Investigations into the shooting suggested that it was not an accident or a mistake, and that Syria was aware it was firing at a Turkish plane when the U.S.-made F-4 fighter was targeted without warning by at least two surface-to-air missiles, Turkish officials said. A search continued in the eastern Mediterranean for the two missing pilots.
“It was a hostile act,” Turkish Foreign Ministry spokesman Selcuk Unal said in a telephone interview. “They shot down a plane over international waters, and this is unacceptable.” Turkey sent a diplomatic note to Syria stating that under international law, Turkey “reserves the right to respond,” he added.
In Washington, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton called the downing “a brazen and unacceptable act” and said the United States was consulting with its allies and partners regarding “next steps” to be taken against Syria, at a time when a U.N. effort to address the spiraling bloodshed inside Syria through diplomacy is faltering.
Although immediate military action seems unlikely, Turkey’s summons puts the Syrian crisis on NATO’s agenda for the first time since the uprising began, and the development “is very significant,” said Salman Shaikh, director of the Brookings Doha Center in Qatar.
“The preferred option for everyone including the United States is still a political solution,” he said. “But whereas a few days ago a military option was not on the cards, now it will be discussed in a way it hasn’t been for the past year and a half. It activates NATO, which we haven’t seen before.”
NATO spokeswoman Lungescu Oana said ambassadors of the alliance’s 28 member-states will meet in Brussels on Tuesday to hear a Turkish presentation on the incident.
“Under Article 4, any ally can request consultations whenever, in the opinion of any of them, their territorial integrity, political independence or security is threatened,” she said in a statement.
Turkey’s request for a NATO meeting came after two days of deliberations between Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, his ministers and top Turkish military officials, who gave little indication as to how Turkey planned to respond to the most serious cross-border incident since the Syrian revolt erupted 15 months ago, triggering fears of a wider regional conflict.
Unal, the Foreign Ministry spokesman, said Turkey’s investigation showed that the plane had briefly strayed into Syrian airspace while on a routine mission to test Turkish radar systems. But the jet was immediately warned by the Turks, he said, and the missile strike came 15 minutes after the “brief violation,” when the plane was back in international airspace and was heading in “a different direction” than Syria.