As Turkish and NATO officials begin a joint survey of possible sites for the deployment of NATO's Patriot missiles near the Syrian border, two border provinces -- Gaziantep and Şanlıurfa -- have emerged as the likely sites, according to information obtained by Today's Zaman.
The Turkey-NATO survey team must take into consideration several factors while deciding on the site of deployment. These factors include proximity to the origin of the threat, given that Patriots are designed to intercept missiles within a 50-80 kilometer range; convenient topography, as mountainous terrain will hinder the functioning of the radar system; and sufficient distance from power lines and facilities that create electromagnetic fields, which can disrupt transmissions between the missile batteries and the command center.
Three provinces, Şanlıurfa, Hatay and Gaziantep, appear to meet these technical criteria. But non-technical factors are also expected to shape the final decision on the deployment sites, expected within the next few days. Turkish and NATO officials are also expected to take into consideration potential provocations from the Bashar al-Assad regime in response to the deployment of the defense system and the Kurdish factor in Turkey's southern provinces while surveying possible sites for the deployment of the missiles.
These considerations in play, the missile system will unlikely be installed in Hatay, half of whose population is of the same sect as Syria's Assad. Diyarbakır, where a majority of residents are Kurds, is also off the list.
Security sources say that if the Patriot missiles were constructed in these provinces, it is highly likely that spies of the Syrian regime would agitate locals in the provinces against Turkey and the presence of NATO in the region. Thus, among the possible sites for the Patriot missiles, Gaziantep and Şanlıurfa appear ideal for the deployment of the surface-to-air missiles, the same sources stated.
In another development, NATO's Airborne Warning and Control Systems (AWACS) aircraft, which detect ballistic missiles and aircraft movement, may also be required in Turkey for the proper functioning of the Patriot missile system. NATO's decision whether to deliver AWACS aircraft to Turkey hinges on the findings of the delegation sent to inspect sites along the border. A Western military official, however, has told Today's Zaman that Turkey already has very capable radar systems.
Rasmussen says Patriot missiles in Turkey will be under NATO command
The delivery of the Patriot missiles to Turkey is expected in mid to late December. Speaking in an interview on Tuesday, NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen said the NATO decision endorsing the deployment of missiles will be made in the coming days. Approval by the parliaments of member countries are required for the organization to send the missiles. The missile system's transport, expected to be by sea, will also take time.
Rasmussen also announced that the missiles will remain under NATO control. The missiles will be installed by NATO allies and will be under the command of the alliance, said Rasmussen.
Turkish Defense Minister İsmet Yılmaz had earlier said that NATO's Air Command Control System (ACCS) will head the command center for the missile system, adding that Turkish officials are included in the ACCS's ranks. Hüseyin Çelik, deputy chairman of the ruling Justice and Development Party (AK Party), said in a recent press briefing that “Turkey will be holding the trigger.”
Rasmussen added that the alliance will not hesitate to take “further steps” to ensure Turkey's security and that the group will make their formal decision on Turkey's request for Patriot missiles “within days.”
Commenting on Russia's concern over the deployment of the Patriot missiles, Rasmussen said Moscow's anxiety is not based on legitimate concerns.
Russia said openly last Thursday that it opposes the deployment of NATO Patriot missiles on Turkey's border with Syria, a sign of deepening tensions across the region over the Syrian crisis.
Asked about the financing of the missiles, Rasmussen said countries providing the missiles will take on the financial burden, although the host country will also contribute to the costs. Germany, the Netherlands and the United States are the only three NATO allies with appropriate Patriot surface-to-air missile systems available.
The Patriot missiles deployed to Turkey during the Gulf Wars were provided by the Netherlands.
Ankara twice this year has invoked Article 4 of the NATO charter, which provides for consultations when a member state feels that its territorial integrity, political independence or security is under threat.
But some experts noted that deploying Patriots to Turkey is partly symbolic, aimed at showing that NATO is behind Turkey.
Manufacturer Raytheon says Patriot missiles provide "a reliable and lethal capability to defeat advanced threats, including aircraft, tactical ballistic missiles, cruise missiles and UAVs [drones].”