FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

Syria and the Phantom

by CONN HALLINAN

What was that Turkish F-4 Phantom II up to when the Syrians shot it down?

Ankara said the plane strayed into Syrian airspace, but quickly left and was over international waters when it was attacked, a simple case of carelessness on the part of the Turkish pilot that Syrian paranoia turned deadly.

But the Phantom—eyewitnesses told Turkish television that there were two aircraft, but there is no official confirmation of that observation—was hardly on a Sunday outing. According to the Financial Times, Turkey’s Foreign Minister, Ahmet Davutoglu, told the newspaper “the jet was on a test and training mission focused on Turkey’s radar defense, rather than Syria.”

Translation: the F-4 was “lighting up” a radar net. It is a common—if dangerous and illegal—tactic that allows one to probe an opponent’s radar system. Most combat radar is kept in a passive mode to prevent a potential enemy from mapping out weaknesses or blind spots that can be useful in the advent of an attack. The probes also give you valuable information on how to neutralize anti-aircraft guns and ground to air missiles.

“Lighting up” radar was what the US Navy EP-3E Aries II was doing near China’s Hainan Island when it collided with a Chinese interceptor in 2001. Nations normally take a very dim view of warplanes entering their air space, particularly if there is tension between the countries involved.

As a warplane, the F-4 is a pretty ancient. It was introduced back in 1960, and became the mainstay of the U.S. air war in Southeast Asia. In its day it was a highly capable aircraft, able to hold its own against interceptors like the MIG-21 in a
dogfight, and could also carry heavy bomb payloads. It was also cheap and relatively trouble free, unlike the current crop of US high performance aircraft.

It is doubtful that Syria indentified exactly what the Turkish plane was, just that an unidentified warplane, flying low—generally the altitude one takes when trying to avoid radar—was in Syrian airspace. Paranoia? In 2007 Israeli warplanes—US-made F-16s, not Phantoms—slipped through Syria’s radar net and bombed a suspected nuclear reactor.

Even if Syria identified the plane as a Phantom, they could have taken it for an Israeli craft. Israel was the number one foreign user of F-4s, although they retired them in 2004. Indeed, the Turkish Phantom might even have begun life as an Israeli warplane.

If the Syrians are on hair-trigger alert, one can hardly blame them. The US, the European Union (EU), and NATO openly admit they are gunning to bring down the Assad regime.  Turkey is actively aiding the Free Syrian Army organize cross-border raids into Syria, and it is helping Saudi Arabia and Qatar supply arms and ammunition to the rebels.

For Turkey to send a warplane into Syrian airspace—or even near the Syrian border—on a radar mapping expedition at this moment was either remarkably provocative or stone stupid. The explanation could be more sinister, however.

NATO has established a command and control center in Iskenderun, Turkey, near the Syrian border, that is training and organizing the Free Syrian Army. It surely has a sophisticated setup for tapping into Syrian electronic transmissions and, of course, radar networks. If NATO eventually decides to directly intervene in Syria, the alliance will need those electronic maps. NATO aircraft easily overwhelmed Libya’s anti-aircraft systems, but Syria’s are considerably more sophisticated and dangerous.

There are a number of things about the incident that have yet to be explained. Turkey says the F-4 was 13 nautical miles from Syria when it was attacked—which would put it in international waters—but it crashed in Syrian waters. Damascus claims the plane came down less than a mile from the Syrian coast.

Turkey says one of its search planes was shot at as well—the Syrians deny this—and has called for a meeting of its NATO allies. So far, Ankara is only talking about invoking Article Four of the NATO treaty, not Article Five. Four allows for “consultations”; Five would open up the possibility of an armed response.

A thorough investigation of the incident seems in order, although Turkey’s Davutoglu says, “No matter how the downed Turkish jet saga unfolds…we will always stand by the Syrian people until the advent of a democratic regime there.” In short, regardless of what happened, Turkey will continue to pursue regime change in Damascus.

The Assad regime’s heavy-handed approach to its opponents played a major role in sparking the current uprising, but the default position of regime change by the EU and NATO has turned this into a fight to the death. Assad is broadly unpopular, but not universally so, and the support of the regime is not limited to his own Islamic sect, the Alawites, or other minorities, like the Christians.

Nor is all of the opposition a paragon of democratic freethinking. The heavy role played by Saudi Arabia and Qatar in supplying arms and money to the rebels, means the deeply conservative Salafist sect of Islam has a major presence in the resistance. This is exactly how the Afghan mujahedeen mutated into the Taliban and al-Qaeda.

