Following the downing of a Turkish military jet by Syria, Ankara has referred the case to NATO to find a response to the incident. But military reprisals are not on the agenda.
Recep Tayyip Erdogan is considered a man of unambiguous words. That much is obvious, for instance, every time the mass murder of Armenians in 1915 is raised in international discussion. When France recently declared it a criminal offense to deny that the massacre was genocide, Erdogan slammed then French President Nicolas Sarkozy, saying the measure was an election ploy to stoke "hatred against Muslims and Turks."
Erdogan was equally temperamental at the World Economic Forum in Davos in 2009, where he stormed from the podium complaining that he had been given too little time during a debate with Israeli President Shimon Peres on the situation in Gaza.
Compared with these angry outbursts, Ankara's reaction to the downing of a Turkish military jet by the Syrian army seems moderate. The F4 Phantom took off from an airbase in the province of Malatya last Friday and crashed into the sea just off the Syrian coast.
Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmed Davutoglu accused Syria of shooting down the Turkish plane in international airspace, but admitted that it may have briefly entered Syrian airspace accidentally. Nevertheless, he stressed that it had been on an unarmed training flight, and not a secret mission connected with the civil war currently raging in Syria.
Turkish Deputy Prime Minister Bülent Arinc called the downing an "alarming incident," but said it still needed to be investigated, while Turkish President Abdullah Gül also said that any response should be delayed until the investigation was completed.
Hand in hand with NATO
Now Turkey has called in NATO, invoking Article 4 of the NATO treaty, which requires the alliance's counsel when one of its members feels its security or political integrity has been threatened. But only Article 5 - not invoked by Turkey - obliges other member states to provide military support when one of its members is under attack.
"Turkey is certainly not expecting the mutual defense clause to be invoked," Günter Seufert of the German Institute for International and Security Affairs (SWP) told DW.
Indeed, Article 5 has only ever been invoked once in NATO's history - following al Qaeda's terrorist attacks on the US on September 11, 2001. This incident, on the other hand, concerns a military jet that was apparently shot down after violating the airspace of a country in which a bloody civil war has been raging for months. In this case a military response would only be legitimate if Turkey had been attacked by the Syrian army.
"I think that Turkey is calling in NATO so that the organization will find a common line on the Syria question," said Seufert. The analyst believes that NATO could build a united front against Syria, except that Syria has no interest in escalating the situation. Jihad Makdissi, spokesman for Syria's Foreign Ministry, declared on Syrian government website "Syria Now" that, though there has been no official apology, the country has no hostile intentions towards its neighbor. The Syrians have also repeatedly called the incident "a mistake."
Complex geo-political situation
No one wants a military escalation of the situation in Syria, because that could destabilize the entire region, believes Martin Beck, director the Konrad Adenauer Foundation in Amman, Jordan. This, he says, would particularly affect Lebanon and Jordan, as well as the Kurdish regions of Turkey and Iraq, and even Israel.
"Syria is caught up in all the conflicts in the Middle East, in multiple ways and on several different levels," said Matthias Dembinski, security expert at the Peace Research Institute Frankfurt (PRIF). He warned that western intervention could motivate other players and harden the religious fronts in Syria - Alawi against Sunni, Christian against Sunni.
"If a military intervention is ever considered, then a number of NATO members have already indicated that there would need to be a UN Security Council resolution," Dembinski continued. But that is currently out of the question.
At a summit in Luxembourg, the EU condemned the attack by the Syrian military, and agreed further sanctions against the country. European foreign ministers called on Damascus to begin an immediate and thorough investigation of the incident, and to cooperate fully with Turkey. The EU also praised Ankara's restraint so far. "This is the hour of de-escalation," said German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle.
Relations between the former allies Turkey and Syria have worsened significantly since President Bashar al-Assad began his violent suppression of the Syrian opposition movement.
Turkeyhas already taken in over 30,000 refugees from the Syrian conflict, the Turkish Foreign Ministry said recently. But the creation of refugee camps along their mutual border has angered the Syrian government.
On top of this, according to a New York Times report, the CIA is organizing weapons deliveries to the Syrian opposition from Turkey. Ankara denies this, claiming that its only concern is the welfare of the Syrian population.
Author: Diana Hodali / bk
Editor: Andreas Illmer