Publicly, there is evidence that Turkey may finally be willing to
act. Speaking to parliament on Tuesday, Erdogan said Syria represented a
"clear and imminent threat" and promised to respond militarily to any
new Syrian incursions into Turkish territory.
"Any military element that approaches the Turkish border from Syria
posing a security risk and danger will be regarded as a threat and
treated as a military target," Erdogan told the lawmakers.
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Within hours, Turkish media reported that large numbers of Turkish
troops, artillery pieces, and tanks were massing along the
Erdogan's harsh denunciations of Assad were echoed by both North
Atlantic Treaty Organization officials and the Obama administration.
NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen said NATO partners
considered Syria's downing of the Turkish plane "unacceptable and
condemn it in the strongest terms." White House press secretary Jay
Carney said the U.S. stood in "solidarity" with Turkey and would "work
with Turkey and other partners to hold the Assad regime accountable."
Still, neither Rasmussen nor Carney gave any indication there was
willingness to use force against Assad. With the Afghan war dragging
into its 11th year, there is simply no appetite within NATO for another
overseas adventure. Here in the U.S., the Obama administration has no
desire for a new military intervention just months before November's
elections and has limited its involvement to diplomatic condemnation,
sanctions, and the provision of nonlethal aid to the rebels.
Turkey, for its part, has been talking for months about creating a
humanitarian safe zone along its border as a haven for Syrian
refugees--and to use warplanes to protect the area from Assad--but has yet
to actually do so. Launching direct strikes into Syria would be a far
more aggressive move, and Syria experts say Ankara would be unlikely to
take such a step without clear American backing.
"They want U.S. support and until now they haven't received it," said
Andrew Tabler of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy. "This
is not something they would do on their own."
Stephen Larrabee of the RAND Corporation said Erdogan was trying to
line up NATO's diplomatic backing in case Syria continued to make other
provocative moves in the future, and Turkey felt no choice but to
respond in kind. Turkey, he said, hadn't reached that point just yet.
"They want to call attention to Syria's behavior but it isn't as if
they thought they'd get NATO support for any military action, or that
they're ready to go down that path themselves," he said by phone from
Turkey. "At this point, the name of the game is to arm the rebels and
put pressure on Assad, not to take him on alone."
Turkey has been at the forefront of the anti-Assad movement for
months, and it would almost certainly be the vanguard of any push to use
military force to oust Assad. For the moment, though, Syria's grim
status quo is likely to hold. Erdogan may be talking tougher than ever
about Assad, but the current flap is almost certain to die down without
anything more than those angry words.