Turkey told Syria that it was ready to act again in defense of its borders and warplanes after the shooting down of a warplane said to have flown into its territory.
Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu said today that the incursion should not be repeated, as the military justified yesterday’s action by Turkish combat aircraft against a Syrian MiG-23 that had ignored four warnings and briefly penetrated 1 kilometer (0.6 mile) into Turkish airspace, according to a statement. A Syrian SA-5 surface-to-air missile system locked onto a Turkish F-16 for more than four minutes during a border patrol yesterday, the military said, without elaborating.
Davutoglu said there was ample evidence to justify Turkish action and that the decision had brought an expression of solidarity from its allies in the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, which has missile batteries in the border area.
“Turkey will respond to any violation of its borders,” Davutoglu said today. “No one should dare to test power of Turkey.”
Defense Minister Ismet Yilmaz also warned Syria against targeting Turkish warplanes flying patrols along the border. “If there is an attack against one of our planes within Turkish airspace, we will answer accordingly,” Yilmaz said.
News of the shooting down was announced yesterday by Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan during campaigning for closely watched local elections on March 30. Erdogan, who vacationed with Syria’s leader Bashar al-Assad before the two fell out over Syria’s civil war, told thousands of cheering supporters that Turkey’s response would be “heavier if you violate my airspace again.”
The Foreign Ministry said in a statement late yesterday that while one of two Syrian warplanes had heeded Turkish warnings and turned back, the other continued flying over Turkish airspace and, “consequently, our air force engaged the aircraft in line with our rights under international law,” the ministry said.
Syria’s official SANA news agency cited an unidentified military official as saying yesterday that the plane was shot down while pursuing terrorists inside Syrian territory. Erdogan’s government supports rebels fighting to topple Assad. The MiG crashed about 1.2 kilometers inside Syria and the pilot survived, Syrian state TV said yesterday.
Erdogan has repeatedly threatened to retaliate for any violation of Turkey’s sovereignty since Syrian forces shot down a Turkish reconnaissance jet in June 2012, killing two pilots. Turkey downed a Syrian helicopter that entered its airspace in September, and has used artillery batteries to engage targets inside Syria in response to shells that have hit Turkish frontier towns and villages.
It has also warned of action to defend a tomb in Syria belonging to an ancestor of the founder of the Ottoman Empire, which Turkey says is surrounded by al-Qaeda affiliated militants. Davutoglu repeated today that the burial site of Suleyman Shah, considered Turkey’s national territory under a a 1921 treaty with France, then the colonial power in Syria, would be protected against any attack. An unstated number of Turkish troops are based at the site.
“All groups in Syria including the Syrian regime should know that any wrong attitude and move against Turkish territory will bring retaliation,” Davutoglu. “Everything possible will be done to ensure the security of our soldiers. Right now, the situation seems stable, no action is foreseen.”
Tensions with Syria are rising as Erdogan seeks to stave off allegations of corruption against his government. The premier accuses a former ally, an Islamic preacher now based in the U.S., of fabricating the allegations to weaken him before a series of elections.
The benchmark stock index has lost about 15 percent since news of the investigations broke in December, and the lira has fallen 9 percent.
To contact the reporter on this story: Selcan Hacaoglu in Ankara at firstname.lastname@example.org
To contact the editors responsible for this story: Andrew J. Barden at email@example.com Francis Harris, Caroline Alexander