I have a feeling that in the case of the Turkish RF-4E downing by Syrian forces on June 22 something went wrong in Turkey’s still controversial decision-making mechanism. This is because the Turkish military has not yet been fully brought under civilian democratic control, raising concerns over whether the military usually makes decisions by itself that normally should be the responsibility of the government.
Though more than one month has passed since the jet-downing incident, circumstances behind how it was shot down by Syrian forces or whether the jet crashed when the pilots overreacted to a possible Syrian attack -- even if it was not hit by a missile or an anti-aircraft gun -- are still unclear. This lack of clarity mainly stems from confusing statements being made by both the military and the government, raising doubts over the Turkish version of the incident.
The government, however, insists that the jet, which was unarmed, was downed without warning by Syrian forces in international airspace 13 miles off the Syrian coast, one mile away from the 12 miles of Syrian airspace set under international law. The military, in the meantime, also is also sticking to its initial thesis that the jet was downed in international airspace. But the military changed its earlier statements when it later said it was neither downed by a missile or by an anti-aircraft-gun. Diplomatic sources, meanwhile, said recently that the jet was downed by a heat-seeking missile.
The latest official information on the jet-downing incident came from Minister of Defense İsmet Yılmaz who responded to questions last Monday by saying that the wing of the jet -- weighing 1,200 kilograms -- had been found and that there were no bullet wounds on the two jet pilots whose bodies were found several weeks ago in deep water in the eastern Mediterranean, 8.5 miles off the Syrian coast. Turkey continues searching for the remaining pieces of the jet, which may or may not finally reveal the exact circumstances of the incident.
The confusion created by the Turkish authorities over the circumstances behind the jet-downing requires the following points to be made and the following questions to be raised:
The first statement made by Turkey soon after the downing was that at the time of the incident the RF-4E was on a routine reconnaissance mission to test the ability of the radar. We have to point out that the jet was on a pretty sensitive mission.
Is it correct that the jet was in fact coming closer to Syrian radar, drawing Syrian hostile action?
If my information is correct, the jet is said to have been slightly inside Syrian airspace during the incident. This runs contrary to the Turkish claim that the jet was downed when it was in international airspace.
Who ordered the jet to conduct a sensitive mission even if it was to test the radar as Turkey declared?
Did the General Staff or the government or regional commanders or all of them order the jet to fly in a dangerous zone, i.e., near Syria, which is engulfed in a civil war?
Who takes responsibility for the jet or the jets’ mission? There are claims that two Turkish RF-4E jets were flying at the time of the incident. A war could have had broken out between Turkey and Syria over the incident. Luckily, Turkey gave a measured response instead of engaging in military conflict with Syria.
The incident prompts us to ask a legitimate question: How are decisions made in Turkey? In democracies people have the right to know and have the right to ask the above-mentioned questions.