Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu has claimed that the Syrian regime has some 700 missiles and that Ankara knows exactly where they are, how they are stored and who controls them.
Speaking to Turkey's Sabah daily, Davutoğlu said the issue of what he called the “psychological edge” in Syria has been tackled, and instead of worrying about how the Syrian regime would take revenge if it were to be victorious, “we are now considering what we will do once the regime's gone.”
Turkey wants to reinforce its air defenses to deal with the threat of ballistic missiles from Syria, particularly a potential chemical weapons threat.
He said the reason why Ankara requested the deployment of Patriot missiles was to be cautious against actions of “uncontrolled groups,” without elaborating on whether he was referring to groups linked to the Syrian regime or other militant groups.
NATO agreed on Tuesday to send Patriot missiles to Turkey to defend against a possible Syrian missile attack. NATO says the measure is purely defensive, but Russia, Syria and Iran have criticized the decision, saying it increases regional instability.
NATO-member Turkey repeatedly has scrambled jets along the countries' joint frontier and responded in kind when shells from the Syrian conflict came down inside its borders, fuelling fears that the civil war could spread to destabilize the region.
Davutoğlu added that many things have been done to push Turkey to a point where Ankara would consider intervention in Syria. “We have always acted in restraint,” he said, noting that Turkey knows the precise location of the nearly 700 missiles, how they are stored and who controls them. He claimed that some of the missiles the Syrian regime owns are long-range.
Davutoğlu dismissed claims that there is contention between Turkey and NATO over the number of Patriot missile batteries and said the complete air defense system is made up of three stages, with the Patriot missile system providing defense for only short-range threats. He said a Terminal High Altitude Air Defense (THAAD) system will shield against middle-range threats and that rockets that could go out of atmosphere (referring to the troposphere) will be intercepted by AEGIS-equipped ships in the Mediterranean.
Germany, the Netherlands and the United States plan to provide Patriot missile batteries, but there has been no mention of details on the numbers. Deployment is expected to take several weeks, given the need for approval by national governments and the logistics of delivering the missiles.
The Turkish foreign minister said Turkey has very high national defensive power against conventional threats but also complained about shortcomings in its defense against rocket attacks. He added that the nature of threats is changing, and that a threat may come not only from one country but also from independent groups.
“It is imperative for Turkey to renew its anti-missile defense system using its national capacity and also through NATO,” Davutoğlu stressed.
Speaking about the political solution in Syria, Davutoğlu said a change in Syria means a transitional period without President Assad playing a role. He said Ankara wants Assad to quit to pave the way for a transitional government. Russia suggests, he said, Assad should leave under a normal process for establishing a transitional government. “We are on the same page with Russia regarding the goal. But we need to talk about methods,” Davutoğlu said.
Davutoğlu said that Ankara offered a formula for transition to the Assad regime through Iran seven months ago but the Assad regime rejected it. He said the Syrian regime says they are now ready to consider that formula, which says the transitional government should have full authority and that the process could move forward with the current government. Davutoğlu noted that the Syrian opposition, as it gains ground, says it does not support interim formulas after violence in this proportion.
Russia, which has a fractious relationship with the military alliance, has been at odds with NATO over how to end the war and has vetoed UN resolutions aimed at pressuring Assad to step down.