Friday, June 22, 2012

Why is Turkey surprisingly calm in crashed warplane saga

While journalists are impatient banging their head against the wall trying to find a reasonable answer to Friday’s Turkish jet crash incident eight miles off the coast of Latakia, suffice it to say that Turkey was caught off guard by the issue and the incident was definitely not a pre-planned trap to drag Syria into a war.

Shooting a Turkish fighter jet by Syrian security forces would be a potential stinging blow to Syria’s embattled President Bashar al-Assad’s increasingly fragile regime, which is already very careful in not provoking Western countries, including its impatient northern neighbor Turkey, into aggression.

But the way Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan spoke and kept his temper threw the world public into some apparent confusion. This is certainly not Erdoğan we know, who walked off a stage in Davos protesting Israeli President Shimon Peres in 2009 and boycotted an EU meeting in Brussels in 2004.

Initially, Erdoğan reportedly told a group of journalists in the plane that the Syria side offered a “serious apology” and acknowledged their mistake. He then rebuffed these statements during a press briefing in Ankara, noting that he is not aware of any apology.

Turkey’s reaction to Syria’s hostilities against Syrian rebels close to the Turkish border, unsurprisingly, has been one of knee-jerk condemnation and turning Assad into a punching bag. It was after pro-Assad demonstrators burned Turkish flag in front of Turkish diplomatic missions, Erdoğan unveiled a set of sanctions against Syrian regime back in 2011. Erdoğan’s cold-tempered and calm reaction to the situation stands in contrast to the relative vocal voice Turkey raised in any action of Assad Ankara considered hostile.

Erdoğan’s calmness illustrated a prevailing sense of suspicion and confusion reigned in Ankara, where officials are trying to understand which side is to blame for the incident. Both Turkey and Syria are now groping for ways to salvage their national pride in the most effective way.

Among other things, one of the reasons of Turkey’s calmness could be Turkey’s possible mistake in the entire situation. “What was Turkey’s warplane doing in Syria’s airspace,” a Turkish journalist asked furious Erdoğan in the press conference, without getting a reply.

U.S., who used every opportunity to bash the Syrian regime, also remained silent on the issue. US State Department spokeswoman said they discussed the issue with their Turkish allies but said “let Turks speak out.”

Is it possible for a state not to know for a long time who shot its plane and if its plane violated its neighbor’s airspace or not? And is it possible that U.S. remains silent when its chief ally’s warplane is shot down by a regime, which the U.S. wants to see dead?

At least good news is that Turkey and Syria won’t turn this unfortunate incident into a wider battle.

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