The border between Turkey and Syria is becoming a hot spot threatening to expand a Syrian internal rebellion into an international conflict.
Tensions along the 565-mile border have been escalating as rebels and more than 33,000 refugees fleeing the brutal crackdown of President Bashar al-Assad have sought safety in Turkey during the popular uprising against his rule.
On Friday, Syria downed a Turkish fighter jet that Damascus claimed violated Syrian airspace. In several developments Monday, Turkey accused Syrian jets of firing on a search-and-rescue plane. A Syrian military unit approaching the border drew a warning from Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan that any military element that approaches the Turkish border form Syria and poses a security risk and danger will be regarded as a threat and treated as a military target. Also, several high-ranking military leaders have defected to Turkey.
Following Fridays incident Turkish officials responded with vague threats, but have refrained from direct military action. As a member of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, Turkey called for consultations with its NATO partners that were held Tuesday. It did not, however, invoke another provision that makes an attack against one member an attack against all members and pave the way for international response. NATO members have been reluctant in other international forums to endorse military action against President Assad and demonstrated that same restraint after the meeting.
NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen called Syrias downing of the Turkish jet unacceptable and condemned it in the strongest terms while pledging to follow the situation closely. The European Union has taken a similar response ruling out direct action against Syria. China and Russia have blocked international sanctions in the United Nations.
Until now, the Obama administration and other countries have refrained from intervening in what they view as a civil conflict. That may not be possible if President Assad in his bid to retain power provokes a war with Turkey.