Questions piling up on downed Turkish plane
Russia’s destroyer-class warship Smetlivy, which patrolled waters off the coast of Syria in April and May, passes through the Bosphorus and sails to the Aegean Sea, but the Russian Navy declines to confirm its destination. A fleet of 15 Russian planes that has violated Turkish airspace three months ago over the Black Sea, says PM Erdoğan. REUTERS Photo
There are growing numbers of question marks surrounding last month’s downed Turkish plane as the prime minister admitted yesterday that all details from the incident were not yet known as Washington said it knew everything about the downing but was refusing to share the information with the media.
The sense of confusion was enhanced by an Air Force general who said the plane, which was downed June 22, might have been hit by a personally operated missile from a Syrian ship rather than a surface-to-air missile. At the same time, the military also altered the way it is has been describing the event, referring to the plane as the jet that “Syria claimed to have shot down” rather than the jet that “Syria shot down.”
“Once the wreckage of the jet is removed from the sea, [experts] will be able to determine if the aircraft was hit by a missile or an anti-aircraft weapon,” Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan said during a meeting yesterday.
The United States, meanwhile, also wade into the continuing debate, with a U.S. official telling daily Hürriyet: “Those in the government who need to know [details] know them. But we will make no statements about the topics in question.”
“Whether the jet was shot over Syrian territory or over international waters, or what it was shot with, what difference does it make? What matters to us is that it was downed,” the U.S. official said, adding that Turkey thought that the louder its statements were, the more believable they would be.
“It’s like an American shouting to someone who doesn’t speak English. We, however, will not say anything on the matter,” the American official said.
Wreckage examination will lead to details: PM
Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan said yesterday that the details of a recent attack on a Turkish military jet will be clear once the wreckage is examined, adding that there is no excuse for firing on a jet without warning.
“Once the wreckage of the jet is removed from the sea [experts] will be able to determine if the aircraft was hit by a missile or an anti-aircraft weapon,” Erdoğan said. “I am speaking to those that conduct campaigns both within Turkey and internationally: Our jet was attacked 13 nautical miles off the Syrian coast over international waters without any warning in a decidedly jaundiced and definitely hostile manner,” Erdoğan said, recalling an earlier airspace violation by Russia.
A fleet of 15 Russian planes that had violated Turkish airspace three months ago over the Black Sea were forced to leave the area by Turkish planes deployed from Balıkesir and Merzifon, the prime minister said.
The Russian planes’ violation caused the Turkish Foreign Ministry to inform Moscow of the incident, a Turkish official told the Hürriyet Daily News yesterday. “They later offered an apology [for the violation],” Erdoğan said yesterday in a speech at an expanded meeting of his party’s provincial chamber chairs.
Meanwhile, Russia’s destroyer-class warship Smetlivy, which patrolled waters off the coast of Syria in April and May, passed through the Bosphorus yesterday. Accompanied by a Turkish coastguard boat, the Smetlivy sailed to the Aegean Sea, but the Russian Navy has declined to confirm its destination.
Erdoğan’s remarks come after the Turkish Armed Forces announced on its website that its “Scramble Arm,” located at İncirlik airbase, had made a patrol flight to monitor Turkish airspace after noticing an Israeli military 2XF-15 jet had approached it on July 6. Since there was no violation, no diplomatic move to inform Israeli officials was taken by Turkey. Turkey changed its rules of engagement with Syria after the country shot down a Turkish jet flying over the Mediterranean Sea.
Army statement adds to confusion over jet
Top Gen. Özel (R) leaves the General Staff in Ankara. The army says in a statement that no trace of explosive material has been found on the wreckage of the hit jet.
A statement made yesterday by the Turkish military on the downed jet, which used the phrase “claimed to have been shot down by Syrian authorities” added to lingering questions over the incident.
The military’s statement came directly after a meeting between Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and Chief of General Staff Gen. Necdet Özel yesterday. No statement was made by either of the two officials after the nearly hour long talk.
In a written statement published on its official website, the General Staff said no trace of an explosive material on the surface of the wreckage had been found. “Information regarding the RF-4 jet, which lost radar and radio contact while performing an educational mission in international airspace and successively claimed to have been shot down by Syrian authorities, has been shared with the public truly and transparently,” the statement read.
Though earlier military statements left no possibility that the jet was not downed by Syria, yesterday’s statement included the following sentence: “Syrian officials claimed that they shot down the jet.” However, the title of the press release still read: “About the Turkish jet that was downed by Syria.” There was no further statement from the military as to why they had apparently chosen to change their explanation of the incident. “The Turkish Armed Forces found no petroleum-like residue or trace of any organic or inorganic explosive matter on the surface of the pieces from the downed jet that were taken from the sea surface,” it said. The military said it would continue its technical analysis on the wreckage and its efforts to bring all parts to the surface.