Was Syria Justified in Downing Turkey’s Jet?

Article Summary
Mehmet Barlas responds to Turkish press reports that have been critical of the government’s response to the Syrian downing of a Turkish plane over the Mediterranean Sea. The Turkish plane, he writes, was unarmed and followed proper protocol.

It's hard to be impartial in an international crisis if your country is involved. No matter how cool-headed your politicians might be, overwhelming nationalistic sentiments put more pressure on writers than laws that restrict freedoms. I'm trying to point out to those who claim that Turkish media is not independent that there are writers who also say, “Syria has a point.”

In yesterday’s edition of the daily publication AKSAM, under the headline, “The airplane story,” Husnu Mahalli eloquently justified Syria’s reasons for shooting down our plane. Let me cite a few of them:

  • What was that plane doing in the region? It took off from Malatya and went to all the way to Antakya. What was its mission? Why wasn’t the plane that entered the Syrian airspace recalled?
  • Syria can shoot down foreign planes. Syria currently has 70 to 80 countries interfering in its domestic affairs and arming resistance groups; naturally it will take every defensive measure, including shooting down all foreign planes that violate its airspace.
  • For this plane to come from Turkey would make Syria especially nervous, given that Turkey has displayed an inclination to occupy Syria. I am saying “inclination” based on the statements, attitudes, comments and news of the last year — Turkey is far ahead of everyone in terms of playing a lead role in the Syrian affair.
  • Armed groups that infiltrate Syria from Antakya and clash with its army have a significant presence in the region. That is, the area where our plane was shot down is a very hot, tense and sensitive area for the Syrian government.

In response to the reasons Syrian officials gave for the incident, allow me to reiterate the remarks made by Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu yesterday:

Unarmed and on a test mission

“Our plane was over the eastern Mediterranean for testing and a training run. It was definitely unarmed and this was not the first such flight. Its low-altitude flight has to do with testing radar. It was 13 miles from the Syrian boundary — that is, it was in international airspace. It crashed into Syrian territorial waters only after it lost control.

“At times, because of bad weather or technical problems, air space is violated. This is nothing unusual. It was a brief violation because the plane returned to Turkish airspace after being warned by Turkey [that it was entering Syrian airspace]. There was no warning from Syria.”

Keeping cool

“In such situations, it is customary to send up a plane to intercept the violator. If that doesn’t work, you try to force it to land. There was nothing of the kind done and our plane was shot down 15 minutes after it returned to Turkish airspace. It committed no hostile act against Syria and quickly ended its violation. It was never warned.”

As to the cool-headed assessment on the part of the Turkish government, Husnu Mahalli of Aksam has this to say:

“We see that at least 80% of the Turkish public is against intervention in Syria. Perhaps that is why Prime Minister [Recep Tayyip] Erdogan — who is aware of this sentiment, who knows much more about the plane and who has a keen sense of new regional and international [political] balances — is acting so calm and comfortable to the extent of disappointing and demoralizing the warmongers.”

Found in: turkey, syrian military, syrian crisis, syrian, security, recep tayyip erdogan, rf-4e, military, downing of turkish jet, bashar al-assad

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