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Inside Syria

Turkey-Syria relations: Taking a nose dive?

As Syria shoots down a Turkish jet, we ask if the incident will escalate into more violence between the two countries.

Last Modified: 24 Jun 2012 10:32
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One day after a Syrian pilot defected to Jordan in a MiG-21 fighter jet, Syrian air defence force said they have shot down a Turkish warplane flying into Syrian airspace.

"The downing of the plane came as a result of the defection of a plane a couple of days ago .... Syria would not dare open a front with Turkey. They know very well that they are too weak to face Turkey, let alone NATO behind Turkey .... A conflict between Turkey and Syria ... if it started ... the army of the regime would not last a day or two in such confrontation."

- Bassam Imadi, a foreign relations committee member of the Syrian National Council and a former Syrian ambassador to Sweden

Relations between Nato-member Turkey and Syria, once close allies, have deteriorated sharply since the uprising against Syrian president Bashar al-Assad began in March 2011.

Turkish president Abdullah Gul said the shooting down of the Turkish fighter could not be ignored.

"Our investigation will focus on whether the plane was brought down within our borders or not, because the consequences could be quite serious. There will be no clear statement until the details of the incident are scrutinised."

Colonel Abdel Farid Zakaria, a senior officer in the Syrian army, who defected to Turkey a few days ago has been speaking exclusively to Al Jazeera. He says President Bashar al-Assad's forces are in disarray.

He also says more soldiers want to defect, but the international community needs to help make this happen.

Since the uprising began in Syria, the country appears to have only maintained good relations with its next door neighbour Iraq who has continued its support throughout the fifteen-month uprising.

"It's very difficult to brush this one off, if Syria has shot down that plane, and it seems as if according to the Turkish government they have, that is an escalation, that is the public manifestation of a very private conflict that has been going on between Turkey and the Syrian government ... for the last few months."

- Andrew Tabler, a Syria-Lebanon expert and the author of In the Lion's Den: An Eyewitness Account of Washington's Battle with Syria

And though officially Lebanon and Syria have enjoyed good relations, the uprising in Syria is having a spillover effect - putting its neighbour in a delicate position.

Meanwhile, Jordan and Syria have continued to benefit from nearly $500m of bilateral trade despite the uprising. But last week a Syrian pilot landed his military jet in neighbouring Jordan and defected - a move likely to carry a political impact.

Turkey, however, openly supports Syrian rebels fighting to overthrow al-Assad. And with relations already strained, Syria's admission that it shot down the Turkish war plane will likely worsen ties further.

A comparison of Turkish and Syrian military power shows that Syria has 304,000 active military personnel, which is less than half of Turkey's 613,000.

And Turkey has around 1,940 aircrafts in total while Syria has 830. Moreover, Turkey's land-based weaponry at an overwhelming capability of 69,770 items is much stronger compared to Syria's 25,400 items.

As Syria admits shooting down a Turkish warplane, is the incident likely to escalate into more violence between the two neighbours? And would the Syrian opposition welcome such a conflict? Is it a clear message to NATO, given that Turkey is a member of NATO, about the risks of outside military intervention?

Inside Syria, with presenter Stephen Cole, discusses with guests: Bassam Imadi, a member of the foreign relations committee of the Syrian National Council and a former Syrian ambassador to Sweden; Andrew Tabler, a fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, a Syria-Lebanon expert, and the author of In the Lion's Den: An Eyewitness Account of Washington's Battle with Syria; and Pavel Felgenhauer, a defence analyst and a Columnist with Novaya Gazetta, covering foreign policy issues.

 

"People who defect must consider clearly that their family will be arrested and even be killed. I know a lot of my friends, their families unfortunately died ... The regime considers anyone who defects from this army as a murderer, unforgivable murderer so ... they want only want to [take] revenge. I'm sure if the western countries or even Turkey, supports us to establish the free zone, you will see thousands and thousands of officers and soldiers defect in one day or maximum in one week. In one week you will not see anyone with the regime. Help us to be able to defect but you are just asking us to do it."

Colonel Abdel Farid Zakaria, a defected senior Syrian army officer 


FACTS ABOUT TURKISH WARPLANE INCIDENT

  • Syrian military says it shot down Turkish warplane over Syrian waters
  • Syria: The F-4 Phantom was dealt with according to laws that govern such situations
  • Turkish prime minister: We will take necessary steps once all the facts are known
  • Turkish and Syrian naval forces conduct search for two crew members
  • The F-4 Phantom disappeared about 13km from Syrian coast near Latakia
  • Turkish PM held meeting with defence and foreign ministers
  • Relations between Turkey and Syria deteriorated sharply last year
  • Tens of thousands of Syrians have fled across the border into Turkey
  • Syrian flew MiG-21 to Jordan seeking asylum on Thursday
  • Opposition: Two brigadier-generals and two colonels defected on Thursday
  • Report: Saudi Arabia plans to pay salaries of the Free Syrian Army
  • Move meant to encourage pro-Assad troops to defect from Syrian army
  • Diplomatic efforts to tackle crisis in Syria achieved little success
  • UN officials have said Syria is now embroiled in full-scale civil war
  • UN monitors claim 14,500 people have been killed in Syria so far

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Source:
Al Jazeera
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