Nato has no other option but to support Turkey’s positionby Jonathan Eyal / November 24, 2015 / Leave a comment
NATO ambassadors are meeting this afternoon in an emergency session to assess their response to the downing by the Turkish military of a Russian jet on the border with Syria.
The meeting is labelled as “informal”, in a conscious effort to calm diplomatic tempers. But there is no doubt that the Alliance is facing an awkward choice between supporting one of its member-states and risking a further downturn in relations with Russia, just when key NATO nations are seeking Russia’s military cooperation in the Middle East. The incident could not have come at a worst time.
Since the Russians first launched their offensive over the crowded skies of Syria in which the militaries of at least ten other nations regularly operate, this was an accident waiting to happen. Israel, which is not an active party to the conflict, acted early to prevent any clashes with the Russians: Israeli Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu went to Moscow with the specific mission of concluding a deal under which the air forces of the two countries would regularly exchange information about their whereabouts and activities. The US military did the same at a later stage, albeit more grudgingly.
However, Turkey steadfastly refused to follow suit, largely because it resented Russia’s role in the region, and hoped that Moscow’s offensive would be short-lived. Instead, the Turks protested vigorously when Russian military jets violated their airspace and rushed to enlist NATO’s support: in a communique issued in early October at Turkey’s behest, the Alliance expressed its “deep concern” at Russia’s “irresponsible behaviour”. Turkish officials hinted at that time that they’d be minded to open fire on any incursion, but few took this threat very seriously.