“Whatever is needed to be done will definitely be done within the framework of international law. We have no intention of going to war with anyone. We have no such intent,” Deputy Prime Minister Bülent Arınç said at a news conference after a seven-hour Cabinet meeting to discuss the incident.
The Turkish government has stated that an unarmed F-4 reconnaissance jet was shot down 1.6 kilometers outside of Syrian airspace, in international airspace, on Friday and that two Turkish pilots are still missing.
However, Arınç underlined that Turkey will protect itself in accordance with international law and that Syria's downing of its jet will not go unpunished. Arınç added that Turkey won't hesitate to take the necessary steps within the boundaries of international law, adding that Syria targeted “our solo-flying, unarmed plane in cold blood. International law stands by Turkey in the face of this hostile action.” The minister further said Syrian “air elements” have violated Turkish airspace five times in the recent past, but that such incidents have been settled peacefully.
He also underlined that seeking a parliamentary motion for cross-border military operation is not currently on the government's agenda and that there is no need for that. “We can appeal to Parliament if needed,” he stressed.
“It should be understood that we will, of course, use all the rights granted to us under international law until the end,” Arınç said. “This also includes self-defense. This also includes manifold retaliation. This includes any sanctions that can be applied to aggressor states under international law. Turkey will explore all options on this issue. The public should be assured,” he added.
Arınç strongly rebuffed Syrian claims that the downed plane had been shot by anti-aircraft fire while flying low inside Syrian airspace. The Syrian government said on Monday that the jet was hit by short-range anti-aircraft gun, proving that the plane had been inside Syrian territory. However, Arınç has said Turkey believes the plane was hit with a laser-guided or heat-guided missile, both of which would have been capable of hitting the plane while it was in international airspace.
The deputy premier admitted that the jet had mistakenly strayed into Syrian airspace when flying at an altitude of 200 feet and at a speed of 300 knots, but said it left Syrian airspace after receiving a warning from Turkish radar operators and that it received no warning from Syrian forces during its five-minute flight inside Syrian territory. “It was hit while flying 13 miles off the Syrian coast at an altitude of 7,400 feet,” Arınç said. “It leaned to the left and fell steeply four miles eastward.”
Arınç said the plane fell into Syrian waters and that the wreckage is believed to be 1,000 meters (3,280 feet) below the surface. He also said Syria has been misleading the world in saying it did not recognize the plane until after it had been downed.
He asserted that the plane's electronic signals, which indicate if an aircraft is friend or foe, were activated throughout the flight and that Turkey had even intercepted radio conversations in which Syrian forces had referred to the plane as Turkish. Arınç did not elaborate, but Turkish media, citing intelligence sources, reported on Monday that Syrian forces referred to the plane using the Turkish word for neighbor, “komşu,” in an intercepted radio communication.
Arınç reiterated Turkey's insistence that the plane was not spying on Syria, but testing Turkey's own radar systems. “There is no doubt that Syrians deliberately targeted our plane in international airspace,” Arınç said. “It was an extremely hostile action.”
Syria's actions an attack on the whole of NATO
Arınç also asserted that Turkey would push NATO to consider Syria's actions an attack on the whole military alliance. The announcement came on the eve of a meeting of NATO's governing body to discuss the incident. Despite deep frustration among many NATO countries over the conflict in Syria, where the opposition says President Bashar al-Assad's crackdown on an increasingly armed popular uprising has killed 14,000 people, it's highly unlikely the military alliance will take armed action.
Turkey will push NATO to consider the attack to fall under Article 5 of the alliance's treaty, Arınç said. Article 5 states that an attack against one NATO member shall be considered an attack against all members.
The North Atlantic Council, which includes ambassadors from 28 NATO countries, works by consensus and all members must approve any action before it can be taken. Tuesday's meeting follows Turkey's decision to invoke Article 4 of the treaty, which allows a NATO ally to request consultation if it feels its territorial integrity or security has been threatened.
Asked if Turkey will insist on carrying out Article 5, Arınç said, “No doubt, Turkey has made the necessary applications regarding Article 4 and Article 5.”Arınç later revised his remarks, saying that Turkey has only invoked Article 4, not Article 5.
The prospect of Western military intervention in Syria remains remote, despite much talk to the contrary. Such action is unlikely to gain the support of either the UN Security Council or the Arab League, and outside intervention without the blessing of both of these bodies is all but unthinkable. And there is little appetite among NATO countries, of which the US is the largest, for another war in the Middle East.
Second plane hit by Syria
Arınç also claimed that Syrian forces had fired at a Turkish military transport plane involved in searching for the downed jet, but that the second aircraft was not brought down. The disclosure of a second incident came on the eve of a NATO crisis meeting that Turkey called to address the shooting down of its F-4 jet.
Arınç said that shortly after the F-4 was shot down, four helicopters and two ships were dispatched on an initial search and rescue operation, followed by a military turboprop transport aircraft. “Our plane, which had gone to rescue [the pilots], was fired upon. This situation was resolved following a warning from our Foreign Ministry. But yes, there was a short period of harassing fire,” said Arınç.
A Foreign Ministry official later stated the plane had returned to Turkish airspace immediately after being fired on and that search and rescue efforts resumed following communications “through military and diplomatic channels.” He added that there were no injuries reported onboard the transport aircraft.