Though Assad has the backing of Vladimir Putin's 21st century Mafiya Moscow, his dirty war doesn't involve the Cold War's stakes. His military does not threaten Turkey's political independence like Soviet forces threatened West Germany, Denmark, Italy, Turkey, et cetera. That's why Erdogan's Article 5 reference struck many as bluster. The 9-11 attack's 3,000 dead justified invoking Article 5. Four wounded in the April border incident simply didn't.
Shooting down a Turkish military aircraft, however, is of a decidedly different character and magnitude. Assad's military forces have directly engaged Turkish military forces; two Turkish airmen are missing and likely dead. The plane was attacked under opaque circumstances. Turkey and Syria have two competing stories and two competing radar tracks. The Turkish newspaper Radikal (www.radikal.com.tr) published both on June 26.
Turkey says Syria attacked the plane in international airspace. Syria says the jet was in Syrian airspace. A highly suspicious Syrian video has cropped up on YouTube that supposedly shows a Syrian anti-aircraft gun site on the sea coast shooting at a jet.
Turkey reported that it has no radar track of a missile, but Turkey's Vice Prime Minister Bulent Arinc indicated that Turkey believes Syria used a missile. Arinc also accused Syria of firing on a search-and-rescue aircraft. Turkey knows where the plane crashed in the Mediterranean Sea, and it will recover the plane. StrategyPage.com editor James F. Dunnigan said that examining the wreckage will resolve the dispute, for "each anti-aircraft missile, or gun, leaves distinctive damage on its target."
In the mean time, the Turkish government stated the Article 4 consultations will include discussions of Article 5's applicability to Syria. Arinc said armed "retaliation many-fold" remains an option for Turkey. If Turkey goes that route, it wants the complete commitment and unbending support of its NATO allies.
Austin Bay is the author of three novels. His third novel, The Wrong Side of Brightness, was published by Putnam/Jove in June 2003. He has also co-authored four non-fiction books, to include A Quick and Dirty Guide to War: Third Edition (with James Dunnigan, Morrow, 1996).
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