Turkey seen blundering into war over Syria

Oct. 12, 2012 at 2:19 PM
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ANKARA, Turkey, Oct. 12 (UPI) -- Turkey's latest spat with Russia has reignited fears Turkish leaders may be blundering into war over Syria.

Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan has seen his approval ratings in polls chipped away by a series of foreign policy initiatives that have raised the temperature of ties with Syria and Russia.

A delicate brinkmanship over Iran's disputed nuclear program has given way to ambivalence in Ankara that threatens the two countries' special relationship that has survived numerous crises and diametrically opposite affiliations.

Turkey is the easternmost member of NATO, an alliance regarded with suspicion by both Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and Syria's embattled President Bashar Assad.

Analysts say Turkey, having burned bridges with Syria, should be wary of earning the enmity of Iran, a major trade partner.

Russian President Vladimir Putin canceled a trip to Turkey after Ankara alleged a passenger jet originating in Moscow carried military equipment and ammunition. Ankara insists the two events are unrelated but the cancellation followed Moscow's angry denials the Syrian Air A-320 carried any military supplies.

Moscow said Wednesday's forced grounding of jetliner with 35 passengers, en route to Damascus, put at risk the safety of 17 Russian citizens aboard.

The landing was forced by two Turkish F-16 warplanes after Turkish officials suspected the jet's cargo contained weapons and ammunition.

Moscow "continues to insist on an explanation of the reasons for these actions by the Turkish authorities," a statement said.

Syria accused Turkish officials of assaulting the crew, denied any illegal cargo was on board and demanded the return of whatever had been seized. Turkish officials said they might confiscate the material.

Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu said it was "unacceptable" for Turkish airspace to be used for weapons transfers to the Assad's regime, which Turkey fervently opposes.

However, analysts said, Turkey has been hosting Assad's foes and regularly allows arms shipments to Syria by various rebel groups sworn to overthrowing Assad. Syria says Turkey's complicity in arms transfers is an act of war.

Earlier in the week Turkey signaled it was ready to escalate the confrontation with Syria if the conflict spread to its territory.

A National Assembly vote authorized a military response to a Syrian mortar strike across the border that left five Turkish civilians dead, but lawmakers said it wasn't a declaration of war.

Turkish Chief of General Staff Gen. Necdet Ozel said his forces reserved the right to respond accordingly to any security violations in his country.

"We responded but if it continues we will respond with greater force," Ozel said.

Morton Abramowitz, a senior fellow at The Century Foundation, earlier questioned Erdogan's judgment. He warned in an analysis that "today's principal concern is whether his personal ambitions and overweening certainties may be eclipsing his judgment -- and affecting Turkish interests."

Abramowitz said "Turkey has lost friends and money" since the Arab spring and questioned Erdogan's handling of the Syria crisis.

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