Authorities in charge of investigating the circumstances of the June 22 crash of a military plane in the Mediterranean said on Wednesday that the jet was attacked by Syrian forces while it was flying in international airspace.
Releasing the findings of an investigation, the General Staff's Military Prosecutor's Office blamed the plane's crash on a missile attack by the Syrian forces, although it revealed that the aircraft did not crash as a result of being directly hit by a missile. According to the findings, the plane crashed into the water after a missile fired by Syrian forces exploded at the left side of the back of the plane, creating a “blast effect.”
The Military Prosecutor's Office reiterated the government's argument that the plane was attacked when it was flying in international airspace.
It also said there is no finding that would suggest the jet could have crashed due to a technical failure, adding that examination of radar warning records also show that a missile threat was detected.
The RF-4E Phantom, an unarmed reconnaissance jet, crashed off the Syrian coast on June 22 amid tensions between Turkey and Syria over Syria's brutal crackdown on an anti-regime uprising. Syrian authorities claimed responsibility for downing the jet immediately following the incident but defended the action, saying that Syrian air defense was forced to react immediately to a Turkish jet flying low at 100 meters (330 feet) inside Syrian airspace in what was “a clear breach of Syrian sovereignty.” Syria also said the plane was downed by anti-aircraft fire, rather than by a missile, well within its airspace.
Turkey, on the other hand, maintained that the plane was shot down by a missile outside Syrian airspace -- 13 miles off the Syrian coast -- when it was on a solo mission to test domestic radar systems. The government has promised that the Syrian “hostile act” will not go unpunished, and the military sent air defense systems to the Syrian border after Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan said any Syrian military units approaching the border would be treated as hostile.
But the government's account of events has subsequently come into question due to a series of official statements that appear to be contradictory. First, Defense Minister İsmet Yılmaz and a senior military officer said there was no indication that the plane had been hit by a missile, contrary to earlier statements. Later, the military said initial examination of the pieces from the wreckage had revealed no trace of a missile or anti-aircraft fire attack. It also raised suspicions as to whether the plane had been attacked at all, with a statement referring to “our aircraft that Syrian authorities claimed to have downed.”
Speculation that the plane was hit by an optic-guided or heat-seeking missile, rather than a radar-guided one, has also surfaced during the course of the controversy. The controversy took on a new dimension when the Wall Street Journal quoted US defense officials as saying that the plane was hit within Syrian airspace, disputing the Turkish account of the incident.
Speaking hours before the military investigation results were announced, Deputy Prime Minister Bülent Arınç said there was no finding suggesting the slightest contradiction with what his government had said at the beginning about where the plane was hit and where it crashed.