Turkey denies claims warplane hit in Syrian airspace
Turkish F-4 Phantom fighter jet. (Photo: EPA)
Turkey has dismissed reports from US intelligence showing that the Turkish jet shot down by Syrian forces on June 22 was downed in the Syrian airspace and not in international airspace as the Turkish government maintains.
Speaking at his Justice and Development Party's (AK Party) Kayseri provincial congress on Sunday, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan denied The Wall Street Journal's (WSJ) claim that the Turkish jet was downed in Syrian airspace, calling them “false.” Citing a WSJ report published in May which also contradicted Turkey's stance, Erdoğan said it was published to influence the upcoming US presidential elections.
The Turkish military has also denied that the Turkish warplane was hit by anti-aircraft guns in Syria's airspace, dismissing arguments that Syria was unable to identify the jet and that it was accompanied by another plane.
The Turkish Armed Forces (TSK) released a statement on their website on Sunday, denying a report by WSJ that quoted US intelligence officials as alleging that the Turkish warplane was most likely shot down by Syria's shore-based anti-aircraft guns while it was within Syrian airspace.
Turkey has received declarations of support from its NATO allies and has responded to the incident by stationing air defense weapons close to the Syrian border.
The TSK said in the statement that the Turkish warplane was hit when its identification system was set to make it possible to identify the jet. It added that it was also flying alone, dismissing claims that there was an accompanying plane alongside the jet.
The TSK reiterated earlier official statements that the jet was flying unarmed over the eastern Mediterranean to test the performance of Turkey's radar system.
Turkey maintains the warplane was hit in international airspace by Syria without warning in a “hostile act.” Moreover, 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. However, Syria says Syrian air defense had to react immediately to a Turkish jet flying low at 100 meters (330 feet) of altitude inside Syrian airspace in what was "a clear breach of Syrian sovereignty." Syria also says the plane was downed by anti-aircraft fire, rather than by a radar-guided missile.
The TSK said its investigation concluded that the military lost communication with its warplane when it was in international airspace.
“According to the available radar images and the managerial investigation results, our warplane was shot down 13 miles outside Syria's territorial waters. As to the fate of our missing pilots, we do not have any information yet. The EV Nautilus, a research vessel, is to search for the two missing pilots of a Turkish military jet that was downed by Syria on June 22,” the TSK said in a statement released on Sunday.
The TSK claimed that after the jet was hit, it rapidly descended and crashed eight-and-a-half miles off the Syrian coast, in Syria's territorial waters. The TSK further maintains the jet violated Syria's airspace for only five minutes and that Syria did not intercept the flight during this time.
The report by the WSJ is not the first time the paper has cast doubts on an official Turkish account. Two months ago the paper ran a report on the Uludere case, saying the intelligence that led to the killing of 34 civilians in Uludere last year was in fact provided by US officials to the Turkish side, an idea that has been dismissed by the Turkish military.
On Dec. 28, 2011, Turkish fighter jets bombed smugglers, believed to be Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) terrorists, in the Turkish-Iraqi border area near Uludere, sparking outrage in Turkey.
Russia ready to share data on downed Turkish jet
In the meantime, Russia expressed its readiness to share the information on the downed Turkish warplane.
Speaking at a press conference following the UN-initiated international conference in Geneva, which was held to discuss the Syrian issue on Saturday, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov announced that Russia is ready to share its intelligence regarding the Turkish jet incident.
“We have our objective observation data and we are prepared to present it,” Lavrov said.
“The main thing now is not to allow any incident to ignite passions in one or another direction,” Lavrov said.
Russia had previously announced that Syria's shooting down of the Turkish warplane should not be seen as a provocation and warned world powers against using the incident to push for stronger action against Damascus. It was Moscow's first reaction to the incident.
Meanwhile, The Sunday Times, a British newspaper, stated in its report on Sunday that Russia has a finger on the button that destroyed the Turkish jet. Citing diplomatic sources, The Sunday Times said Russian technicians played a key role in bringing the Turkish warplane down. The report specifically mentions that the Turkish jet was downed to give NATO a warning signal against any intervention in the Syrian crisis.