What was Turkey's thinking behind plane interception?

Plane at Ankara airport Turkish jets forced the plane, coming from Moscow, to land in Ankara

Turkey's decision to force a Syrian airliner to land appears either to be the result of poor intelligence or of a deliberate strategy to undermine Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's government.

Either way it marked a further intervention in the civil war.

The reason given for taking the Syrian Airbus under F-16 escort to Ankara was that it was carrying weapons. It was flying from Moscow to Damascus, and the Syrian government denounced the move as "piracy".

Now after searching the aircraft, the Turkish government says it has found communications equipment. Walkie talkies perhaps? Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan insisted on Thursday night that the plane had been transporting Russian weapons, but neither claim has yet to be proven.

Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan Prime Minister Erdogan's support for anti-Assad forces has proven controversial in Turkey

Under the circumstances, the reaction of Russia's foreign ministry has been muted, saying that it will seek a full explanation from Turkey and denying that it was carrying any weaponry.

Perhaps Russia is operating under that old principle of diplomatic chess that it is rude to interrupt your opponent while he is making a mistake.

There are though theories doing the rounds that the decision of Mr Erdogan's government to detain the plane is part of a wider strategy to de-stabilise the Assad regime.

Turkish airlines on Thursday announced that it considered Syrian airspace unsafe and would fly around it in future, and the chief of staff of the army, General Necdet Ozel, said that if last week's shelling of his country's territory by the Syrian army is repeated, his forces will, "respond more strongly".

Some observers in the Middle East are casting these latest Turkish moves as steps in an attempt to deny Syrian forces control of the border area and its airspace.

It may be that the Turkish government does indeed see them as being helpful to its allies in the Free Syrian Army, but the idea of Turkish artillery and air power creating some sort of liberated zone in the north of Syria is still a long way from being fulfilled.

Tricky balance

Mr Erdogan's policy of supporting the anti-Assad forces and working for the overthrow of the Syria regime has caused some controversy in Turkey.

Opponents argue that Turkey does not have the power to determine the outcome in its neighbour's civil war, but could prejudice other important relationships, including with Russia, by taking sides so obviously.

"This incident is the latest bitter fruit of the wrong and biased Syria policy which the [Erdogan] government has been following", Faruk Logoglu, deputy leader of the opposition Republican People's Party, said in response to the detention of the airliner.

Others have argued that aligning so closely with the Free Syrian Army will undermine the Turkish government's ability to mediate any kind of political settlement to the crisis.

The Turkish prime minister appears to be calculating that taking sides will stand him and the country in good stead with millions of Arabs who are angered by the Syrian government's continuing use of force against his own people.

It is a tricky balancing act though, because there will be many Syrians, even in the anti-Assad camp, that will not forget the role that Turkey has played in allowing arms shipments and rebel movements, fuelling the bloodshed in their country.

Mark Urban Article written by Mark Urban Mark Urban Diplomatic and defence editor, BBC Newsnight

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  • rate this

    Comment number 83.

    You are contradicting yourself. One minute you say you have nothing against the UK, the next you comment on it's human rights. Furthemore, you obviously haven't read the recent news about tensions between Turks and Kurds.How can you say they live peacefully together?Or is it cause the Kurds have no other option?The Turks are abusing their human rights too. The UK has many refugees already

  • rate this

    Comment number 82.

    @Grizzlybear - I dont know whom you talk to about Turkey, but Kurds and Turks live side by side all over the nation. Creating a Kurdish state on Turkish territory would involve ethnic cleansing ala Yugoslavia, India/Pakistan partition. Do you even realize what you are advocating ?
    Why don't you read Amnestys page on the UK and its involvement in the abuses of the War on Terror. Not exemplary !

  • rate this

    Comment number 81.

    Regardless the reason for the delay of the aircraft, its all about Turkish Air Space, not Russian, not Syria, not anyone's business but the Turks. If anyone has a say about it that would be the Greeks because the Greeks run that country.

  • rate this

    Comment number 80.

    @Grizzly Bear - Imagine if the UK were flooded with 100000 refugees fleeing a dictatorship massacring its own, UK citizens were also dying because of the dictator, would the UK tolerate flights carrying arms to the dictatorship overflying its airspace ? Turkey is not my country, but I understand their dilemma. Read my posts and you will see I NEVER claimed the UK was bad. You are the one ranting.

  • rate this

    Comment number 79.

    To be fair to the Brits, they are a fairly tolerant nation. I say this because my partner is British and I have lived in this country for 17 years. So I know. I don't agree with Britain's foreign policy. But if you think Britain is bad then how can you possibly consider turkey to be a democratic nation? I support a nation for the Kurdish people which should take some land from Turkey.


Comments 5 of 83



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