Once upon a time, not too long ago, Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu was the prime proponent of a foreign policy dubbed "zero problems with our neighbors" -- derided by many in the West as "new-Ottomanism."
The North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) meets this Tuesday in Brussels not only to craft its response to a Turkish F-4 Phantom jet shot being down by Syria's anti-aircraft artillery but to seal what sort of "new Ottomanism" is emerging from what actually turned into a "big problem with one of our neighbors" policy.
Davutoglu insists the F-4 was shot in international air space -- although conceding it had briefly entered Syrian air space. Contradicting Syria's official explanation, he said the jet was clearly marked as Turkish; was on a "training flight" to test Turkey's "national radar system"; and most of all had "no covert mission related to Syria."
Previously, Syrian Foreign Ministry spokesman Jihad Makdissi had stressed this was an "accident, not an attack." According to Makdissi, "an unidentified object entered our air space and unfortunately as a result it was brought down. It was understood only later that it was a Turkish plane."
Davutoglu, in a Turkish media blitzkrieg, as reported by Today's Zaman, reiterated this was a "solo flight"; the jet was "unarmed"; there was no warning before it was shot down; and as for Syria trying to connect the "not ill-intentioned violation" of its airspace to the shooting of the F-4, that was "irrelevant."
Violation of another country's air space, trying to avoid its defenses by flying at low altitude, is as normal to Davutoglu as a sheesh kebab for lunch; "There were many violations of Syrian air space by other countries before. But Syria shot down our unarmed plane."
But then the foreign minister started deviating (or not) from the script. He stressed, "No matter how the downed Turkish jet saga unfolds, we will always stand by [the] Syrian people." And this; "We will always stand by Syrian people until the advent of a democratic regime there." Forget about the F-4 Phantom; the "Syrian people" may sleep soundly because the heart of the matter remains regime change.
Everything else is irrelevant
NATO will consider Turkey's case under Article Four of its charter -- which allows consultations whenever "the territorial integrity, political independence or security of any of the parties is threatened." We're not -- yet -- at Article Five, which is all about armed response. But we could be, depending how NATO interprets Turkey's assertion that the F-4 Phantom was "hit 13 miles off the Syrian coast, in international air space."
So according to Davutoglu's story the F-4 was briefly deviated to Syrian airspace by some irresistible force (Thor?); soon realized its mistake; left in a hurry; but then was shot down. By the way, it was not a "solo flight"; witnesses told Turkish TV they saw two low-flying fighter jets speed by in the direction of Syrian waters, but only one return.
As predictably as England being kicked out of Euro 2012, the usual European warmongering poodles of the William Hague kind have already stepped in, blaming Syria because Turkey violated Syrian airspace. Yet there's no evidence -- so far -- that Ankara warned the Syrian government and military they would be conducting some sort of reconnaissance very close to a by now very explosive border.
Whether the F-4 (or the pair of F-4s) was armed or not is, to quote Davutoglu, "irrelevant"; try telling the Pentagon, for instance, that an unknown, low-flying, fast-moving, unidentified object entering your air space is not a threat. If this was a military reconnaissance mission, as Davutoglu himself argues, the F-4 had to be armed.
And imagine if this was a Syrian jet flying over Turkish or Israeli territory.
Burn, Anatolia, burn
Ankara will certainly ask Damascus for a formal apology and payment of reparations. Tehran -- which until virtually yesterday, that is, before the Syrian uprising, was part of an Ankara-Damascus-Tehran axis -- is calling for cool heads to prevail.
As much as professional warmongers are encouraging a Gulf of Tonkin remix, that remains pure folly. Still, Asia Times Online has learned from a local source about "frantic" movement at NATO's sprawling Incirlik base in Turkey for days.
Everyone knows -- but nobody talks about -- NATO's command and control center in Iskenderun, in Turkey's Hatay province, near the Syrian border, set up months ago to organize, train and weaponize the motley crew known as the Free Syrian Army. Everyone knows Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the CIA are advising and weaponizing these Syrian NATOGCC "rebels" with essential Turkish help in the logistics/safe haven front.
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