Friday, June 22, 2012

The Phantom Menace?

Syria shot down a Turkish F-4 Phantom over the Mediterranean Sea, in what was apparently international air space:

Two crew were aboard the F-4 jet, Turkish state news agency Anatolia said, citing Malatya governor Ulvi Saran.

Hurriyet daily newspaper reported that the plane had gone down in international waters and that the two airmen had been found alive and well by Turkish forces.

I assume it was one of their recon versions, though the details don't say. Nor does the article say how the aircraft was shot down.

I have to wonder if the Syrians were worried the plane would see something that Syria didn't want Turkey to see. Or did the Syrians think it was Israeli?

If Turkey wanted a pretext for war, this would have been it. But Turkey seems ready to let it go:

Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan said on Friday Syria had admitted it had shot down a Turkish warplane in the Mediterranean and apologized[.]
Syria was at least not foolish enough to delay an apology. Assad does not want to provoke a Turkish invasion in any form.

UPDATE: Technically, that apology article never said the Turks accepted the apology:

"Turkey will present its final stance after the incident has been fully brought to light and decisively take the necessary steps," the office said after a two-hour emergency meeting between prime minister, the chief of general staff, the defense, interior and foreign ministers, the head of national intelligence and the commander of the air force.

Turkish media had reported earlier that Syria had apologized for the incident, but Erdogan made no mention of any apology.

Syria says the Turkish jet was low and flying very close to Syrian territory--with a wing man--and was shot down by anti-aircraft fire.

But why? The article speculates that Syria wanted to counter the bad effect on morale of incrasing troop defections to the rebels. But why would risking war with the one country capable of mounting an invasion and staying be the thing to convince shaky troops to stick with the Syrian army?

Turkey has a free escalation if they want it. They do indeed seem to want it.

UPDATE: Wikipedia (of all places) says it was the recon version of the F-4. But the article cited for the sentence with that detail in it does not say it was a recon aircraft.

If true, what didn't Syria want Turkey to see? Are the Russians up to something? And what might the Turks see that we wouldn't?

UPDATE: Another Wikipedia article notes that the recon versions of the F-4 are not based at Malatya where the plane shot down took off from. While this doesn't prove Syria wasn't trying to hide something, it makes it less likely Turkey was trying to find something.

UPDATE: Some Turkish television reports say the planes were on a recon mission.

UPDATE: Something I didn't really focus on before might be relevant:

[The Turkish president] said it was routine for fast-flying jets to cross borders for a short distance and that an investigation would determine whether the F-4 fighter was brought down in Turkish airspace.

If it is true that Turkish planes routinely cut corners there and the Syrians have had no problem with it, it looks more like an ambush. What would have caused the Syrians to decide to no longer accept that routine flight path and shoot at planes not prepared for being shot at?

I don't see this as evidence of Syria's great air defenses, as some are arguing was the point of the shoot down. Oh, they are better than Libya's. But shooting down a plane flying straight at short range which is not anticipating being shot down isn't the hardest thing to do. I wonder if the other plane was shot at, too?

UPDATE: It was apparently a recon jet:

Deputy Prime Minister Bulent Arinc insisted the plane was not a fighter jet but a reconnaissance plane and said Turkey was awaiting an explanation from Syria.

The Syrians also say it was anti-aircraft artillery that brought the plane down. If they are using terminology as I would, that means guns rather than missiles. But it may just be a translation thing or terminology, and mean nothing.