Turkey about to get stuffed

In a dramatic, escalated repetition of last month’s minor controversy, Turkey fired upon and destroyed a Russian jet over the skies of Syria earlier this morning. The Turkish government has suggested that the jet in question, along with one other, violated Turkish airspace while Moscow has maintained that the Russian jets did not fly over Turkish territory.

The story is still unfolding, and claims on both sides are contradictory, so it will be some time before everything is brought to light. In the meantime, there are a few considerations to make; enough information has come out that I feel my verdict on the incident is firm enough to hold up for the time being, and likely throughout the developments to come.

Today’s events play out in a stark contrast to similar events of mid-2012, where Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad’s military accidentally shot down a Turkish fighter which had trespassed into Syrian airspace. At the time, then-Turkish President Abdullah Gül said that "These (intrusions) are not ill-intentioned things but happen beyond control due to the jets' speed." Current Turkish President and then-Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan also felt that de-escalation was the proper course of action.

Today, that same spirit of clemency was not in play. By Turkey’s own admission, the Russian jet was in Turkish airspace for a mere 17 seconds and was subsequently destroyed. Further still, the impact against the Russian jet occurred in Syrian airspace. Maps have been released by both Russia and Turkey with the projected flight path of the destroyed jet, with no consensus regarding its position relative to the Turkish-Syrian border.

The problem is, what is considered the border and Turkish airspace in this area is contestable and, in a sense, being contested today. Ever since the above incident with Syria in 2012, Turkey has maintained a five mile buffer zone past the official Turkish-Syrian border. The Turkish air force is instructed to handle any target approaching five miles of the official border as an enemy. Depending on whose map you use, that may well be what they have done today. Russia’s intrusive plane flew within just over a mile of the claimed Turkish airspace, so it could possibly fall under this jurisdiction.

After both pilots managed to eject safely, reports claim that they were both shot at by the “moderate forces” supported by Turkey while parachuting down. One of the pilots has been confirmed by Russia to have been shot dead while the other remains injured, captured or dead; his condition is still not officially known although LiveLeak video posted earlier today (temporarily removed via YouTube) showed both pilots were dead in separate videos. Regardless, shooting at a parachutist whose aircraft is in distress constitutes a war crime under the Geneva Conventions. Nice allies, Turkey.

Current Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan is trying to flex his muscles with the tacit backing of NATO, and this tactic ought to fail him. The other members of NATO should not be strong-armed into supporting an aggressive, independent act of a single member. With his absurdly dangerous, wholly inexcusable strategy from today, Erdogan has made Turkey a substantial liability for NATO in the Middle East. The narrative about threatening Turkey’s sovereignty through a brief airspace incursion is rendered null and void by the country's past statements and the current, inflated response to a frankly questionable airspace claim.

I agree with Russian President Vladimir Putin that these “accomplices of terrorism” in Turkey have stabbed him in the back. There is a much greater world threat in Daesh than there is in a Russian jet harmlessly skirting a border.

If Turkey would stop sucking the oil out of Daesh’s pipeline long enough to actually go crush Daesh with NATO’s second largest military, then perhaps these kinds of incidents would not occur. On the off-chance that Turkey stop the counter-productive assault on the Kurds, the country's border could conceivably be more secure. Maybe if Turkey didn’t support “moderate” war criminals in Syria, Russia wouldn’t have to be bombing so close to Turkish territory. Until that’s the case, Turkey can stuff it (you know where).

On that note, Happy Thanksgiving!


Reach the columnist at hfinzel@asu.edu or follow @OnlyH_man on Twitter.

Editor’s note: The opinions presented in this column are the author’s and do not imply any endorsement from The State Press or its editors.

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