As you know, a security summit was held under the chairmanship of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan Friday evening in Ankara upon the downing of the warplane, and the statement delivered in the wake of this meeting made observations under three main headings. 1) The warplane was downed by Syria. 2) The efforts to rescue the pilots are being conducted jointly with Syrian authorities. 3) Turkey will decide on its final course of action after the incident is thoroughly illuminated, and it will take any steps that need to be taken with complete resolve. Of course, there is also the statement made by the Syrian Defense Ministry. With our reservations about the reliability of this statement, we can formulate the fourth point as follows: 4) The warplane was shot down 10 nautical miles off the coast due to a 1 kilometer violation of airspace, and it was understood that it belonged to the Turkish army after it was shot down.
A statement from Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu on Sunday was expected to clarify many of the questions people may have. As I had to write this article hours before that program, this article should be treated as an analysis lacking any consideration of Davutoğlu’s statements. You can find out more about Davutoğlu’s important explanations in our newspaper today. Yet, the information currently available needs to be analyzed as well. First of all, I must note that Syria’s statements are not trustworthy. Second, the wording of the statements made, the extraordinary meetings held one after another in Ankara and Foreign Minister Davutoğlu’s marathon of phone calls with representatives of the global and regional powers that have a stake in the region imply that the situation is extremely critical and needs in-depth analysis.
I must note that Ankara is responding to this unexpected dangerous crisis, which came out of the blue, with common sense and in a wise manner. Ankara is discussing at length how it should respond to Syria in the most appropriate manner in light of the information at hand. The fact that the search and rescue mission is being conducted jointly with Syrian authorities implies that diplomatic means will be forced to the highest point. The expression, “Necessary steps will be taken with resolve,” indicates that some measures beyond the diplomatic margins may also be implemented when needed. In the final analysis, the ball is in Ankara’s court, and a well-thought out, fine-tuned move should be expected from Ankara in line with the expectations of Turkish public opinion or with an unexpected method.
I guess this should be a move that would not lead to total war between Turkey and Syria, but that would certainly make Syria pay a heavy price for shooting down the warplane. There is no reason why Turkey should act swiftly to make this move all at once. Ankara may choose to make a preliminary, measured counter-move by carefully selecting its place, time and scope to achieve psychological supremacy. Yet, it is clear that the main, conclusive move will not be restricted to this preliminary one. A series of moves will be planned to maintain tension and put the Assad administration behind the eight ball.
But why did this attack come in the first place? For some time, Turkey has been building soft power by developing diplomatic, commercial and cultural ties with other countries and using this soft power to exert its influence in its region. But its image as a powerful country active in regional and global politics has been under attack from certain powers in the region. These attacks started with Israel’s “lower seat” scandal and its 2010 attack on a Gaza-bound aid flotilla that left nine Turks dead and acquired new dimensions with Iran’s hostile discourse after the positioning of NATO radar in Turkey. More recently, Syria attempted to undermine Turkey’s soft power by opening fire on Turkish villages near the common border, killing some refuges and wounding several Turkish citizens. Finally, it moved one step further by shooting down a Turkish warplane. Turkey should never resort to the use of force, which would destroy its soft power image in this problem-laden region, and it must come up with an appropriate response to these deliberate moves that seek to uproot its image.
In this context, it is clear that the statement made by the Syrian defense ministry is hardly satisfying. This is because we all know that F-4 warplanes are outdated, clumsy planes, and Syrian authorities must have identified it even before it violated their airspace. It is hardly possible that the Syrian army has the capability to shoot down a plane in such a short time as within the first 3.5 seconds of airspace violation. Therefore, it is safe to assume that it had decided to shoot it down minutes before the short-lived violation, given the fact that they could easily identify the plane as belonging to Turkey. Furthermore, as everyone knows, every violation of airspace does not entail the downing of the aircraft involved. Otherwise, the Aegean Sea would have turned into an aircraft cemetery as every year dozens and even hundreds of airspace violations occur between Turkey and Greece. Despite so many violations and “dog fights,” there is not a single warplane that has been shot down over the Aegean Sea. In conclusion, it is clear that Syrian authorities acted “deliberately” in downing our warplane.
But why should Syria shoot down a Turkish warplane intentionally? There is one simple reason for this: to intimidate Turkey. For a long time, Turkey has been in contact with the Syrian opposition and playing a major role in bringing the opposition together and ensuring coordination among them, and it has been the primary destination of Syrian refugees fleeing from Assad’s atrocities. So Assad would be inclined to intimidate Turkey. Apparently, Syria has been waiting for an opportunity, and a Turkish warplane that accidentally violated the Syrian airspace only for a fleeting moment gave them this opportunity. So, where does Syria derive the courage to do this? Of course, the international community’s indifference to the tragedy in Syria and its belief that Turkey will refrain from attacking Syria by itself because of the polarization that is similar to that in the Cold War era encourages the Assad regime to do this. Is the Assad administration wrong to make this analysis? It surely has a point.
Obviously, everyone knows there will be adverse consequences in case of any action by Turkey acting alone against Syria, even though Syria took down a Turkish plane. Indeed, the proposition that “Syria is not just Syria” is more valid now than it has ever been. While talking about Syria, we need to consider the fact that Syria also means Hezbollah, which controls Lebanon via its potential to destabilize the country, Iraq, which is governed by Nouri al-Maliki, who is openly pursuing pro-Iran sectarian politics, and Iran, which unconditionally lends material and financial support to Syria. In addition to all of these, the Russia factor -- which is the main actor in the recent cold-war-like polarization occurring over Syria, and China, which is following Russia on this issue, cannot be ignored. Against this group, there is a Western block that chooses to silently watch developments in Syria. Unfortunately, despite the humanitarian tragedy in Syria, Western countries refrain from assuming responsibility. Naturally, the Assad administration that is trying to maintain the regime considers all these factors. And analysis of the Syrian crisis encourages the regime to take bold steps at the expense of provoking Turkey.
Today, I was planning to write about a meeting titled “Different Perspectives on Turkey,” organized by the Journalists and Writers Foundation (GYV), and held with the participation of foreign journalists and academicians working in Turkey. If the rapidly changing agenda of our country allows, I would like to share my observations about this inspiring three-day event in my future articles. Let us see if I will have any opportunity to do so.