Defense Update: Tensions over Syrian Downing of Turkish Fighter Jet (UPDATED)
The Washington Post:
NATO on Tuesday condemned the downing of a Turkish jet by Syria as “completely unacceptable,” and Turkey put Syria on notice that it would retaliate for any future violations along its border.
The act was “another example of the Syrian government’s disregard for international norms of peace, security and human life,” NATO said in Brussels after Turkey briefed NATO ambassadors on the circumstances surrounding the shooting of the jet.
NATO did not propose any measures against Syria, but Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen said the alliance would be closely monitoring events along its southeastern border and would gather to “discuss what else will be done” should another such incident occur.
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Last Friday, Syria announced that its military had downed a Turkish F-4 Phantom jet — an unarmed surveillance aircraft, according to Turkish officials — that had briefly violated its airspace off the Syrian coast.
Turkey claims that it was possible that the military jet flying at such high speeds might have briefly crossed into Syria’s airspace but that its brief presence in Syrian airspace was not a hostile act and that the aircraft was shot down in international airspace.
The plane went down over the Mediterranean off the Syrian coast and, on Saturday, Turkish officials confirmed that parts of the jet, including its ejection seats had been recovered in 3,200 feet to 9,800 feet of water. The search for the crewmembers continues but hopes of finding them alive are fading.
Turkey, a staunch NATO partner, has been one of the strongest critics of Syria’s military actions against dissident groups and anti-Assad militias and has allowed thousands of refugees to seek shelter inside Turkey.
Since the incident, Turkey, NATO and the United States have been carefully considering what the response should be.
On Sunday Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu said that Turkey would hold emergency talks with NATO in the next few days over the downing of its jet fighter by Syria and that “Turkey, a NATO member, would invoke Article 4 of the NATO treaty, which provides for consultations by the allies when one of them is attacked or threatened.” He did not cite the much stronger Article 5, in which an attack on one member is considered an attack on all NATO countries and obliges a concerted response, according to the New York Times.
Mr. Davutoglu further stated that the Turkish authorities’ analysis of radar, visual and communications data had confirmed that their aircraft was struck by Syrian antiaircraft weapons outside of Syrian airspace. “Our plane was hit in international airspace, 13 nautical miles out of Syria, when Syrian territorial space is 12 miles,” he said, according to the Times.
More from the Times:
The NATO spokeswoman, Oanu Lungescu, told Turkey’s Anatolia News Agency that the allies would meet Tuesday.
Mr. Davutoglu said the Turkish jet was on a training exercise. He said the aircraft was flying alone, without weapons, and that the Syrian authorities had made no attempt to contact it. When the Turkish authorities realized it had strayed into Syrian airspace, the pilots were warned to leave and did so immediately, Mr. Davutoglu said. Minutes later, the Syrians fired on the plane.
Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey met with his military chiefs on Saturday, his third crisis meeting since the downing of the jet on Friday, and he convened a discussion with leaders of the Turkish opposition parties on Sunday. Mr. Erdogan has so far been circumspect in his response to the episode.
On Sunday, however, Mr. Davutoglu’s Twitter feed suggested a hardening of Turkey’s stance toward Syria.
“No one should try to test the capacity of Turkey,” he wrote. “Turkey has never acted alone concerning Syria. Has always been part of regional and international initiatives.” He added that Turkey had discussed the matter with Russian and Chinese officials, who praised its “calm approach.” Moscow and Beijing have blocked efforts by Western powers to condemn or call for the removal of Mr. Assad.
A few hours ago, the BBC reported that Turkey is claiming that Syria has fired on one of its planes that was taking part in a rescue operation for a warplane shot down by Syrian forces last Friday.
Turkey’s deputy PM said the CASA search and rescue plane, looking for the F-4 Phantom jet, was not brought down.
He vowed Syria would “not go unpunished” but that Turkey had “no intention” of going to war.
Nato will discuss the downing of the jet on Tuesday at a meeting called by Turkey, a member state.
Speaking at a televised news conference, Turkish Deputy Prime Minister Bulent Arinc did not specify when the second incident took place and did not say whether the search and rescue plane was hit.
He said the Syrians had stopped firing following a warning from the Turkish side.
Mr. Arinc said Turkey would protect itself within the framework of international law, but had “no intention of going to war with anyone”.
The following is a press release by the Department of Defense on the incident:
Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta shares the State Department’s deep concern over the June 22 shootdown by Syrian forces of a Turkish F-4 fighter and two Turkish pilots, Pentagon Press Secretary George Little said today.
After speaking with Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu on June 24, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton condemned what she called a “brazen and unacceptable act.”
“It is yet another reflection of the Syrian authorities’ callous disregard for international norms, human life, and peace and security,” Clinton said.
“The [Syrian] action speaks for itself,” Little told reporters, “and we believe that it was, to use Secretary Clinton’s words, a ‘brazen act’ … and the Syrian regime needs to answer for it.”
Pentagon spokesman Navy Capt. John Kirby said the Defense Department has seen nothing to indicate the shootdown wasn’t deliberate.
After the shootdown, Little said, Army Gen. Martin E. Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, spoke by phone with his Turkish counterpart, Chief of General Staff Gen. Necdet Ozelto, to express concern over the loss of the Turkish pilots.
Navy Adm. Jonathan Greenert, chief of naval operations, also spoke with one of his Turkish counterparts, Little said, adding that Greenert traveled to Turkey June 19-22 to foster the relationship between U.S. and Turkish naval forces.
Turkey has called for a consultation of the North Atlantic Council under Article 4 of the NATO treaty. The meeting will take place tomorrow in Brussels. Under Article 4, any ally can request consultations whenever they believe their territorial integrity, political independence or security is threatened.
The council includes ambassadors of all 28 NATO allies, and Little said the discussion will be led by the State Department, represented by Ambassador Ivo Daalder.
“We will be present at the discussions in Brussels with our NATO allies,” the press secretary added, “and beyond that, it’s really for our counterparts to discuss what may or may not happen.”
The Defense Department maintains a very strong military relationship with its Turkish allies, Little said, and department officials will “continue to have discussions with them about the equipment they need to defend themselves.”
The press secretary said Defense Department officials stand ready to assist the Turkish government in the rescue and recovery effort for the missing pilots “if they request such help.”
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