NATO commander says no-fly zone with Patriot missiles ‘impossible’

NATO commander says no-fly zone with Patriot missiles ‘impossible’

NATO Allied Land Commander Lt. Gen. Frederick "Ben" Hodges. (AA, Evren Atalay)

November 29, 2012, Thursday/ 12:17:00/ TODAY'S ZAMAN

NATO Allied Land Commander Lt. Gen. Frederick “Ben” hodges has said it is impossible to use Patriot missiles to establish a no-fly zone or to make offensive attacks against threats, remarks made while a team from NATO is surveying sites in Turkey for the deployment of the missiles.

“Patriot missiles are a defensive system. It is impossible to establish a no-fly zone or attack with them,” Hodges said during the presentation of the newly established Allied Land Command headquarters in İzmir.

Meanwhile, Turkish President Abdullah Gül also said on Thursday that the Patriot missiles were for defensive purposes and to minimize risks from the conflict across the border in Syria.

“Patriots missiles serve as defense, not offense. The deployment of the Patriots is a precautionary measure,” said Gül.

Turkey formally asked NATO last Wednesday to deploy missile defense elements on its border with Syria to boost its air defense systems as the conflict in its southern neighbor deepens.

The move highlights Ankara's fears that the situation on its border could deteriorate rapidly and is reminiscent of its calls for military support during the two Gulf Wars, when NATO deployed surface-to-air missiles on Turkish soil in 1991 and 2003.

“Currently, I don't presume an open threat coming from Syria against Turkey. This would be insanity,” said Gül.

Turkey formally made the request after weeks of talks with NATO allies about how to shore up security on its 900-kilometer border. It has repeatedly scrambled fighter jets along the frontier and responded in kind to stray Syrian shells flying into its territory.

Hodges said the North Atlantic Council within NATO has not yet decided on Turkey's request to deploy Patriot missiles and that all 28 members need to vote in favor to give approval. “But, theoretically, I can't see why one NATO member could vote no,” he added.

Asked what NATO would do if Turkey is attacked, Hodges said the North Atlantic Council would convene without delay to make its assessments.

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.

In contradiction with Hodges' comments that a no-fly zone was impossible, US Republican Senator John McCain recently expressed enthusiastic support for the deployment of NATO Patriot missiles on the Turkish-Syrian border, saying the first Syrian warplane to be shot down by the missiles “would be the last one to fly over a no-fly zone.”

A NATO team surveying sites for the possible deployment of Patriot missiles was inspecting military installations the eastern Turkish province of Malatya on Wednesday.

The delegation visited military facilities in Malatya, some 200 kilometers (124 miles) from the Syrian border. After surveying the region, the NATO delegation left Malatya early on Thursday to fly to Diyarbakır.

Ricciardone: "Number of Patriots to be deployed is a matter of need"

The NATO team is assessing how many batteries will be needed and how many foreign military personnel will arrive in Turkey to operate them. Turkish media reports have said Turkey is requesting up to 20 missile batteries, much more than the member states that have them are willing to provide.

Germany, one of the three NATO members that have the Patriots, is privately pressing Turkey to scale back the scope of its request for Patriot missile-defense batteries, according to a Wall Stree Journal report published this week. The report, for its own part, said Turkey's request would require about 15 batteries of Patriot missiles, adding that Germany's expected share of that request would be larger than it could fulfill.

Responding to questions regarding the number of the batteries to be deployed to Turkey, US Ambassador to Turkey Francis J. Ricciardone said on Thursday that the issue was a matter of availability and Turkey's needs. “These are technical questions and it is a matter of availability -- Turkey's desire and what the allies can provide. There will be an agreement based on what the allies can provide and what Turkey wants and needs,” Ricciardone told reporters in Ankara.

Only the United States, the Netherlands and Germany have the appropriate Patriot missile system available. The German reluctance to provide the requested number has led to the question of whether the US would offer to fill the gap between what Germany and the Netherlands can provide and what Turkey says it needs.

When asked whether the US would contribute to the Patriot missiles, Ricciardone said that US was a member of NATO and that the conversation was going on among the NATO members regarding the issue.

“Turkey perceives a need for [Patriots] and as a member of NATO, if Turkey perceives a need, we want to show our support for Turkey. The US will certainly be part of a NATO decision, as you know there are [American] technical experts in Turkey, said Ricciardone.

The issue of financing is also a matter of consideration. NATO Secretary-General Anders-Fogh Rasmussen has said recently that countries providing the missiles will take on the financial burden, although the host country will also contribute to the costs. Turkey will not have to pay for the missiles, but will share the cost arising from deploying the batteries, the Turkish daily Vatan reported on Thursday.

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