June 26, 2012
Turkey’s Prime Minister, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, has threatened to attack Syria if it approaches the border between the two countries.
“The rules of engagement of the Turkish Armed Forces have changed,” he said on Tuesday. “Any military element that approaches the Turkish border from Syria by posing a security risk and danger will be regarded as a threat and treated as a military target.”
Erdogan’s threat means Syria will risk war between the two countries if it responds to attacks launched from the Turkish side of the border.
Erdogan issued the threat after Syria shot down a Turkish plane that had crossed over into its airspace on Friday. “Even if the plane was in their airspace for a few seconds, that is no excuse to attack,” he said.
Syria’s Foreign Minister, Jihad Makdissi, insisted the Turkish plane was shot down over Syrian territory. Turkey claims the fighter jet was over international waters and briefly strayed into Syria.
Turkey ratcheted up tensions between the two countries on Monday when it said Syria had fired on a search and rescue mission dispatched to find two airmen lost after the plane was shot down. The search and rescue plane had also entered Syrian airspace.
NATO joined the fray on Tuesday. Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen condemned the downing of the Phantom F-4 “in the strongest terms” following a meeting at Turkey’s request. NATO held the consultation under Article 4 of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization’s founding charter. Article 4 allows members to engage in consultations “whenever, in the opinion of any of them, their territorial integrity, political independence or security is threatened.”
The Free Syrian Army is headquartered in Turkey and the Turkish government has established “safe havens” for defecting Syrian soldiers who have joined the FSA and other opposition groups.
According to The Guardian, Turkey has allowed the establishment of a command center in Istanbul co-coordinating the supply of weapons to rebel fighters in Syria, staffed by more than 20 primarily Syrian nationals. In Early June reporters from The Guardian said they witnessed weapons being transferred across border from Turkey into Syria.
On June 21, the New York Times confirmed that the CIA is operating inside Turkey and ferreting automatic rifles, rocket-propelled grenades, ammunition and antitank weapons across the border to the FSA and other groups. The arms transfers are conducted by the British intelligence asset the Muslim Brotherhood and paid for by Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Qatar.
“Imagine a similar scenario happening, say, at a Mexican-US border in Arizona or Texas,” Asian Times journalist Pepe Escobar said in April.