June 25, 2012
TURKEY'S deputy prime minister says Syrian forces have shot at a Turkish search and rescue plane.
Bulent Arinc also told a televised news conference yesterday that the plane was searching for the wreckage of a jet earlier shot down by Syria.
He said Turkey would push NATO to consider Syria's downing of a Turkish jet as an attack on the whole military alliance.
The announcement came on the eve of a meeting by NATO's governing body to discuss the incident. Despite deep frustration among many NATO countries over the conflict in Syria, where the opposition says President Bashar Assad's crackdown on an increasingly armed popular uprising has killed 14,000 people, it's highly unlikely the military alliance will take armed action against the Arab state.
The unarmed RF-4E reconnaissance jet was shot down 1.6km inside international airspace on Friday, and two Turkish pilots are still missing, the Turkish government says.
Mr Arinc said Turkey retained its right to "retaliate" against what he called a "hostile act," but he added, "We have no intention of going at war with anyone."
Turkey will push NATO to consider the armed attack under Article 5 in a key alliance treaty, Mr Arinc said. Article 5 states that an attack against one NATO member shall be considered an attack against all members.
The North Atlantic Council - which includes ambassadors of the 28 NATO countries - works by consensus and all members must approve any action. The meeting today comes after Turkey requested it under Article 4 of the treaty, which allows a NATO ally to request such a consultation if it feels its territorial integrity or security has been threatened.
Asked if Turkey will insist on the activation of Article 5 of NATO, Mr Arinc said, "No doubt, Turkey has made necessary applications regarding Article 4 and Article 5."
The prospect of Western military intervention in Syria remains remote, despite all the tough talk.
Such action is unlikely to get the support of either the UN Security Council or the Arab League, and outside intervention without the blessing of both of those bodies is all but unthinkable. And there is little appetite among the NATO countries - of which the US is the largest - for another war in the Middle East.
Mr Arinc further strongly denied Syrian claims that the downed plane was shot by anti-aircraft fire while flying low inside Syrian airspace.
The deputy premier admitted the jet mistakenly strayed into Syrian airspace when it was flying at an altitude of 200 feet and at a speed of 300 knots, but said it left the Syrian airspace after warning from Turkish radar operators and that it received no warning from Syrian forces during its five-minute flight inside Syrian territory.
Mr Arinc reiterated Turkey's insistence that the plane was not spying on Syria but just testing Turkey's radar capabilities.
"There is no doubt that Syrians deliberately targeted our plane in international airspace," Mr Arinc said, accusing Syria of acting in a "cold-blooded" manner.