The drums of war
A Turkish military build-up on the border with Syria is causing apprehension in the region, writes Sayed Abdel-Meguid in Ankara
A mood of apprehension is gripping the cities of southeast Anatolia. While the inhabitants of Gaziantep, Hatay and Mardin, many of whom are of Kurdish origin, are no strangers to the sight of military reinforcements on the borders, the build-up over the last few weeks has been on a different scale.
It resembles that last seen in the late 1990s, when Turkey was about to invade Syria, which was then assisting the leader of the Kurdish Workers Party (PKK) Abdullah Ocalan.
Hafez Al-Assad, the Syrian president at the time, thought better than to fight the Turkish military, which has the second-largest army in NATO. Within weeks, he had kicked out Ocalan and other PKK leaders and mended fences with Turkey.
Since then, there had been no major cause of friction between the two countries until two weeks ago when Syrian air defences brought down a Turkish F-4 plane, causing immediate Turkish indignation.
Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan said that his country would change the rules of engagement with the Syrian army, and the threat was backed by a show of force on the ground as thousands of troops backed with anti-aircraft batteries deployed along the borders with Syria.
On Sunday and then again on Monday, Turkish military aircraft chased Syrian helicopters without firing on them. Turkey also deployed Stinger missiles and air-defence systems on the Syrian side of the border, practically creating a no-fly zone.
The measures were taken in consultation with Washington, with a senior Pentagon official saying that the Turks intended to create a no-fly zone inside Syria close to Deir al-Zur and Qameshli.
Yet, as Turkish politicians, led by officials from the ruling Justice and Development Party, called for swift action against Syria, the country seemed to be seeking more of a middle course.
Senior Turkish officials say they have no intention of waging punitive attacks on Syria and that the build-up on the borders is only a precautionary measure and has no offensive significance.
The domestic mood in Turkey has also dampened. Opposition members of parliament have asked the government to desist from waging a military assault that could cost Turkish lives.
Erdogan's critics claim that the government has deliberately concealed information relating to the downing of the F-4 reconnaissance plane. According to the leftwing Cumhuriyet newspaper, opposition parliamentarian Orhand Duzgout had demanded that Erdogan reveal the nationality of the plane that was escorting the F-4 before it was downed.
According to Duzgout, the unidentified plane belonged to a NATO country.
Turkey's neighbours do not seem keen about the prospect of hostilities in their vicinity either. The newspaper Redical quoted Iraqi spokesman Ali Al-Dabbagh as saying that the downing of the plane was a "private matter" between Turkey and Syria.
While the drums of war are being sounded, they are being sounded softly. Yet, their impact has been unmistakable, and inhabitants of the Turkish border towns have complained that business has ground to a halt because of the tensions.
They may remember what tensions on the Turkish borders with Iraq did to nearby Turkish towns, and they may be praying that their fate will be different.