Does Intercepted Jet Complete Syria Puzzle for NATO?

Turkey’s interception of a Syrian commercial flight from Moscow to Damascus was based on intelligence that the aircraft carried military equipment, Emre Uslu reports, suggesting the radar system parts confiscated by Turkish authorities might ultimately lead to NATO intervention in Syria.

al-monitor A Syrian passenger plane which was forced to land sits at Esenboga airport in Ankara, Oct. 10, 2012. Turkey scrambled fighter planes to force a Syrian passenger plane en route from Moscow to land in Ankara on Wednesday and banned Turkish civilian aircraft from flying in Syrian airspace, state-run TRT television said. Photo by REUTERS/Cem Oksuz/Anadolu Agency.

Topics covered

turkey, syria, russian, russia-turkey relations

Oct 15, 2012

Ankara intercepted a plane [allegedly] carrying military gear from Russia to Syria. I researched the background of this controversial move from different quarters in Ankara.

1)   The interception [on Oct. 10] had nothing to do with postponement of Russian President Vladimir Putin’s Ankara visit. It was not a political move.

2)   The plane wasn’t intercepted because it was carrying missiles or weapons. [The interception] was a finely adjusted move that would not contravene international law. It is probably the first fully thought-through, correct move by Turkey since the beginning of the Syrian crisis.

3)   Turkey knew in advance what was on the plane.  Turkish news media is reporting the intelligence received suggested [that the plane was carrying] purely military gear. [In fact] the intelligence was very detailed, giving a full listing of what was in the boxes.

Turkey followed a very clever step-by-step strategy and scored a major gain against Russia. It also acquired extraordinary military intelligence that could [potentially] be used in an international operation against Syria.

4)   I understand that when the plane neared Turkish air space, the Syrian pilot was told that if he entered that air space his plane would be required to land for a search. Simultaneously, F-16s were sent up to monitor the plane.

The timing of the warning issued to the pilot and the location of the plane was decided in such a way that the pilot couldn’t change his course. He was just about to enter Turkish air space. This is how Turkey managed to avoid legal liability. That is, if there was no military gear on the plane, Turkey’s argument was ready: “We warned the pilot before he entered Turkish air space. Nevertheless, he did not change his course. Therefore the landing of the plane was not enacted by military force but by voluntary decision.”

Our Foreign Ministry officials were also emphasizing that Turkey had not forced the plane down.

“If the pilot had not accepted our warning, he could have changed his course before entering our air space,” our diplomats say.

When asked why we sent up F-16s, the answer was: “That was a precaution. Because the pilot could have changed course and headed in another direction any time he wanted.”

The situation is like this: The Foreign Ministry thought of all scenarios that would be legally justified and in a brilliant move had the plane land in Turkey. At this juncture, Foreign Ministry bureaucracy and intelligence outfits have to be congratulated for their excellent management of the plane crisis. They did the right move at the right time to get the right result.

So what does all of this mean?

You have to pay attention to a piece of information from Russia. Cihan News Agency quoted Russian sources saying: “The plane was carrying 12 boxes packed with technical gear. This gear was for anti-aircraft radar bases belonging to the Syrian army.”

This is the most critical piece of information to enlighten the plane affair, and was also confirmed by our foreign ministry sources. It explains why no photographs of the gear were shared with the media and why the plane was intercepted.

It goes like this: Syria has Russian-made air defense systems. Western institutions don’t know the details of these systems. We are even told that this is the system that helped to down our F-4 plane last June. More critically, since the details of the Syrian air defense systems were not known, NATO could not calculate its losses in a potential operation against Syria. This is why NATO action against Syria has been deferred while NATO tried to learn the details of Syria’s systems.

Those not in the know could not understand why NATO was not intervening until now. They didn’t know that NATO’s biggest anxiety was not knowing the details of the Russian air defense systems.

The Syrian plane was intercepted so that NATO and Turkey could acquire critical parts that would provide the details of the electronic system — that is, the brain — of Syrian air defense.

Also judging from media reports, the source of the detailed intelligence about the plane was NATO itself. It allowed enough time for Turkey to draw up a finely adjusted plan to intercept the plane. NATO now has extremely sensitive information that will be needed in an operation and which has naturally provided Turkey with a significant edge over Syria.

The information obtained is not important only for possible action against Syria. It has also provided very valuable information to the Western alliance for any possible operation against Iran in the future. Iranian air defense systems are also based on Russian systems.

In short, from the Syrian plane we got the most vital secrets of Iran and Syria and the brain of their air defense and communication systems. Certainly it might expedite military intervention in Syria.

If I were in the place of Bashar al-Assad and his supporters, I wouldn’t resist after this point. Their last bastion fell with the data obtained from the plane.

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