By FOUAD AJAMI, OPINION October 11, 2012, –
Forcing down a Syrian passenger plane suspected of carrying munitions is the latest chapter in a dangerous spat between neighbors.
As Turkish forces along the Syrian border exchange fire with the army of Bashar Assad, and Syrian refugees pour into Turkey, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, a proud Islamist, might better appreciate the wisdom of Mustafa Kemal Atatürk. The secular founder of modern Turkey advised his countrymen: Look West, leave the old lands of the Ottoman Empire to their feuds and backwardness.
For Mr. Erdogan, so near the Syrian killing fields in Aleppo and Idlib, there is now no easy way out of this entanglement. The conflict escalated on Oct. 3, when Syrian mortar shells hit a Turkish border town, killing five civilians—a woman and four children—and prompting Mr. Erdogan to warn: “We’re not interested in war, but we’re not far from it either.”
Not far, indeed. In June, the Assad regime downed a Turkish F-4 fighter jet it claimed was over Syrian “territorial waters,” causing outrage in Ankara. This week, Turkish jets forced down a Syrian passenger plane that Ankara suspected of transporting military equipment from Russia. Mr. Erdogan announced on Thursday that the plane was carrying ammunition and defense equipment bound for the Assad regime in violation of an arms embargo. NATO recently announced that it has drawn up plans to defend Turkey, a member since 1952, if necessary.