Turkey is calling for NATO’s protection after 33 of its soldiers were killed in an apparent Syrian airstrike in Idlib, allegedly while fighting in terrorist ranks. In the regional chaos that ensues, only one player stands to gain.
Speculation over what’s to come next has seen #article 5 trending on Twitter in the hours following the attacks, after Omer Celik, spokesman for Turkey’s ruling AKP party, indicated to reporters in Ankara that he was looking at requesting formal NATO protection against Damascus and, by proxy, the Russian air force.
“We call on NATO to [start] consultations. This is not [an attack] on Turkey only, it is an attack on the international community. A common reaction is needed. The attack was also against NATO,” Celik told Turkish media.
Article 5 of the NATO treaty says an attack on one member is an attack on them all.
The US State Department also condemned the attack, stating that it stands by its “NATO ally Turkey.” It further stated that it continues to “call for an immediate end to this despicable offensive by the Assad regime, Russia and Iranian-backed forces.” Never one to let us down, the US envoy to NATO Kay Bailey Hutchinson also told journalists that “everything is on the table.”
However, it is unclear if NATO has the stamina to back Turkey in any meaningful way in a war against a Syrian government which is backed by Russian air power. It is also unclear if Article 5 extends to NATO allies when they have effectively invaded a foreign entity. In fact, even if no corporate media entity would willingly admit it, the nation defending itself in this specific set of facts is Syria – not Turkey.
That being said, Ankara has found a way to ensure that European nations do not flat-out ignore the situation. Just recently, Turkey reportedly opened up the Idlib border to allow an influx of Syrian refugees to flee to Europe, which will surely magnify regional tensions to a significant extent.
Moscow has responded to the situation by highlighting Ankara’s relationship with the various jihadist entities in Syria. According to Russia’s Defense Ministry, the airstrike was carried out when the Syrian Army was repelling an offensive by Syria’s official al-Qaeda offshoot, Hayat Tahrir al-Sham, inside the Idlib “de-escalation zone.” Of course, anyone who has been paying attention to the war in Syria can appreciate that Ankara’s material and financial support for terrorist groups in Syria, including and especially Islamic State (IS, formerly ISIS/ISIL), has long been documented.
Whether a hot war is on the table or not, the current situation is almost ripe for the United States foreign policy establishment, which has been dreaming of putting Russia and Turkey on a collision course for a while now. If you doubt this, you need only look to this final paragraph of a recent Guardian article:
“Kay Bailey Hutchison, the US ambassador to Nato, said Thursday’s events should show Turkey “who is their reliable partner and who isn’t” and prompt it to drop its purchase of a major Russian missile defence system, which Washington says threatens the western alliance.” [emphasis added]
The US has been seriously troubled by Turkey’s move to procure Russia’s S-400 missile system. Washington is also concerned by Turkey’s desire to join the China-Russia dominated Shanghai Co-operation Organisation (SCO), which could see Turkey in an alliance with not only Russia and China, but Iran as well.
The US is willing to back Turkey into a corner in which it finds itself confronting Russia, with or without the full support of the NATO alliance, if it means that what was looking like a budding fruitful relationship between Ankara and Moscow will fall completely apart.
On the other hand, Moscow, a key ally of the Syrian government, is unlikely to stand by while Turkey insists on invading Syrian territory and defending the various jihadist groups which have wreaked havoc in Syria for close to a decade.
Perhaps this is what Donald Trump was hinting at when he recently said he would pass the fight against IS over to Iraq, Syria, Iran and Russia while he focused on maintaining control of oil and resources. The US can sit on the sidelines and watch other nations fight among themselves, while the US concentrates on the spoils of war.
The divide-and-conquer strategy of the American empire is still alive and well. Given the risk of a heightened conflict involving a NATO member who holds a significant stock of US nukes, one can only hope that cooler heads will prevail and avert the ignition of such a regional powder keg.