While U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is visiting Turkey to plan to begin planning the stage after the fall of Assad, and after a dose of additional sanctions that the U.S. government placed on Syria and Hezbollah, new details emerged regarding the downing of a Turkish jet which took place in June.
According to the Turkish newspaper Radikal reported that according to a report released by the criminal unit of Turkey’s military police, which checked dozens of parts that were pulled out of the sea, there is no proof that the jet was shot down by an anti-aircraft or other types of missiles. The findings contradict both the official Turkish position as well as the Syria taking responsibility for shooting down a plane which it claimed entered its territorial airspace. The new estimations say that the plane was likely downed by an electromagnetic attack whose origins may be in a Russian base in Tartus, Syria, or due to a mechanical failure.
The downing of the place, which according to Turkey was not armed and was on a tour near Syria, yielded contradictory responses. President Abdallah Gül was quick to suggest that the plane crossed over into Syrian territory, while Turkey’s military announced that the plane was in international airspace. The military’s position became the official one, although Turkish newspaper Taraf claimed on Friday that the information passed along by the military was faulty. The military was quick to publish a message on its website, in which it claimed that there was no misinformation passed on.
The Turkish investigators, which use data gathered radars in neighboring countries such as Russian and (apparently) Israeli radars, are divided in their positions regarding the reason behind the incident. Thus, it seems like the Turkish position may undergo an “update.” Due to the new findings, it is unclear why Syria was so quick to take responsibility for bringing down the plane. One of the possibilities is that the Syrian Army may have tried to shoot down the plane.
This embarrassing division will certainly not change Turkey’s consistent policy toward Syria. The country is now putting together a regional plan, alongside the United States, for the aftermath of the downfall of Assad’s regime. The international effort to find a diplomatic solution has not yet dissipated with the resignation of Kofi Annan from his position as UN special envoy to the country. Now, the UN is considering giving the position to Lakhdar Brahimi, who was able to bring about the end of the Lebanese Civil War in 1989, and stood at the helm of a steering committee that established Afghanistan’s temporary government. And despite the Syrian position which has been able to thwart all international intervention, it is doubtful that Brahimi will be able to succeed where his former boss failed.
Meanwhile, the war in Syria has caused relations between Turkey and Iran to significantly deteriorate, after the two countries exchanged threatening declarations last week. Turkey blames Iran for allowing PKK militants to operate in its territory against Turkish targets, specifically out of Shahidan camp on the border of Iran and Turkey. The camp was closed after Turkey and Iran agreed to fight Kurdish terrorism. Now, Turkey claims that Iran is trying to open up another front against it. In response, Turkish Deputy Prime Minister Bülent Arınç, said “Turkey will do everything necessary against the Iranian threat.” Such words have not been heard from Ankara since the rise of the Justice and Development Party.
Two days earlier, Iranian Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi arrived in Ankara in order to ask Turkey to act to release the Iranian hostages in Syria. According to the Free Syria Army, the captives were advisers from Iran’s Revolutionary Guard, while Iran claims that they were tourists. On the same day, Turkey was astonished to hear that Chief of Staff of the Iranian Armed Forces Hassan Firuzabadi was threatening Turkey, warning the country that if it continues with its current policy toward Syria, the violence will make its way into its territory. Salehi was quick to clarify that only he or President Ahmadinejad were authorized to speak in the name of Iran, although this did not do much to assuage Turkey, especially after Iran announced this it was delaying the entry arrangements of Turkish citizens into the country, and that during the month of August, they will not be granted entry into Iran without a visa, for the first time since 1964. Iran was also quick to attack Erdogan for his declarations against the Alawite minority in Turkey (it is important not to confuse the Alawites in Turkey and those in Syria – both have their origins in Shia Islam, but are still considered separate sects). Erdogan, who is Sunni, said in an interview with Turkish television that the Alawite houses of worship in Turkey are “cultural centers” rather than mosques. He blamed the Turkish Alawites for supporting his political rival and opposition leader Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu because he is Alawite, and hinted that the Alawite sect is not exactly a part of Islam.
Erdogan’s words angered the Alawite leaders in Turkey and they are being used by Iran in order to give the political rivalry a religious tinge. Iran also decided to not allow Iranian researchers to take part on a conference by the International Society for Iranian Studies (ISIS) which took place last week in Istanbul.
The recent events are seen by Turkey as an unprecedented low in relations between the two countries, which stems not only from the crisis in Syria, but also from the competition for influence on Iraq and from Iran’s attempts to destabilize Turkey’s relationship with the Kurds. This situation may bring about new regional coalitions, especially the building of a Saudi-Turkey axis, with Egyptian cooperation. Despite this, one cannot ignore the widespread trade ties between Turkey and Iran, which greatly benefit both countries.
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