Turkish military adds to confusion over jet incident

Remains collected from the wreckage of Turkish F-4 jet which was shot down by Syria and retrieved from the seabed on Thursday, are seen in this undated picture released by Turkish Chief of Staff in Ankara July 5, 2012. (Photo: Reuters)

July 09, 2012, Monday/ 17:22:00

A senior commander has said authorities do not have any image of a missile used in the downing by Syria of a military jet last month, fueling suspicions over whether the aircraft was in fact hit by a missile.

The RF-4E Phantom jet had a missile detection system so its pilots would have been able to perceive a missile threat beforehand, Brig. Gen. Baki Kavun was quoted as saying by the Milliyet daily on Monday. “Our jet had a missile detection system. So if there had been any missile threat, the system would have detected it,” Kavun said.

The jet -- an unarmed reconnaissance version of the F4 fighter jet -- was shot down by Syria over the Mediterranean on June 22. Turkey said it was hit by a missile in international airspace while it was on a mission to test domestic radar systems, while Syria claims the aircraft was shot down by anti-aircraft fire well within its airspace. Lack of evidence confirming that the plane was shot down by a missile has led to questions in the Turkish media over whether the aircraft was really in international airspace. If it was hit by anti-aircraft fire, as Syria maintains, it would be a strong indication that the plane was within the Syrian airspace, given the fact that the anti-aircraft fire is not capable of hitting targets from a long distance because of their very short range.

When asked if Turkey had any footage or radar image decisively confirming that the plane was shot down by a missile, Kavun said, “There is no image of a missile.” He said pieces of the wreckage of the plane, found at a depth of more than 1,000 meters last week, were still being examined while work is also under way to recover the remaining pieces of the plane, including its main body, which are still in the sea.

He said examination of these pieces would reveal the truth on how the plane was downed, which would then be shared with the public.

Responding to questions on the suspicions, President Abdullah Gül said on Monday that statements made by Turkish officials regarding the downing of the jet have been consistent, calling on those who have documents or evidence suggesting otherwise to reveal them to the public.

“Read the statements made by our institutions after the downing of our jet again and think of the location where our jet was retrieved. There is a consistency in our statements,” Gül said during a joint press conference with his Beninese counterpart, Thomas Boni Yayi, in Ankara.

Stating that the pieces from the wreckage of the plane are being examined, Gül said a final statement will be made after the results of the forensic examination are available. “Whoever has [any] documents, apart from this, should make them public,” Gül added.

In remarks published on Monday, Chief of General Staff Gen. Necdet Özel reiterated that the jet was downed in international waters. “We have radar images and photos, which affirms that clearly. Our plane was shot down in international airspace,” Özel maintained, during an interview with the Akşam daily.

Özel has said Turkey will do what every great state does in response to Syria’s downing of its military jet last month, saying everyone will see Turkey’s response, though it would not mean waging a war.

Asked what Turkey is planning to do in response to the death of the two military pilots in the plane, Özel said that Turkey has “every kind of military capability” and is closely following the situation, without elaborating further.

“Of course, it is not like we will start a war,” the military chief said during the interview. “We will do what every great state does [in such a situation]. You will see what we will do when we do it,” Özel stressed.

Turkey, despite commenting that the act would “not go unpunished,” emphasized that it does not intend to go to war with Syria.

The bodies of Capt. Gökhan Ertan and Lt. Hasan Hüseyin Aksoy were recovered from the seabed 8.6 nautical miles off the Syrian coast on Thursday at a depth of 1,260 meters near the plane’s wreckage.

The military had been searching for the wreckage of the plane and the pilots since the aircraft was shot down on June 22. It announced on Wednesday that the bodies had been found and that efforts were under way to retrieve the remains.

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