Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s speech yesterday (June 26) clearly stated that Syria, which was considered a “strategic partner” just two years ago, is now a threat to Turkey’s security. Ankara’s new perception of its southern neighbor as a threat is an important development, not only for relations between the two countries but also for regional strategy.
This change was brought about by the Turkish military aircraft that was shot down by Syria last Friday, June 22. Unfortunately this incident has brought Turkish-Syrian relations to the point of irreparable damage, especially if the Assad regime continues to rule Syria. If tensions can be controlled and new frictions can be avoided, that is fine. Otherwise, there is a very high probability of future clashes.
The most crucial part in Erdogan’s speech was his reference to Ankara’s new perception of a threat from Syria. Accordingly, Turkey will target any military element that approaches its border and will not hesitate to use its right to intervene. “When, where and how” it does this will be decided by Turkey itself.
The prime minister did not go into detail about the plan that was drawn up as a response to the downed Turkish plane. He did not elaborate what actions are planned beyond diplomatic means, leaving his options open.
Prime Minister Erdogan reserved the strongest language in his speech for Bashar al-Assad and his father. However, he emphasized Turkey’s determination to support the Syrian people, the opposition and the resistance. When the prime minister was detailing the futility of his efforts to guide Assad onto the right course, one got the feeling that in the background of Ankara’s new attitude to the Damascus regime, he was deeply disappointed and angered over being personally misled.
While the prime minister was making his speech, which was carefully followed by the world, NATO’s permanent representatives were discussing the same issues in Brussels. The meeting, which was held at Turkey’s request, produced the expected result: 27 other NATO members adopted Turkey’s views on the issue, approved its findings and expressed solidarity with the country while denouncing Syria.
The communiqué that NATO issued — as well as NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen’s remarks — were a warning directed at Russia as much as Syria.
The question now is, how much will Assad be affected by Erdogan’s words and NATO’s position?
If we assume that the Turkish plane was shot down intentionally, we can also assume that the tyrant of Damascus must have calculated the possible consequences of such an action. It is distinctly possible that Assad might have wanted to warn Turkey, which has been actively opposing him while cooperating with the Syrian opposition. Because of his confidence in Russia, he might have thought that no one — neither NATO nor the UN — would dare to take any action against him.
From that perspective, NATO statements or denunciations by world leaders might not have disturbed him all that much. However, don’t forget that the pressure on Assad is increasing, both inside and outside Syria. He must certainly be worried about the growing number of defections from his army and the escalating scale of the resistance.
Assad also faces Turkey, which now perceives his regime as a threat. Although international organizations might not go beyond denunciations and warnings at this point and Assad might not take them seriously, Turkey is ready to activate its plan of action. Will Assad take the prime minister’s warnings to heart?