Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan greets his supporters.
(photo credit: REUTERS)
In 1853 British parliamentarian John Russell (later foreign minister and prime minister) said Russia’s Tsar Nicholas I described the Ottoman Empire as “a sick man.”
In recent years Turkey, a NATO member, has proved to be the “weak link” in the West’s efforts to have a unified policy in the Syrian civil war.
Now after shooting down a Russia bomber
on Tuesday, it seems Turkey has no inhibitions to embroil its NATO allies.
The incident is another reminder how the war in Syria is dangerous not only to the Middle East but also to world stability.
It also signals to Israel how explosive the situation is in which too many fighters planes and bombers of various air forces are operating in the crowded Syrian skies close to neighboring borders.
Syrian rebel group releases video of downed Russian pilot
Though one can assume that unlike Turkey, which was trigger-happy, Israel will be much more cautious to shoot down a Russian plane even if one were to penetrate its airspace. Israel will try to verify time and again to make sure the aerial infiltrator has no hostile intentions and only erred.
Russian President Vladimir Putin already said that Turkey’s action was a “stabbing in the back” and it is an “accomplice of terrorists,” referring to previous accusations that Ankara either turned a blind eye or even supported Islamic State.
Putin is furious and promises that the incident will have “severe consequences.”
Russia has already called its citizens to stop visiting Turkey and a leading Russian tour operator canceled its plans to send Russian tourists to Turkey. In 2014, three million Russian tourists visited Turkey – accounting for nearly 20 percent of Turkey’s foreign tourists.
But economic sanctions will not satisfy Putin’s wrath. More harsh measures are to be expected. Already, Russia suspended its military coordination with Turkey, which may lead to dogfights between the two countries.
And when Putin gives a threat, not only Turkey, but also the US and NATO should be concerned.
And indeed NATO convened a special meeting Tuesday night to discuss the dramatic development. NATO’s charter and raison d’être is based on the notion of one for all and all for one. If one of its member states is threatened or attacked, the rest must rally in its defense.
But already there are cracks in the seemingly unified front. Czech President Milos Zeman, known for his sharp tongue, denounced the Turkish operation and reminded the world of Turkey’s dubious past with Islamic State.
The circumstances of what really happened are controversial. Russia and Turkey are accusing each other of wrongdoings.
Putin argues that the Russian bomber was operating within Syria and never crossed into Turkish territory. Russia’s president also asserted that the bombing was against Islamist rebels with Russian origins.
Turkey’s counterargument is that the two pilots ignored the warnings that they had infiltrated Turkey’s air space and sovereignty.
Regardless, it is clear Turkey is very much worried from the deepened Russian intervention in the war. Russia’s aim is to defend Syrian President Bashar Assad’s shrinking regime and to protect his mini Alawite state on the coast and in Damascus.
In order to achieve this goal Russian planes are bombing rebel positions near the Turkish border.
Among them, there are Turkmen, of Turkish origins and backed by the Turkish intelligence, rebels fighting Assad.
The 200,000 Turkmen minority is an important aspect in Turkey’s ultimate goal to prevent the expansion and creation of a Kurdish strip westward parallel to the border.
For Turkey, the Kurds are the enemy and not Islamic State. And for achieving its goal every measure or risk is worth taking – even a brinkmanship with Russia and at the cost of a splitting-up of NATO.