separate cases of desertion, not a single unit of Syrian regular army has gone to the side of the terrorist gangs sent to the country from the territory of neighboring states including Turkey. For instance, last week The New York times reported CIA experts were present in the areas of Turkish territory bordering on Syria in order to coordinate the arms deliveries to the “Syrian Free Army”. On June 25 it was reported that Syrian border guards eliminated a group of terrorists trying to cross the border from Turkey.
The Syrian airspace is defended by Russia produced air defense systems. It’s a reliable guarantee of the country’s sovereignty.
One should give the Syrian leadership their due, they have been duly perspicacious. Belgrade started to ask Russia to deliver air defense systems of various types on the eve of NATO air strikes, it was too late back then. Damascus never repeated the mistake guessing right about the intentions of USA and its allies that started to make plans against Syria as far back as 2003 when the neighboring Iraq was occupied. Then the Syrians tried to modernize their Air Force and Air Defense, but the deals never went through because of Washington and Tel-Aviv counteractions. Anti-Syrian information war started to pick up strength in 2005 after Lebanese politician Rafic Hariri was killed. There are different versions concerning the motives of the crime. In September 2007 the Israeli Air Force supported by the Americans delivered an airstrike to eliminate a secret facility in the Deir-ez-Zor region of Syria that was defended by S-125 Neva/Pechora (NATO classification – SA-3 GOA) obsolete Soviet air defense systems. It became clear then that Syria had to prepare for a big war. A number of measures were taken in advance. In September the Syrian military took part in the Boevoe Sodruzhestvo exercises held in Ashuluk military testing ground. They could see and assess the performance of up-to-date modifications of Russian air defense systems like long range S-300 Favorite (NATO reporting name "SA-10"), small range Tor (NATO reporting name SA-15 Gauntlet), medium range Buk (NATO reporting name: SA-11 Gadfly) to make a decision on buying new systems and upgrading the ones in the inventory.
Perhaps right now there is someone whom is strongly annoyed that the Libyan scenario cannot be repeated in Syria. But the picture has become clear. Sacrificing the Turkish plane NATO received an answer: if you don’t want to lose pilots and weapons anymore – leave the Syrians alone.
1) It’s right next to the location of a new missile defense radar turned against Russia and Iran.