A lot has been said and written about Syria’s shooting down of a Turkish fighter jet. However, there are many questions that still need answers.
The technical facets of the incident are complex, and the debate over how the plane was downed will continue for a while. But now, we must move beyond why and how it happened and start to explore what implications this will have for our bilateral and international relations.
According to all official statements, it does not seem as if Turkey will act impulsively. The Turkish authorities will respond appropriately, in a way that balances national interest with national dignity.
Let us explore the relevant questions:
1. What are Turkey’s options?
Theoretically, there is large range of options. A limited or even a wider military operation is one of them. But Ankara, assessing the situation rationally and with a cool head, is not considering the unilateral military option, at least at this stage. The government has given priority to diplomatic initiatives and taken the issue to international platforms. Turkish diplomacy thus wants to have its case recognized while it prepares legitimate grounds for other measures it could take to impose heavier pressure on the regime of Bashar al-Assad.
While Turkey aims to work with the international community, it is also planning some unilateral political, military and economic measures. Prime Minister Erdogan will reveal to us how and when these will be put into place.
2. What is expected from the UN and NATO?
Turkey has already taken its grievances against Syria to all major world organizations, including the UN Security Council. Ankara wishes for the Council to come out with a decision, perhaps a presidential statement, that fits in with Turkey’s views. The US and the UK are expected to be the initiators of any action in this direction.
Of course, the Security Council’s support for Turkey will be but a symbolic affair, but it is diplomatically relevant. We are expecting NATO to make a decision or issue a communiqué expressing strong support [which it did shortly after this article was published, by calling Syria's downing of the jet plane "unacceptable." For Turkey to get NATO involved on the grounds of Article 4 is itself an important development. The Syrian issue is now for the first time on NATO’s agenda. Nobody expects NATO to take military action, at least at this point. But because of Turkey’s initiative NATO is at last debating what it should be doing in the Syrian affair. That is something Ankara has sought from the beginning.
3. What is expected from Syria?
An apology and compensation are the first things that come to mind. For Syria to do so would be tantamount to a partial acknowledgement of its responsibility. But if that happens, will Turkey consider the matter closed? As far as we can see, Ankara does not want it to end it there. Ankara doesn’t trust Assad; as one official said, “Let the Assad regime worry about what it should be doing to comply with Turkey’s expectations.”
4. What will Russia do?
It is Russia that has been giving Assad the strongest and most effective support from the beginning, and it is not expected that it will now adopt a clear position to the contrary. But we have been told that in recent diplomatic contacts that the Russians have become more understanding and wary of escalating the issue. This incident put Moscow in a tough spot, which is why it is refraining from taking center stage and is instead trying to cool the situation down.
Syria’s shooting down of the Turkish warplane has added a new dimension to the Syrian crisis. There is now a serious dispute between Turkey and Syria. The international community, including the UN and NATO, is now actively pressuring the Assad regime even further. How will this new development affect the internal and external dynamics of the Syrian crisis? Will it distress the Assad regime even more?
This is a tough question to answer.