Turkey lurched closer to its civil-war-torn neighbor Syria Tuesday, nearly four months after tensions between the two countries began to raise alarm.
Turkish fighter jets on Tuesday forced a Syrian passenger plane to land, fearing it may have been smuggling weapons into Syria. The Washington Times reports authorities found military communication equipment and “parts that could be used in missiles” on the plane. State-run TRT television reported several of the boxes had “Syrian Defense Ministy” written on them.
Later on Thursday, Turkish PM Recep Tayyip Erdogan said the military equipment and munitions found on the Moscow-to-Damascus flight were Russian made, reports the New York Times. The Russian Foreign Ministry retaliated by accusing Turkey of illegally searching the plane, and demanded an explanation.
Russian President Vladamir Putin abruptly cancelled a trip to Turkey on Friday, reports Debka.com. Putin was scheduled to arrive in Turkey on Sunday to meet with PM Erdogan.
Also on Friday, Turkish fighter jets were scrambled in response to reports Syria was shelling rebels in the Syrian city of Azmarin, reports Russia Today. Several refugees fled into Turkey from the city, which is about 1 km. away from the border.
Tuesday’s interception marks the latest in simmering tensions between the two countries. As many as 100,000 Syrians have fled into Turkey since the civil war began 19 months ago. Turkey has openly backed the rebels trying to overthrow the Assad government in Syria, and has even hinted it would take military action against his forces because of the conflict.
It also marks six straight days of Turkey shelling Syrian territory. Although Turkey claims it is in response to mortars launched by the Assad government in Turkey, some claim the firing is the work of rebels trying to draw Turkey into the conflict and overthrow Assad.
On Friday, June 22, those tensions ignited after Syria shot down a Turkish jet fighter that had gone missing while on patrol between the two nations, reports the UK Telegraph. The downed fighter was one of two planes that had entered Syrian air space low and fast, showing hostile intent.
This immediately raised concerns that Turkey, a NATO member, could invoke Article V of the North Atlantic Treaty and summon the aid of all 28 countries in the alliance.
NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen announced on Wednesday that the alliance has drawn up plans to defend Turkey should there be need, reports Reuters. Rassmussen expressed said they are looking into way to prevent a larger conflict from happening.
The United States, concerned over the growing humanitarian crisis and the possibility of Syria’s chemical weapons cache could become compromised, sent more than 150 planners and other specialists to deal with both issues, reports the New York Times. More than 180,000 refugees have crossed the border into Jordan to escape the bloody conflict.
The Americans are also drawing up plans to insulate Jordan from the kind of spillover conflict that has erupted between Turkey and Syria. One proposal is to create a buffer zone “enforced by Jordanian forces on the Syrian side of the border and supported politically and perhaps logistically by the United States,” the Times reports, although this is only a “contingency” at this point.
There have been a few minor incidents where violence has spilled over from Syria into Jordan over the last six months.
So far, the Obama administration has only provided Syrian rebels with communications equipment and other non-lethal assistance. The arrival of American officials into Jordan, and their location of only 35 miles from the Jordan-Syria border, could indicate the United States is getting ready for an increased presence in the civil war.