Who’s going to pay the bill?
The words of Turkey’s Chief of General Staff Gen. Necdet Özel, printed in daily Akşam yesterday, raised many eyebrows in Turkey among those who are concerned about Syria’s downing of a Turkish military jet, in which two pilots were killed, on June 22. Reiterating that to start a war because of this attack is out of the question, Özel reportedly answered the question “What are you going to do next?” with “You will see when we do it.”
An important detail in the interview was when Özel said that no radar trace indicating that Syria used a missile to hit the Turkish plane has been found. That was in line with a more detailed Q&A printed in daily Milliyet, also yesterday, with the General Staff’s official spokesman, Brig. Gen. Baki Kavun, who said that neither Turkish radar nor the downed jet’s communications had recorded a missile radar lock so far, but that the investigation still continued. But that was not in line with what Deputy Prime Minister Bülent Arınç had said in the early days of the crisis: At that time the government believed that the jet was probably hit by a Syrian guided missile. And Özel’s words somehow recalled those of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, who had said in his interview with Turkish daily Cumhuriyet that the jet was hit by a Syrian anti-aircraft battery, and that it was unintentional.
The government was acting upon data it was given by the military, naturally. But the calls from the Turkish Foreign Ministry in the first few days for “anyone to pass on any information on the incident” have been weakening following Russia’s statement that they have a detail record of what happened and are ready to share it anyone who is interested in it. Russia’s largest military installation is at Syria’s port of Tartus, with a lot of intelligence-gathering capability and satellites above it, too. There are other countries in the region with similar capabilities. The United States has a presence, with two NATO bases in Turkey, İncirlik and Malatya, the second being the host base of the downed Turkish reconnaissance jet and also the site of the early warning radar for NATO’s Missile Shield system. The UK has a big base at Dikelia on the island of Cyprus. There is no need to mention neighboring Israel; Turkey has almost no diplomatic relations with Israel due to the latter’s failure to officially apologize for the killings of nine Turkish citizens by Israeli soldiers as they were trying to break Israel’s embargo on the Gaza strip aboard the Mavi Marmara in 2010.
Perhaps that inspired Reuters to run a provocative commentary yesterday with the difficult-to-digest introduction of “Turkey’s bark seems worse than its bite,” claiming that like Israel Syria seems to have gotten away with what it did to Turkey, as if a Turkish military response to Syria, which is already engaged in a civil war, was something desirable. So far NATO, the U.S. and the U.K. have stood by Turkey; all of them putting the stress on Syria’s hitting the Turkish plane, which had violated Syrian airspace without any warning.
There are still questions marks about how and under what circumstances the plane was downed. Turkish main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) leader Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu has endorsed the government line by repeating that Syria hit the Turkish plane outside its territorial waters, while putting pressure on the government about other details, such as demanding data on the incident from allies and requesting that the pilots’ autopsy reports be made public.
Another statement yesterday came from President Abdullah Gül, who demanded from that “anyone who has data” reveal it, indicating confusion and a lack of coordination in Ankara that could end up with someone paying the bill.