You know how it all began: Turkey wanted NATO to deploy Patriot missiles along its border with Syria and Russia reacted strongly. At first glance, it sounded strange. Patriots are ground-to-air missiles against aircraft and missiles.
That is to say, a Patriot missile shield is a defensive, not an offensive, weapon. So why is Russia so upset?
From the outset, I have been following well-known international political writers of leading newspapers. I haven’t yet found one who had a good explanation for Russia’s attitude. It all became a bit clearer when I consulted other sources.
Turkey wants a no-fly zone along its border with Syria, but its allies have not responded positively to this request. Syria is totally opposed to it because the air force is the only superiority Bashar al-Assad has against the Free Syrian Army. He uses his planes and helicopters to suppress them.
If there were to be a no-fly zone, then the Syrian opposition would possess a “liberated zone” it could use as a launching pad for attacks. So for Russia, Turkey’s Patriot request was an indication of efforts to create that zone.
Then, a news report appeared: Russia’s opposition to the Patriot system was linked to its own desire to sell an anti-missile system to Turkey [Yeni Safak, Nov. 26]. Russia, including President Vladimir Putin, was lobbying intensively in Ankara to sell a system made by the Almaz-Antey company.
But still there was something strange.
Russian armament firms have been lobbying for years in Ankara, just like American, German, British and French companies have. What has that got to do with the tension over Patriots? If we tell Russia, “We are buying your system to deploy at the Syrian border,” would Russia respond, “Sure, as you wish”?
If Russia accepts a process that is likely to end up creating a no-fly zone, wouldn’t it be sacrificing a very important customer, like Syria, for a couple billion dollars? Would a giant like Russia give up selling $4 billion worth of weapons to its Syrian ally and abandon monitoring the eastern Mediterranean, Israel and Turkey through its Tartus military base just to sell an anti-missile system to Turkey?
For a moment, let’s assume that Russia’s real intention is not to protect Syria, but to sell weapons. In this case, what is with Iran? Why are they so against the Patriots? To help a Russian company make money by selling its systems to Turkey?
Of course not.
The Iranian reasoning is obvious: Iran thinks that after its ally Syria crumbles, it will be its turn, hence its fervent support of Syria.
Concerning the Patriots, our military command said, “This is a defensive measure. They are not going to be used to enforce a no-fly zone.”
We certainly hope so.
What if a Syrian plane mistakenly bombs Turkey — world history is full of such mistakes — and Turkey declares, “From now on, we will fire Patriots at any Syrian plane that comes within 100km of our border”?
Then you have your no-fly zone.