A Syrian-Turkish Confrontation |
Al Hayat - 25 June, 2012
Author: Abdullah Iskandar
It might have been a technical error by the Turkish pilot who violated Syria's airspace, or by the Syrian air defense team who fired its anti-aircraft missiles at a target before identifying it, that led to downing the Turkish fighter jet. And based on the earliest reactions from both sides, while awaiting investigations into the incident, it seems that there is a desire not to escalate the problem and head towards finding some formula to settle the matter.
Yet all of this does not negate the fact that tension between the two neighbors has gone up another notch, and is now turning gradually into a point of no return.
And regardless of the settlement that could be reached over this incident, there are implications of great importance involved in the Turkish plane being downed by Syrian anti-aircraft artillery.
Such implications are connected to the fact that the plane was, in addition to being Turkish, part of the NATO arsenal. This means that the Syrian regime has also raised its level of tension with the North Atlantic Alliance, which it accuses of interfering in its internal affairs by arming and sponsoring the opposition, and of harboring intentions of direct military intervention over its territory. By this Damascus sends NATO a message, signifying that it is prepared for confrontation, especially after its air defense has proven that it was capable of fighting back against those who would violate its airspace. At the same time, it also sends a message to its Russian protector, who is engaged in strategic discussions with NATO, and who objects to many of the steps the latter is taking. The significance of the latter message, which has come at a time when Syrian Foreign Minister Walid Muallem was discussing Annan’s plan with his Russian counterpart, is that there is foreign interference in Syria’s affairs, and that Moscow must continue to provide military support to the Syrian regime, which is confronting an attack by NATO.
It thus seems that there are Syrian efforts to establish a direct link between the regime’s internal crisis and the relationship between Russia and NATO, in such a way as to make this crisis part of Russia’s stance in confronting NATO.
In parallel to this, the downing of the Turkish jet bears regional implications. Indeed, saying that a plane from a neighboring country is violating Syria’s airspace implies that the source of the breach of internal security lies beyond the border, reinforcing the theory of groups of armed fighters from abroad and of foreign military interference, especially at the regional level, which is preventing the implementation of Annan’s plan.
Indeed, this plan is wavering, according to its author, United Nations and Arab League Envoy Kofi Annan, and according to the head of the UN observer mission, General Mood, as a result of the ongoing violence internally and the use of heavy artillery on the part of the regime, as well as ongoing massacres. Even Lavrov did not hesitate to declare that he had asked the Syrian regime to take additional measures to ensure the success of this plan – which means that he recognizes the internal aspect of the crisis, in which the regime is required to implement what is being asked of it.
The plan wavering, and demands increasing for the regime in Damascus to cooperate in order to implement its remaining clauses, in effect renders null and void the official Syrian theory, which states that all of the violence has its source abroad, and the regime must therefore look to the domestic scene and cooperate with the ideas put forward for a peaceful transition of power.
Tension on the field with Turkey thus comes to shift the debate from the necessity of implementing Annan’s plan, i.e. focusing on the internal aspect of the Syrian crisis which the regime has denied many times, to foreign confrontation, reinforcing the theory of a conspiracy from abroad, including the Syrian opposition. There would therefore be no need for discussing any of the other clauses of Annan’s plan, the revival of which the Security Council no longer has many options for.
And within the framework of such official Syrian efforts, Turkey seems the most likely among the countries of the region to be the opposing party in such regional tension. Indeed, Jordan has taken what seems to be a strategic decision to take great care to preserve a normal relationship with the Syrian regime, to the extent of abstaining from implementing Arab League sanctions. As for Lebanon, its government is too powerless to even take a stance rejecting Syrian violations of the country’s international borders, even if the crisis in Syria is reflected in civil unrest and tension on the Lebanese scene. And finally, Iraq as a government is in effect standing alongside the Syrian regime. Turkey alone stands against this regime and declares its opposition to it, in addition to holding the tools that would enable it to have an impact. The Syrian regime reckons that any clash with Turkey, especially right now, would spare it from having to implement Annan’s plan, and would also strengthen its theory about foreign interference, as well as the supporting Russian stance, under the pretext of jointly confronting NATO.