War tensions over Syria continued to spiral early Thursday, Oct. 11, when Turkey’s armed forces were placed on a state of readiness and its chief of staff pledged stronger response to any hostile act by Syria, A high-placed US source confirmed to debkafile that Turkey had, by forcing a Syrian civilian Airbus A320 plane en route from Moscow to Damascus to land in Ankara and declaring Syrian airspace “unsafe,” taken the first step toward creating a no-fly zone over Syria.
Early Thursday, Moscow responded with a demand from Ankara for clarifications claiming that 17 Russians were aboard the intercepted flight.
Turkey had reported 37 passengers on the plane without specifying their nationalities. The intercepted Airbus was released overnight after a part of its cargo, described as military in nature, was impounded.
In another sign that Syrian crisis was reaching a new and dangerous level, US Defense Secretary Leon Panetta referred in Brussels, for the third time in 24 hours, to the threat of chemical warfare.
He said US troops had set up a headquarters in Jordan to help monitor chemical and biological weapons sites in Syria. debkafile had previously reported that similar headquarters were already present in Turkey and Israel.
Our sources note that, just as Turkish cross-border artillery exchanges with Syria since last week have been carving out, day by day, a 10-kilometer buffer strip on Syrian land, so too Ankara has begun the process of creating a no-fly zone in Syrian air space.
It is because of this initiative, that American military officials have begun citing Bashar Assad’s standing threat to resort to chemical warfare in the face of outside military intervention in the Syrian conflict.
They suggest that the Syrian ruler may judge the peril to his regime on a par with the 2011 Western-Arab intervention in Libya which caused Muammar Qaddafi’s downfall. Assad and Iran, perhaps, too, are unlikely to sit still and let this happen.