The demand for regime change by the US, the EU, and NATO torpedoed the United Nations effort for a diplomatic solution. The Assad regime had no stake in a peaceful resolution, since it would mean its ouster in any case. And the opposition knew it need not respect a ceasefire, since everyone who supports them supports regime change.

It was into this situation that Turkey flew an F-4 Phantom through Syrian airspace. Exactly what did Ankara think Syria would do? On the other hand, maybe it knew exactly what Syria would do.

CONN HALLINAN can be read at dispatchesfromtheedgeblog.wordpress.com and middleempireseries.wordpress.com. He is a contributor to Hopeless: Barack Obama and the Politics of Illusion.

Conn Hallinan can be read at dispatchesfromtheedgeblog.wordpress.com 

More articles by:
May 30, 2016
Ron Jacobs
The State of the Left: Many Movements, Too Many Goals?
James Abourezk
The Intricacies of Language
Porfirio Quintano
Hillary, Honduras, and the Murder of My Friend Berta
Patrick Cockburn
Airstrikes on ISIS are Reducing Their Cities to Ruins
Uri Avnery
The Center Doesn’t Hold
Raouf Halaby
The Sailors of the USS Liberty: They, Too, Deserve to Be Honored
Rodrigue Tremblay
Barack Obama’s Legacy: What Happened?
Matt Peppe
Just the Facts: The Speech Obama Should Have Given at Hiroshima
Deborah James
Trade Pacts and Deregulation: Latest Leaks Reveal Core Problem with TISA
Michael Donnelly
Still Wavy After All These Years: Flower Geezer Turns 80
Ralph Nader
The Funny Business of Farm Credit
Paul Craig Roberts
Memorial Day and the Glorification of Past Wars
Colin Todhunter
From Albrecht to Monsanto: A System Not Run for the Public Good Can Never Serve the Public Good
Rivera Sun
White Rose Begins Leaflet Campaigns June 1942
Tom H. Hastings
Field Report from the Dick Cheney Hunting Instruction Manual
Weekend Edition
May 27, 2016
Friday - Sunday
John Pilger
Silencing America as It Prepares for War
Rob Urie
By the Numbers: Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump are Fringe Candidates
Paul Street
Feel the Hate
Daniel Raventós - Julie Wark
Basic Income Gathers Steam Across Europe
Andrew Levine
Hillary’s Gun Gambit
Jeffrey St. Clair
Hand Jobs: Heidegger, Hitler and Trump
S. Brian Willson
Remembering All the Deaths From All of Our Wars
Dave Lindorff
With Clinton’s Nixonian Email Scandal Deepening, Sanders Must Demand Answers
Pete Dolack
Millions for the Boss, Cuts for You!
Peter Lee
To Hell and Back: Hiroshima and Nagasaki
Gunnar Westberg
Close Calls: We Were Much Closer to Nuclear Annihilation Than We Ever Knew
Karl Grossman
Long Island as a Nuclear Park
Binoy Kampmark
Sweden’s Assange Problem: The District Court Ruling
Robert Fisk
Why the US Dropped Its Demand That Assad Must Go
Martha Rosenberg – Ronnie Cummins
Bayer and Monsanto: a Marriage Made in Hell
Brian Cloughley
Pivoting to War
Stavros Mavroudeas
Blatant Hypocrisy: the Latest Late-Night Bailout of Greece
Arun Gupta
A War of All Against All
Dan Kovalik
NPR, Yemen & the Downplaying of U.S. War Crimes
Randy Blazak
Thugs, Bullies, and Donald J. Trump: The Perils of Wounded Masculinity
Murray Dobbin
Are We Witnessing the Beginning of the End of Globalization?
Daniel Falcone
Urban Injustice: How Ghettos Happen, an Interview with David Hilfiker
Gloria Jimenez
In Honduras, USAID Was in Bed with Berta Cáceres’ Accused Killers
Kent Paterson
The Old Braceros Fight On
Lawrence Reichard
The Seemingly Endless Indignities of Air Travel: Report from the Losing Side of Class Warfare
Peter Berllios
Bernie and Utopia
Stan Cox – Paul Cox
Indonesia’s Unnatural Mud Disaster Turns Ten
Linda Pentz Gunter
Obama in Hiroshima: Time to Say “Sorry” and “Ban the Bomb”
George Souvlis
How the West Came to Rule: an Interview with Alexander Anievas
Julian Vigo
The Government and Your i-Phone: the Latest Threat to Privacy
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail