26 November 2015

Turn to page 214 in the book “War-making for Dummies.” You will find: “plan air operations right on your neighbor’s border, zig in and zag out, make rude gestures at enemy pilots, and shoot them down if you can.”

On Tuesday this week, the inevitable air clash occurred on the Syrian-Turkish border west of Aleppo. From what we know so far, two Russian SU-24 bombers that had been pounding anti-Damascus forces on the border briefly intruded on Turkish airspace for all of 17 seconds.

Turkish F-16 fighters, clearly pre-positioned in the area, pounced on the Russians and downed one Sukhoi with an air-to-air missiles. One of the Russian pilots was killed – probably by pro-Turkish Syrian tribesmen while parachuting to earth. A Russian Marine was killed when the helicopter in which he was flying to recuse the downed airman was hit by a US-supplied TOW anti-tank missile.

Turkey claimed it had warned the Russian warplane 10 times’ before shooting. How the Turks could pre-position its F-16’s and issue ten warnings within 17 seconds was not explained. Russia’s president Vladimir Putin furiously accused the Turks of murder and supporting ISIS extremists.

The US-led NATO alliance rushed to back up member Turkey, which moved forces to its long border with Syria. Putin ordered lethal, long-ranged S-400 anti-aircraft missiles to Syria and missile cruiser “Moskva” to station off Syria’s Mediterranean coast. Both systems can cover large parts of western Syria, including areas routinely intruded upon by US, French, British and Israeli aircraft.

In short, a perfect witch’s stew for the beginning of a real war between Russia and the West that has been simmering in Syria and Ukraine. US forces are now operating in both nations within spitting distance of Russian troops.

The location of this Russo-Turkish clash was very interesting, though unnoted by western media. It occurred along the southern end of a small, narrow salient of Turkish territory jutting into Syria.

The Turkish territory in question is Hatay Province: it contains the former Crusader stronghold of Antioch and the important port of Iskenderun. Hatay has been the arena of military crises since the first recorded battle there in 853 BC.

Hatay belonged to historic Syria until detached after World War I by Syria’s French colonial masters and handed to Turkey in an attempt to bribe the Turks to become French allies. Syria has long demanded the return of Hatay.

This week’s clash over Hatay will likely revive Syrian demands for a return of Hatay. Turkey dismisses all Syrian claims. The groundwork has thus been laid for a new Syrian-Turkish conflict.

Who is to blame for the latest crisis on the Turkish-Syrian border? Both sides. Neither should have been flying combat patrols over the border region. There should have been a minimum ten km buffer zone on both sides of the sensitive border.

Turkish trigger-happy hotheads are to blame for authorizing deadly force when a few wing wags would have served to warn off the Russians – if they were in fact intruding. Turkey is in no position to claim it’s the injured party when arms, munitions and logistics support for ISIS has been pouring across its border into Syria for almost five years.

Russia, which accidentally shot down a South Korean airliner in 1982, is no angel either. Nor the US, which downed an Iranian airliner in 1988.

Turkey is point-man for the odd coalition of stealthy ISIS backers that includes the US, Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Egypt, France and Britain. ISIS is their weapon of choice against Shia Iran and its Syrian and Lebanese allies and, very soon, Taliban in Afghanistan. Problem is, they back ISIS but can’t control its youthful members. The rabid dog they helped breed is now running around biting people.

By picking a fight with Russia, Turkey is shooting itself in the foot. Russia and the predecessor of modern Turkey, the Ottoman Empire, fought innumerable wars from the 1680’s until World War I. Russia has never abandoned its desire to seize the Straits, as Constantinople and the Dardanelles were called.

Turkey exports $4 billion to Russia, and imports large quantities of wheat, oil, gas, steel. Four and a half million Russian tourists come annually to Turkey. Shooting down a Russian warplane will make hyper-nationalist Turks beat their chests but the hangover will seriously damage Turkey’s unsteady economy.

Putin and Turkey’s Erdogan should meet asap to resolve their issue before it becomes yet another step on the road to World War III.

copyright Eric S. Margolis 2015


This post is in: ISIS, Mideast, Russia, Syria, Turkey


  1. Are some idiots willing to risk the entire future of mankind just to get the last two holdouts under their command? This is cutting off your nose to spite your face to the most extreme possible. Where are all those good intentions we heard about at the end of WW2? “Never again” was the brave slogan, but the wars have never stopped since and are only getting more brutal and barbaric with time. On the one side of the divide is the ultimate freedom of mankind and on the other the insane greed of the richest 1% or less.

  2. Why would Turkey do something so murderously stupid? Presuming that the order to fire came from a very senior source, the best estimate I’ve read is that they’re afraid of a coalition being formed that includes the Russians and shooting down the Su-24 was designed to scuttle that effort.

    The plane and crew came to rest in Syria. The Turkish claim of multiple warnings when the time needed to cross their territory was 12-17 seconds is nonsense. Turkey is at fault and guilty of murder.

    Which brings up the question of the rules of being a NATO member. Are members required to come to the aid of others if they start the conflict? Article 5 needs expansion to limit the call to aid to cases of unprovoked aggression.

  3. Eric’s mention of the fact that arms, munitions and logistics have flowed through Turkey in support of ISIS in Syria (and Iraq) is very much on point. Many ISIS supporters from the US, Canada, Britain, and France have flown into Istanbul and gone on into Syria and Iraq, unhindered by Turkish immigration officials who could stop them from entering Turkey in the first place, if that’s what the country wanted to do. The western countries are well aware that Turkey has been turning a blind eye to these ISIS supporters, but have nothing critical to say. As Eric suggests, this is all part of a big game.

    Meanwhile, the Western countries have decided to allow their phony war against ISIS to drag on and it’s obvious that they have no real interest in crushing this group. By keeping Syria in turmoil, the last external threat to Israel, apart maybe from Iran, is completely sidelined and the Palestinians are left without much support – for now.

  4. This was clearly planned and instigated by the US.This whole mess started when Bush Jr. illegally attacked a soverign nation,namely Iraq,in 2003 because of non existent weapons of mass destruction.Washington,CLEARLY are the instigators here. It all began when Russia refused to hand over whistle blower Snowden…remember him?

    Now the criminals in Washington are ever bringing the world to a nuclear holocaust.Out going President Dwight Eisenhower was dead on when he warned America…and the world about the powerful Industrial Military Complex.But who listened?Now the damage is already done.No country is able to stop the might of the US.They were once a great country…but no more!Don’t get fooled about ISIS…they are a product of the US military to keep feeding the weapons industry.I will take Putin’s word over Obama’s in a heartbeat!

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