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According to a US government source privy to the Nato meeting called by Turkey on Tuesday, Ankara has requested that the alliance draw up contingency plans for a no-fly zone to protect Turkish territory in the event of further acts of Syrian aggression. Turkey invoked Article IV of the Nato charter, which calls on the alliance to “consult” together whenever one of them deems that the “territorial integrity, political independence or security” of any member is threatened, after Syrian air defence systems shot down a Turkish F-4 Phantom jet that was conducting a training exercise. The Turks say that the plane dipped briefly into Syrian air space but was targeted and destroyed 13 nautical miles from the Syrian coast, in international air space. A rescue planedispatched to search for the pilots was also apparently fired upon.
“The Turks purposefully left it vague and didn’t provide many specifics,” the source said. “But they also didn’t give [Nato] members a heads-up before the meeting that they’d be asking for this and everyone was surprised.”
All members have now taken Turkey’s request back to their capitals. The alliance is meant to reconvene in the coming days.
While not a green light for war, this request is more evidence of Turkish escalation in the wake of the F-14 incident. Turkish PM Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s fiery rhetoric in parliament might still be bluster, but his foreign policy advisor, Ibrahim Kalin, took to Twitter after the Nato metting to announce that the “rules of engagement for Turkish armed forces have been changed and expanded.” Indeed, now the Turkish media isreporting that a convoy of military trucks loaded with anti-aircraft artillery, rocket launchers on transporters and military ambulances has been deployed to two positions along the Syrian border, in Şanlıurfa and Hatay, the Turkish province which currently houses over 30,000 Syrian refugees including military defectors from Assad’s army. It’s unclear as to how many troops are being mobilised, but a Turkish official hasconfirmed the movement of materiel.
I was in Hatay in early May when things were quiet, though Syrian rebels could easily cross back and forth across the border with the acquiescence of Turkish authorities. Syrian forces, meanwhile, had also occasionally fired into refugee camps such as Boynuyogun, which is separated from Syria’s Idlib province by a mere chain-link fence (here’s a photo I took from inside the camp showing how near the two territories are). A more brazen and lethal cross-border raid was waged by Syrian forces into another camp in Kilis, slightly to the east of Hatay, in early April.
By mid May, Hatay had become a clearinghouse for Gulf-purchased light weapons – AK-47s and rocket-propelled grenades mostly – and ammunition that were being distributed to select “delegations” inside Syria who then doled out the stuff to rebel battalions, however unevenly.