In June this year, Syrian forces shot down a Turkish military jet, claiming that it was in Syrian airspace. Turkey maintains that it was clearly in Turkish airspace. So began a militarisation of the conflict between Turkey and Syria – neighbours, former allies and potentially powerful enemies.
Recently, the Turkish parliament passed a Bill allowing unilateral military action against Syria, resulting from a shell fired over the border having killed 5 civilians. “It is not a bill for war”, said Besir Atalay, Turkey’s Deputy Prime Minsiter, though it is intended to possess “deterrent qualities”. Turkey retains one of the world’s largest standing armies, at roughly half a million soldiers it is larger than the professional armies of the UK, France and Germany combined. It is second only in size, within the Nato bloc, to that of the US. Similarly, as of last year, there are serious and considered plans to yet further double the size of the Turkish army – to a million soliders trained and paid for by the Turkish state. The aim being to both solve issues Turkey has had for many years with terrorism and its Kurdish separatists in the southeast, and long term structural unemployment.
Turkey has been reserved in its response to the growing violence in Syria, fearing unilateral involvement, and actively pursuing a UN resolution or a broader NATO containment force to be deployed. It is critically aware of historic sentiments towards its Ottoman rule over much of the Middle East. Yet, like the quiet but forceful boy in the playground, it’s not really wise for Syria to go poking him in the eye…
30,000 estimated deaths in Syria, as of early October 2012, is still apparently not enough to prompt either a consensual UN resolution, or an intention from NATO to deploy force. The rebels are not tiring of their all too just cause, and Assad feels strengthened both by this International inertia and the civil strife in the country his family has dominated for two generations.