After artillery exchanges between Turkey and Syria, Ankara is preparing for conflict and at the same time stating it does not intend to declare war. The West has responded slowly to play down the clash's importance.
Over the last few weeks Turkish troops on the border with Syria have observed and noted the movements of Syrian artillery units across the border near Akcakale in southwest Anatolia. Using these observations, the military and politicians in Ankara were able say where the deadly grenades had been fired from just a few hours after an attack on a Turkish border town occurred on Wednesday. Turkish officials were also convinced the shots were intentionally fired.
In response, Turkish howitzers targeted a Syrian unit that had been located by radar and which, according to reports, was located anywhere from three kilometers to 30 kilometers into Syrian territory.
Spark before the flame?
Turkey is not limiting its response to howitzer fire. The air force and navy were put on alert, according to press reports. On Thursday, Turkey renewed its retaliatory shots at Syria.
Few doubts remain about Turkey's resolve to consider a full military reaction against Syria. The Turkish parliament set to meet Thursday morning for an emergency session and give their blessing for potential deployment in Syria. A regional surface war as a result of unrest in Syria could now, as German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle has warned for months, become a realistic scenario, though an aide to Turkish Prime Minister Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan told reporters Thursday that Turkey did not intend to declare war on Syria.
Turkey won't go it alone
Erdogan and other politicians have said in recent weeks that they - in spite of their demands for the creation of a security zone for refugees from Syria - do not want Turkey to enter Syria single-handedly. Without support from the United States, Western allies and the Arab world, Ankara will not want to engage itself in a Syrian adventure.
This predisposition will inform reactions to events in Akcakale - especially since opinion polls show a majority of Turks reject intervention in Syria. One year before important local elections, and in the middle of a wave of clashes between the army and the Kurdish PKK rebels, Erdogan's government hopes to avoid any rash decisions. The question, however, remains whether Ankara can avoid being pulled deeper into conflict due to events in Akcakale.
New priorities, Turkish demands
For the time being, Erdogan will continue to call for the establishment of a refugee security zone and the enforcement of a no-fly zone over Syria. The increasing number of refugees fleeing to Turkey - there will soon be more than 100,000 Syrians refugees in Turkey - supports his argument. For weeks the government has requested the UN create a security zone in Syria when this threshold is exceeded.
Yet the international community has reacted mutely to the Turkish proposals, with Western allies in particular showing hesitation. Observers in Ankara have figured that the issues might first be taken up after the US presidential elections in November. Even after the shots from Akcakale, the US announcement that it does not foresee a large-scale conflict taking place between Turkey, which is a member of NATO, and Syria.