When we put the information provided by the Syrian and Turkish authorities side by side, the following is the picture that we come up with: The RF-4E Phantom reconnaissance jet that took off with two pilots on board from Malatya’s Erhaç air base, unarmed and without the accompaniment of other fighters, was planning to test Turkey’s radar system, but it violated Syrian airspace as it was performing its duties in the Eastern Mediterranean. After it left Syrian airspace, upon Turkey’s warning, the Turkish jet was hit by missiles sent by forces belonging to Syria’s air defense system. The jet was flying in the international airspace around 13 miles off the Syrian coast when it was hit, but its remains fell in Syrian territorial waters, probably due to a last maneuver it made in the moments before it was hit, or because the missiles hit it on the tail.
Just as it was earlier proved that Syria’s Baath regime had been lying to not only Turkey but the entire world, in the downed jet incident it is a slim possibility that the information from Damascus is true. As a matter of fact, it has been documented that the first day’s data released by the Syrian regime mostly aimed at misinformation. The remarks that the Turkish jet was shot down by accident were seen to be lies, with records of conversation between Syrian officials. The claim that the jet was hit over Syrian waters collapsed with radar images from Turkey as well as England and NATO.
Among all the data the only verified allegation made by Syria is that our jet was in Syrian airspace for a short while, even though it was clear enough that it did not have hostile intentions (it was without weapons, it was not protected by predator jets, etc.) No doubt this situation does not justify Syria’s action at all. But it is not all about downing a jet which did not violate any rules. It is true that the incident took place at a time when Turkish-Syrian relations have been unfriendly. However, if Turkey hit all foreign jets and planes that entered its airspace then they would have downed 114 aircraft this year. The normal procedure in such cases is to warn the aircraft that is violating the airspace. If the vehicle persistently ignores the warnings then other measures can be employed. It is understood that the Baath regime preferred to down our jet, which it caught making a mistake, instead of warning it with the intention of scaring it away, delivering a message to the region of resistance to opposition to the regime and a lesson to Turkey and its allies on the issue of Syria. Under these circumstances Turkey should have been more careful in sending its jet to the region and should have been prepared against a potential attack.
It would be wrong for Turkey to choose a path that will result in huge damage to itself by responding to the provocations of the Baath regime, which is in a tough position at home and has little to lose compared with us. Syria’s hostile attitude should be objectively communicated to the Turkish public, as well as the rest of the world, so that organizations such as the UN, NATO, the EU and the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) will be persuaded to condemn Syria for its unlawful attack. However, while adopting an even-tempered stance, resolute steps should be taken to strengthen Turkey’s deterrent power. If Turkey does not want to become a country that any other nation can damage without accounting for its behavior, it should respond to Syria’s hostile attitude by using its time and influence carefully.
As Turkey is following a non-impartial policy in response to the regime crisis in Syria, it should be prepared against terror attacks perpetrated by the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) and similar hostile attitudes. Since Turkey tends to follow a proactive policy in the hottest region of the world, it should nourish its hard power as much as its soft power. In this regard, we should review where the Turkish Armed Forces (TSK) is in its modernization process and think about this question: When we learned that our jet was downed out of hostility, if necessary, would Turkey have been able to respond with its current military capacity, taking Syria’s aerial defense system into consideration?
It is very obvious that the Syrian crisis is not only our problem but that of the entire world. It is also evident that as long as the current situation continues in Syria, Turkey will be the principal country affected by it. So Turkey, along with the international community, should question its Syria policy and play a more active role in finding a solution to the crisis in the country.