“That border is not quite a tripwire yet, but certainly it’s a lot more tense than it was a week ago,” he said. “The Turks clearly think Syria is a threat to regional peace and security.”
The Turks may also accelerate a quiet effort gathering pace along the border to provide funding and weapons to the Free Syrian Army. Saudi Arabia, Qatar and the United States are participating in that effort, Shaikh said.
Turkey denies arming the rebels, but Erdogan pledged that he would “offer all possible support to liberate the Syrians from dictatorship.”
Turkey and Syria have offered sharply contradictory versions of what happened when the F-4 fighter jet was brought down over the eastern Mediterranean on Friday. Turkey says the plane was in international airspace when it was struck by a missile; Syria says it was within a mile of the Syrian coast, in Syrian airspace, when it was targeted by antiaircraft machine-gun fire. The jet’s two pilots have not been found.
Although the Turkish jet did briefly stray into Syrian airspace, “this kind of short-term border violation can never be regarded as a pretext for a hostile attack,” Erdogan said.
Erdogan’s sense of betrayal
Erdogan’s speech was sprinkled with references to his deep sense of betrayal as Assad, with whom he had forged a close personal relationship, reneged on promises made to Turkey to implement reforms and ease the government’s harsh crackdown on protesters.
Syria had been a focus in recent years of Turkey’s efforts to project its influence in the Arab world, to the extent that the two countries held joint cabinet meetings.
The rapprochement followed more than a decade of tensions during the rule of Assad’s father; the countries came to the brink of war in 1998 over Syria’s support for the radical Kurdistan Workers’ Party, which Turkey considers a terrorist group.
Erdogan had clearly hoped that his friendship with Assad would help end the crisis. But, he said, “now we see that all our hopes were in vain because he was not speaking the truth. We realized the son was not keeping his promises and was following in the footsteps of the father.”
As Erdogan spoke, Syrian rebels said they had attacked a base belonging to the elite Republican Guard in the Damascus suburb of Hameh, in a sign of the rebels’ growing boldness. Residents of Damascus reported hearing explosions and gunfire, and the Local Coordination Committees, an opposition group, said 33 people were killed in the subsequent bombardment of the area.
Early Wedneday, Syria’s state-run news agency reported that gunmen attacked the headquarters of pro-Assad Ikhbhariya TV station 14 miles south of Damascus, killing three employees.
NATO did not propose any measures against Syria during an emergency meeting in Brussels summoned by Turkey. But NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen told reporters that the organization would closely monitor events along the alliance’s southeastern border and would gather to “discuss what else will be done” should another such incident occur.
“It is my clear expectation that the situation won’t continue to escalate,” he said. “What we have seen is a completely unacceptable act, and I would expect Syria to take all necessary steps to avoid such events in the future.”