Turkey’s gift to Assad

Abdullah Hamidaddin

Abdullah Hamidaddin

By : Abdullah Hamidaddin

From the moment the news came out, political analysts knew that it did not matter whether the Russian plane had violated Turkey’s airspace. Moscow said it had not, while Ankara and its NATO allies said it had, but it was clear that what would happen would not be influenced by the technical issue of airspace. Talk of Turkey’s right to protect its airspace was only for diplomatic rhetoric and official statements. Also, no one expects a war to erupt – neither country wants that.

What Turkey may have wanted was to bring NATO to its side. This seems the only reason that makes sense. Why would Ankara shoot down a single plane that spent about 17 seconds in its airspace, especially that it was not flying further into Turkey. Perhaps Ankara found this violation an opportunity to escalate in a way that invoked the NATO charter.

Russia has brought in an air defense system, permanently killing the idea of a no-fly zone. Syrian President Bashar al-Assad could not be happier.

Abdullah Hamidaddin

I assume this because since Russia started its operations in Syria, the Turks have felt helpless as they watch the rope becoming tighter around the necks of their allies in Syria. Moreover, Ankara knew that continuing support for its allies would have to result at some point in a confrontation with Russia. It also knew that this confrontation would only happen in Syria, and thus not oblige NATO to act. As such, downing the plane was not a tactical military action, but a strategic one.

Change of tune

After much pomp about Turkey’s sovereignty being violated and the right to protect itself, Ankara now says it did not know it was a Russian plane. It is as if Turkey is saying if it knew it was Russian, it would have tolerated the violation of its airspace. What happened to explain this change in tone? Washington was supporting Turkish claims of airspace violation and the right to retaliate. Why then come out so apologetic and in a very unsophisticated fashion?

Well, NATO did not jump in. Various members simply called for de-escalation. NATO is more worried about escalation in Ukraine, and about the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), than an accident on the Syrian-Turkish border.

Moreover, Turkey had long been known to support ISIS, and for a while the world, including NATO, looked the other way.

After the Paris attacks and U.N. Security Council resolution 2249 – which targets ISIS and its supporters – this was no longer the case. Now France and the world want to eradicate ISIS once and for all, and Turkey’s support for the group will no longer be tolerated. Turkey realized very quickly that downing the plane was a mistake.

Russia has taken advantage of the situation. It started to formally expose Turkey’s relationship with ISIS, and it intensified its bombing of the border region. Most importantly, Russia has brought in an air defense system, ending all Turkish dreams of ever flying into Syria again, and permanently killing the idea of a no-fly zone.

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad could not be happier. He needed Moscow to fight on his side, but he needed more to feel confident that the Russians are stuck. They were in Syria fighting ISIS, but he wanted them to be there as a matter of Russian national pride. Assad wanted the Russians to need him, not just to want to support him. For Moscow, he has now become it way of getting revenge for the shooting down of the plane. This is the gift Turkey gave Assad.

Abdullah Hamidaddin is a writer and commentator on religion, Middle Eastern societies and politics with a focus on Saudi Arabia and Yemen. He is currently a PhD candidate in King’s College London. He can be followed on Twitter: @amiq1

Disclaimer: Views expressed by writers in the Column section are their own and do not reflect RiyadhVision’s point-of-view.


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