The Turkish army insisted Monday that any deployment by NATO of Patriot missiles on the border with Syria would be used for defensive purposes only and not to launch any attack, after Damascus warned that the move would be a “provocation”.
“The system is a purely defensive measure, against possible air and missile threats from Syria,” the army command said in a statement, adding tghat it would not be used for the creation of a “no-fly zone” over Syria, or to “launch an attack”.
Although NATO has yet to make a formal decision on Turkey’s request for the US-made system, a team of experts is due to meet Turkish military officials and launch a site survey on Tuesday to determine possible locations for the missiles.
Turkey last week asked its partners in NATO to deploy the Patriots on the border with war-ravaged Syria after a series of cross-border shellings, including an attack that left five civilians dead.
“We believe we need to deploy those missiles in Turkey only for defence purposes… because there is a possibility that some short-range ballistic missiles might be used by Syria,” Deputy Prime Minister Bulent Arinc told reporters after a weekly cabinet meeting in Ankara.
But the Syrian regime’s allies Russia and Iran are deeply opposed to the move.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov warned Friday that such a deployment could spark a “very serious armed conflict” involving NATO.
However NATO chief Anders Fogh Rasmussen told Lavrov that any deployment “would in no way support a no-fly zone or any offensive operations”, according to a spokesman for the alliance.
Tehran also warned that the deployment of missiles would “aggravate and complicate” the 20-month-old conflict in Syria.
NATO is expected soon to respond to the Turkish request, which was formally submitted last Wednesday.
Arinc said the number of Patriot batteries and and their location would be decided after the visiting technical team reports back to the alliance.
The Patriots could be deployed in the southeastern provinces of Diyarbakir or Sanliurfa or Malatya in the east, which already hosts an early warning radar as part of NATO’s missile defence system, according to the private NTV television.
Turkey might receive up to six Patriot batteries and some 300 foreign troops to operate the system, which is expected to be supplied by The Netherlands or Germany, the two European providers of the US-made weapons.
Ankara, a one-time Damascus ally, has become a staunch opponent of the regime of President Bashar al-Assad over the conflict that has now killed more than 40,000 people according to activists and sent more than 120,000 refugees into Turkey.