musings on travel, international living, development aid, politics, turkey (the country more than the meat) and anything else that comes to mind...

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Syria/Turkey Fighter Jet Fiasco: Conspiracy, Strategic Blunder or Both?

Something smelled a little funny when I first saw it on the news... 'Syria downs Turkish fighter jet' ominously stated BBC's ticker. What? Are you serious? Al Assad can't be thaaat stupid, can he?!Unless you've been under a rock (or unless Kim Kardashian passed gas in public and is thus consuming all domestic news in the US), you probably know at least some of the story that's being passed around media circles.

Turkish unarmed F4 strays into Syrian airspace. Syria anti-aircraft guns shoot it down. Plane crashes over the sea. Wreckage (allegedly) found but pilots still unaccounted for. Increasingly hostile rhetoric from Turkey.

I'm not usually a conspiracy theorist, but there are several things I find difficult to believe about the situation as presented to us through official Syrian and Turkish government channels. Having a blog also gives me the opportunity (dare I say the right?) to voice ideas based purely on conjecture (traveling in Australia and SE Asia means I'm more than a little removed from my normal circles and connectivity); please read on with this in mind.

Firstly, the Turkish military is one of the most advanced in the world. Especially the Air Force. Behind the US and Israel, it's probably one of the most potent aerial powers in the world and has been for some time. Well-trained pilots (who, in unrelated news, often-times make the literally 'bumpy' transition to commercial piloting on THY) command state of the art planes and equipment. They're well-financed and good. Really. Really. Good.

Secondly, Syria claims that it shot the F4 down with anti-aircraft machine guns. I'm no military expert, but presumably this would mean that the plane was flying pretty low, much lower than would be needed for reconnaissance. Turkey must've known there was anti-aircraft batteries in the vicinity too, so coupled with advanced on board mapping systems that tell you when, oh say, you've crossed into Syrian territory... you get my drift.

Thirdly (I could go on and on but I won't after this), Turkish authorities are claiming it was a training mission of some sorts. Why would you do a training mission so close to the border with an increasingly hostile neighbor?

Basically, what I'm getting at here is that we probably don't have the full story, especially from Turkey. Syria is claiming that it bears 'no hostility' towards Turkey, something that I actually do believe. Once one of his better allies, Turkey has all but disowned al Assad recently. But al Assad, who I think is a murderous crazy person but not a strategic idiot per se, has to know that further ostracizing Turkey, of all countries, is not in his best interest.

Thus, the conspiracy theorist in me thinks this fiasco was orchestrated by Turkey.

For whatever reason, Erdogan went from BFFs with al Assad to mortal enemies almost overnight last year. After not really getting involved at the start of the carnage, something happened that caused a shift in strategy. Perhaps it was a 'your mama' joke gone horribly wrong or a drastic humanitarian change of heart by our dearly beloved leader in Ankara. Whatever it was (if you have more info on this please comment), now that Turkey hates Syria (something I fully support given the brutality of the last year+) this could be part of a broader strategy.

Let me explain. After Iraq and (more recently) Libya the appetite for western military intervention in Syria is almost non-existent. I'm sure our leaders in Ankara (and more than a few people in the west) would love to dive bomb al Assad and call it a day. Unfortunately, with Russia and China dodging their responsibilities as super powers (as usual), that's probably not going to happen.

Unless, perhaps, Syria starts it first. I'm thinking of a move not unlike those 'but he started it!' moments from the playground. Is it so hard to believe that Turkey, with one of the most advanced militaries in the world, deliberately sent an unarmed 'training' plane (that looks suspiciously like a deadly fighter jet) into Syrian territory and deliberately got shot down so that it could invoke NATO Article 4 ('but he started it!') and have more support for active intervention? Is that so far fetched?

Regardless and thankfully (I'm generally not a huge fan of armed intervention), even if that was the goal it's probably not going to work. EU leaders have urged restraint, even as Turkey heats up the rhetoric. This may lead to more travel bans and economic sanctions, but multi-lateral military intervention is probably still off the table and I'd like to believe that Turkey is smarter than to engage unilaterally.

So what's the end game? Well, even though Turkey may not have gotten the exact response from NATO/EU that it was looking for (if indeed I'm right and that was the plan all along), Syrian military officials are defecting in higher and higher numbers each day. Despite the propaganda spewing from the al Assad regime, these defections could be a signal that something much more significant (and more organically Syrian) is afoot.

The tide may be finally and mercifully turning against al Assad from within. We (Turkey and the international community) should do everything short of all out assault on Damascus to support change in Syria on terms defined by the Syrian people who are fighting and dying for their freedom from tyranny.

It's the least we can do.