MUSTAFA AKYOL > War with Syria? Not yet

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When Syrian forces shot down a Turkish jet last Friday, a whole new crisis began. Media headlines focused on the Syrian aggression, and speculated on whether we were heading to war. The search for the two Turkish pilots who apparently fell to the sea has proved fruitless and it has become painfully obvious that, after the Mavi Marmara incident, foreign guns once again ended Turkish lives over the Mediterranean.

That is why everybody was waiting for yesterday’s weekly parliamentary address by Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. He gave a speech that was strong enough to condemn and threaten the Syrian regime, but also cautious enough to avoid an escalation that would take Turkey to an inevitable war.

“Turkey’s friendship is valuable, but everyone should know Turkey’s wrath is equally furious,” Erdoğan said. He then explained that from now on, Turkey’s rules of engagement with Syria had been raised to a new level: “Any military element that approaches the Turkish border from Syria by posing a security risk will be regarded as a threat, and will be treated as a military target.”

That means that this plane incident is not a “casus belli,” or a cause of war, but future acts of aggression by the Syrian regime may be. So, the thugs of Damascus should behave.

I think this was the right attitude for Turkey. A war with Syria, or with anybody, would be a disastrous adventure. It would cost innocent lives, ruin the Turkish economy and overshadow Turkish “soft power.” However, looking weak in the face of aggression would also be wrong. Erdoğan seems to have found the right balance.

Another theme in Erdoğan’s speech was how and where the plane was exactly shot. He explained that this was an unarmed military jet which was on a regular flight to “test Turkey’s radar system.” The plane mistakenly violated Syrian airspace for a just a few minutes, but was then warned by its base and left it immediately. Yet the Syrians still targeted it, and shot it down over international waters.

The Syrian story, of course, is different. They claim that the plane was shot in Syrian airspace. But if they are honest about this they should disclose their radar records, as Turkey has done.

At the end of the day, this plane incident added just one more level to the tension between Turkey and Syria, which has been building up since the early months of the Arab Spring. The irony is that the two countries had up to then become great friends. Erdoğan and al-Assad had developed a close relationship, borders were opened, and Syria had become “Exhibit A” of Turkey’s “zero problems with neighbors” policy.

However, Turks who remind of those good old days between Turkey and Syria and angrily ask “what went wrong” are terribly wrong. That was a time when the al-Assad regime was not slaughtering its own people. It was a regime without democracy for sure, but it was not acting as a massacre-machine, as it is now.

The obvious truth is that the Arab Spring opened a whole chapter in the Middle East. The gap between the authoritarian regimes and their people became starker than ever. And Turkey, for its credit, has done the right thing by taking sides with the people. This should continue everywhere, especially in Syria. Turkey should be relentless in its stance against the bloody tyrannies of the region.

A footnote: Congratulations to Muhammad Morsi, the first democratically elected president of Egypt. I very much hope that he will be “the president of all Egyptians” as he promised in his inaugural speech. And all Egyptians, including those who didn’t vote for him, should give him a chance.


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Notice on comments

US Observer

6/29/2012 4:53:33 PM

LOL @ Blue and his never ending U.S. conspiracy theories.

Blue Dotterel

6/28/2012 6:40:57 PM

Hasan, you are correct. This was the result of the 1980 American neo-liberal coup in Turkey. Ozal was employed by the World Bank and then given control of the economy by the coup government. Kenan Evren, whether knowingly or not, facilitated this neo-Ottoman takeover of the Turkish Republic at the insistence of the US in its efforts to promote Islam over secular nationalism, which often had socialist or etatist policies. These were contrary to Western corporate interests/profits.


6/28/2012 6:10:19 PM

@BLUE, Syria has made the Turkish jet fall without a reasonable cause..SYRIA DID NOT RESPECT TURKISH SOVEREIGNTY! You cant see that??!

Hasan Kutlay

6/28/2012 5:50:56 PM

Blue Dotterel,Turgut Ozal is the person laying the Neo-Ottoman foreign policy.He once accused kemalist Ismet Inonu of cowardice for not letting Turkey participate in the 2nd world war(TR did not participate under the leadership of Ismet Inonu in the 2nd world war, which according to neo-ottoman Ozal was cowardice).50 million people died during 2nd world war! Neo-ottomans are obsessed with greatness and imperialistic war."Peaceful" muslims they are.


6/28/2012 5:46:31 PM

@BLUE, You say "In Syria, there is zero threat to Turkey..." While Syria kills the masses, Turkey has a right to take her position. In this sense, I am not talking about "national interests" of Turkey or Syria. Turkey must take steps in order to put an end to the bleeding atmosphere. Here I can argue that no matter what their identity is, the ones who take a step to end this tyranny (they can be kemalists or neo-ottomans) deserve a big respect!

Blue Dotterel

6/28/2012 4:38:05 PM

Begum, we are beginning to see the difference between Kemalism and Neo-Ottomanism. Kemalism was led by a soldier who understood war and preached peace. Neo-Ottomanism is led by preachers and civilians and preaches war. In Cyprus there was an obvious threat to Turkish Cypriots, and Kemalists legally occupied the Island. In Syrian, there is zero threat to Turkey, and the main threat to Syrians comes from the AKP's illegally backed FSA, and illegal violations of Syrian sovereignty.


6/28/2012 4:07:19 PM

We must also understand what Akyol says in his CNN piece "almost no one in Turkey seems enthusiastic for war. Many here point out that Turkey's ascendance in the past decade has been thanks to its soft power.That mainly rested on the country's economic boom and democratic reforms,which seemed to present a synthesis of Islam,free-market capitalism and political liberalism.But should Turkey now consider putting some hard power on the table, without which it might become ineffective in its region."

Hartabuna Hartabuna

6/27/2012 11:00:42 PM

@Hasan Kutlai Didn't you get the memo? Remind PM Erdogan to put you on the global distribution list. According to him, Muslims do not kill Muslims. Only Israelis do that.....

mara mcglothin

6/27/2012 9:13:42 PM

Yeah BLUE YOu are correct to a point. Turkey is out of its element in the "Super League" If roles were reversed would Turkey not have acted in an identical manner? I would think so.

Burhan Hafez

6/27/2012 7:48:12 PM

I believe that Mr.Erdoğan's position on Syria has always been right. He did for Syrians what no others could ever do. Me being a Syrian who left his home as a result of the atrocity & brutality of Assad's regime, I know exactly who feels for Syrians. Erdoğan has a thoughtful vision for the future of the region, and I also believe he is firmly against any NATO military action towards Syria...He has much respect to the Syrians and their fundamental rights for freedom and justice.
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