By Harriet Fildes
Turkey made a formal request for Patriot missiles as a result of the Syrian shelling of Akcakale and a subsequent escalation of border tensions and the consequent violation of Turkish sovereignty. A joint Turkish-NATO delegation will assess where to place the missiles, the number needed and how many foreign troops should accompany them, which could reach up to 300.
It is thought that Assad is in possession of hundreds of ballistic missiles and chemical weapons and consequently poses a direct threat to Turkey’s national security and its civilians. Furthermore, Syrian support for Kurdish militants in Turkey and the impending humanitarian disaster that is the refugee crisis are both of pressing concern for the Turkish government.
The AKP’s deputy chairman Huseyin Celik stated that “Turkey will be holding the trigger,” reassuring many, particularly Turkish citizens in the border towns, but causing adverse, if predictable reactions from Syria and its main allies Iran and Russia, who have denounced the Turkish request as “provocative” and detrimental to solving the twenty-month conflict.
Davutoğlu has dismissed Iranian and Russian criticism, stating that “The missile system has a defensive purpose only. This system will not be operational unless there is a risk to our security. And it is our government’s obligation to take any measure when there is even the slightest chance of risk.”
The military have reiterated this and expanded on their delimitations, stating that the use of Patriot missiles to enforce a no-fly zone is “out of the question.”
Both the military and the government have repeatedly assured their domestic population and the international community that these weapons are only for defensive purposes, a pledge which should probably be listened to given the so-far unfounded fears of an impending war which arose after the Akcakale attack when the Turkish parliament passed a mandate authorising cross border raids for similar defensive and deterrent considerations.
Erdoğan has attempted to assuage fears that these measures are a precursor to war, repeatedly stating that “Turkey has no intention of starting a war.” Historical evidence supports such declarations as Turkey possessed Patriots during both Gulf wars without deploying them.
NATO chief Anders Fogh Rasmussen has supported the Turkish government’s argument, stating that “Such a deployment would augment Turkey’s air defence capabilities to defend the population and territory of Turkey. It would contribute to the de-escalation of the crisis along NATO’s south-eastern border.”
However, the shells and mortars which have been threatening Turkey’s turbulent border cannot be countered by the Patriot system which suggests that the aim could be to enforce a de facto no-fly zone.
What is more likely is that the aim of the Patriots is to be a deterrent, inhibiting Assad’s aerial bombardment capacity lest a stray shell fall over the Turkish border.
Hasan Ozertem, expert on energy security studies for USAK discussed Turkey’s motivations and aims for requesting these missiles. “The Patriots are meant to be a defensive measure considering the increasing tension in Syria. Moreover, although there are no threats in the air from Syria currently, this does not mean there won’t be any as the situation worsens. From the beginning of the crisis, Russia and Iran have tried to take defensive measures on a regional scale. Russian naval forces and Iranian submarines are maneuvering in the eastern Mediterranean and Iran and Russia have constantly assisted the Syrian regime in security issues.”
He further stated that “Up until now there have been increasing security concerns in the region for the Western alliance and for Turkey, which is a member of NATO. In this sense, the deployment of Patriot missiles by NATO on Turkish territory will show NATO solidarity and that NATO is not avoiding combating Turkish security concerns given the escalating situation in Syria.”
Despite inflammatory rhetoric from Iran, stating that “The installation of such systems in the region has negative effects and will intensify problems in the region,” according to Mr. Ozertem there are no concrete grounds to say Patriots will increase tension because by design, their characteristics are defensive.