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How will the Turks respond to al-Assad? | ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive 2005 -2017
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There is a degree of confusion at the reluctance of Ankara to react in any way to the al-Assad regime bringing down a Turkish military plane over its territorial waters, and there are many ways to analyze this matter. There are those who accuse Turkey of weakness, and there are those who say that Ankara talks more than it acts, especially as it is often claimed that Erdogan’s patience has its limits.

Today, after the Turks revealed – according to what was reported by the media there – that the orders to shoot down the Turkish plane had been issued by the al-Assad regime itself, on the basis of recordings obtained by the Turkish authorities, the age-old question is: why has there been no practical Turkish response? Turkey’s military strength far outweighs that of the tyrant of Damascus; in fact there is no room for a comparison between them. Besides, Ankara has many other cards in its hand with which it could respond. It has the potential to wear down the al-Assad regime across the 822 kilometer-long border between the two countries, and there is the option to plunge all of Syria into darkness by cutting off its electricity, or by at least making it more erratic, which would confuse the al-Assad regime. Turkey could prevent al-Assad’s forces from moving along the border in accordance with prior agreements signed, or it could assist the Syrian rebels in a greater capacity, providing them with quality weapons capable of burning a hundred of al-Assad’s tanks in exchange for the downing of a Turkish plane. All these and more are options available to Ankara, and therefore the confusion at the lack of a Turkish response towards the tyrant of Damascus is warranted.

I say it is warranted, and especially so if we recall Turkey’s threat to Hafez al-Assad in 1998, whereby if he did not hand over Abdullah ضcalan then the Turkish army would invade Syria. At the time, Hafez al-Assad bowed to this threat, and now we find ضcalan in a Turkish prison, so how can Turkey today tolerate Bashar al-Assad’s attacks, including the downing of a Turkish plane, even if it did violate Syrian airspace? According to what the Turks have announced, around 114 violations of Turkish airspace have taken place this year alone, whether committed by Greece, Israel or other countries. Turkey did not shoot down one of these aircraft, and there was no issue in the first place especially since there are international laws and regulations governing violations of airspace between states, so why has Turkey not responded now?

Of course, the Turkish response may have actually begun, and without a formal declaration, especially with reports that Turkey has received a number of dissident Syrian military officers, soldiers and their families, around 222 in total according to CNN. The arrival of these dissidents in Turkey was announced immediately, suggesting that Ankara can do a lot without explicitly declaring so, or without launching an all-out war on al-Assad.

Without doubt, the behavior of the al-Assad regime will help Erdogan to make a move against the tyrant more easily. For example, the Turkish government has begun informing the Turkish opposition of the content of the recordings it has acquired, implicating the al-Assad regime in the downing of the Turkish military plane, and Ankara has begun to openly say to al-Assad: “Do not provoke the Turkish army”. Are the Turks actually moving, or will they move, even without a declaration of war, in order to accelerate the expected collapse of the tyrant of Damascus? We will see.