Last weekend, hostilities between Turkey and Syria escalated after a Syrian anti-aircraft gun struck down a Turkish F-4 Phantom jet that was allegedly flying in international airspace.
It has also been reported that Syria also fired on a Turkish search-and-rescue plane, but it is unclear if any damage was inflicted. As part of its response, Turkey has invoked Article 4 of the North Atlantic Treaty, calling for emergency consultations, which will take place tomorrow in Brussels.
According to the Turkish government’s preliminary investigation, the jet was on a routine test of Turkey’s radar system when it briefly violated Syria’s airspace. After receiving a warning by Turkish air control, the jet reentered international airspace. Fifteen minutes after the warning, the jet was struck down 13 miles off the Syrian coast—a mile inside international waters. Turkish Foreign Ministry Spokesman Selcuk Unal has stated that “it was a hostile act” and that the Turkish government “reserves the right to respond.”
With Turkey invoking Article 4, all NATO members are required to meet for consultations in order to address its security concerns. In April, Turkey threatened to invoke Article 4 when at least five people, including two Turkish officials, were wounded during a cross-border shooting in Turkey’s Kilis refugee camp.
Although there is little chance of NATO invoking Article 5, which states that an attack against one is an attack against all, by invoking Article 4, Turkey has cleverly pushed the Syrian issue onto NATO’s agenda at a time when NATO is trying to keep its distance from the crisis.
This is not the first time that Turkey has invoked Article 4 or requested the alliance to help defend its borders. During the run-up to the 2003 Iraq war, Turkey requested support from NATO to defend its airspace in the form of NATO Airborne Warning and Control Systems and Patriot missile batteries against possible Iraqi intrusion.
NATO military intervention is not expected. NATO allies have little appetite for another military intervention into a country affected by the “Arab Spring.” As such, allies are still searching for a political resolution that seeks the removal of the Assad regime.