Thursday, June 28, 2012

Conn Hallinan: Turkish F-4 Activated Syrian Radar to Scope Out Blind Spots

From: Portside Moderator [mailto:moderator@PORTSIDE.ORG]
Sent: Wednesday, June 27, 2012 7:10 PM
Subject: Turkish F-4 Activated Syrian Radar to Scope Out Blind Spots

Turkish F-4 Activated Syrian Radar to Scope Out Blind Spots

By Conn Hallinan
Foreign Poicy in Focus
June 27, 2012

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

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
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 identified 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 to
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,

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

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

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.

For more of Conn Hallinan's essays visit Dispatches From the Edge .

Meanwhile, his novels about the ancient Romans can be found at The Middle
Empire Series .


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