25 June 2012

(This article was first published at National Review Online on June 24, 2012)

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There appears to be agreement on the basic facts: a Turkish F-4 violated Syrian airspace and the Syrian military shot it down over its territorial waters. Further, there is no dispute that the AKP-led Turkish government has for months offered sanctuary and armed the Syrian opposition forces in what amounts to a civil war in Syria between a hideous, brutal tyranny and an increasingly Islamist opposition. The Turkish leadership, even while accepting that its plane violated Syrian airspace, is growling about retaliation. The Syrian government has done its best to tamp down Turkish anger.

Syrian explanation
Syrian explanation

How should Western states respond to this crisis between Ankara and Damascus, one which has the potential to grow into a war between two states? More specifically, what if the Republic of Turkey invokes Article 5 of the NATO treaty, which in the case of “an armed attack against one or more of them … shall be considered an attack against them all and consequently they agree that, if such an armed attack occurs, each of them … will assist the Party or Parties so attacked by taking … such action as it deems necessary, including the use of armed force”?

Because both sides in the Syrian conflict represent hideous alternatives, I argue that Western governments should stay out. I repeat that, with all the greater urgency, during this crisis. The West has no interest in supporting an aggressive Turkish government; quite the contrary, it needs to send Erdoğan & Co. a clear signal rejecting their bellicose and quasi-rogue foreign policy. As for Article 5, it’s clearly inoperative here, what with the recent history of Turkish aggression against Syria, culminating in the warplane’s intrusion. Again, stay out. (June 23, 2012)

June 24, 2012 update: In reply to the cogent points presented by Sanane, in quotes, writing from Turkey, “Leaving Turkey alone on a Syrian adventure would have negative affects for Israel“:

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“If Turkey loses, Syria and its proxy Iran become the dominant power in the Middle East. It will enhance their reputation enormously and this would be awful for Israel as well as Turkey.” First, it’s not quite clear what constitutes a win, as we don’t know what the objectives in such a war would be. If Ankara fails to impose its will on Syria, that’s a positive outcome. If the AKP leadership gets a bloody nose for having been too bellicose, that’s fine too. I fail to see how a Turkish victory over Syria is good for Israel, given my prediction that Turkey (nor Iran) is long term the most dangerous country in the Middle East.

“And if Turkey wins, without Western aid, it would clearly demonstrate that Turkey no longer needs Western support and can go it alone. This would not only free Turkey’s options in the region but it would diminish US interests further and isolate Israel even more, because Turkey free from Western pressure and aid can act much more freely and aggressively towards Israel.” I agree that a Turkish victory would be bad for the West and for Israel.

Jihad Makdissi - Spokesman of The Syrian Ministry of foreign Affairs
Jihad Makdissi – Spokesman of The Syrian Ministry of foreign Affairs

“The best outcome for Israel would be a Turkish intervention with the aid of NATO. This would get rid of the brutal Syrian regime and thus free an agent of Iran who has been a Thorn for Israel since god knows when and would leave Turkey grateful for the US in particular and leave Turkey more open to US pressure to normalize and increase its relations with Israel.” That NATO should be party to Turkish aggression is anathema to me. Nor do I see how NATO would gain more influence over a militarily triumphant Erdoğan.

“As long as states like Syria and Iran remain, Turkey and Israel need each other and both of the aforementioned countries having bad diplomatic relations is only good for states like Iran.” I see this assessment as out of date. The Republic of Turkey no longer seeks good relations with Israel or the West and it is unhealthily nostalgic to try to turn the clock back.


Mr. Pipes is president of the Middle East Forum and Taube distinguished visiting fellow at the Hoover Institution. Mr. Emerson is executive director of the Investigative Project on Terrorism. © 2012 by the authors. All rights reserved.

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