Monday, June 25, 2012

Is Syria that stupid to shoot down Turkey's plane?

Early on Saturday, a statement released after a security summit headed by Turkey's prime minister said Syria shot down Turkey's fighter jet, without elaborating how and why.

Many had speculated that although Syria acted ruthless, Turkey also deserves blame in this incident.

Early on Sunday, however, Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu made it clear that Syrian side knew it was a Turkish plane, the jet was hit in international air space without any warning, the act was hostile and Turkey will not remain silent. Turkey has not yet unveiled its retaliatory steps and the most you can say is that there are scattered signs that things are getting worse more slowly.

Syria's downing of Turkish warplane is not unmatched in history. There have been many similar incidents like this before. But few exemplify irrationality of these kind of attacks better than Friday's incident, which also probably killed two Turkish pilots.

Then the question comes, why did Syria shoot down Turkey's jet?

Syrian regime critics would jump to a conclusion that the attack is a manifestation of Assad's growing frustration and spillover of the domestic crisis into neighbors. This argument rests heavily on the view that Assad is a ruthless killer and he would not hesitate shooting down planes of neighboring countries.

They claim that this incident appears to be rather a remarkable example of how Assad has become a threat to the stability not only within his country but also to countries in Syria's vicinity. One could make a broader argument that it is not surprising to see Assad attacking every perceived threat after all these atrocities his army has been committing.

One of the misconceptions that muddle the debate over the shooting incident is that rulers like Assad have spinned out of control to a degree that would attack neighboring countries.

But those critics miss two fundamental truths about the situation on the ground.

In two cases states make similar, irrational military provacations like this one that is obviously not in the aggressive state's national interest.

First, states are deliberately behaving in an irrational way to signal to adversaries that it is hell-bent and ruthless in retaliation. This strategy conveys messages as if the state does not have a capacity to understand warnings and red lines.

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's earlier remarks that Israel should cease to exist is an evident example of how states sometimes behave as an irrational actor to avoid military attacks.

North Korea's recent military provacations such as sinking a South Korean ship or shelling its island two years ago is a case in point. This kind of tactics are reliable with nuclear-armed states such as North Korea. Why to mess up with nuclear-armed North Korea whose leader is describing itself suicidal and irrational? The same goes with Tehran, whose leader is speaking about destroying Israel and possessing dozens of long-range missiles that could significantly damage Israeli cities. These leaders are definitely not irrational but it is benefiting to be seen this way.

This strategy seems unapplicable in Syria because it has relatively weak and increasingly divided military power, is running out of cash and exhausted by a year and half long operations against rebels across the country. It has little if any capability to do harm to countries considering intervening militarily to end the 15-month long crisis there.

Another case when states behave irrational in foreign policy is when domestic actors push decision-making process to a direction that is not in their national interests. This could be because of divided governance like in Iran or supporting overseas brethren no matter how damaging that policy could be.

Stephen M. Walt and John Mearsheimer's 2007 book on the Israeli lobby is a good read how domestic actors could derail country's foreign policy agenda.

It’s worth bearing in mind that there have been numerous claims that military commanders in Syria have often been acting beyond the administration’s control. In the shadow of potential war and violence, those surrounding Assad are not necessarily making a single, consultative decision based on country's national interests. Given the varying constraints on the power of Assad and the administration across the state bureaucracies, it is not surprising that senior army commanders and bureaucrats are pushing for policies that are not really made by the president and his close circles loyal to him. Recent leaked e-mails of Assad family depict how weak institutions the Syrian regime has.

The crisis in Syria has steered this process reasonably well and generated enormous conflict within the regime.

Syria's Foreign Ministry spokesman was overly apologetic and friendly in his Monday briefing, saying that Turks and Syrians are brothers and that Syria is not hostile to its northern neighbor. Why would a state shoot down a foreign jet in international air space and send messages of friendship afterwards?


  1. May be they (Syria) are not the only one to blame.May be there were some fighter jets flying simultaneously on Syrian/Turkish airspace other than the Turkish RF4 "surveillance aircraft" whose identity yet to unknown to both parties. May be,the Turkish RF4 had been hit not by the Syrian ground antiaircraft artillery as Syria stated on Monday but by some air-to-air missile from an unknown fighter up in the sky. May be, not only Syria but also Turkey has been pulled in a war&conflict environment! May be there are some other bad guys whom we think "friends". May be it was just a covered opp.! May be we all screwed up! May be we are all damn stupids!!

  2. An excerpt of an interview with Muslim Brotherhood General Chairman Badi' Moussa:

    Interviewer: Is it permissible to kill 'Alawites – their women and their children – in retaliation for their actions?

    Muhammad Badi' Moussa: Yes, my brother. We have issued a communiqué to the 'Alawites, in which we gave them a strong warning, which may be the last. Our brothers in the Free Syrian Army sent queries to scholars in exile, asking whether they were allowed to raid 'Alawite villages, like the Zahra, Eqrima, and Nuzha suburbs of Homs. […]

    The interview was aired in egyptian Al-Hekma TV on March 14, 2012, two months before the Houla massacre.