The Turkish Phantom mystery: are the Russians now blaming Israel too?
By Richard Cottrell
Contributing writer for End the Lie
The mystery surrounding the downing of a Turkish Phantom jet over or near Syria is unlikely ever to be resolved, although all the players closest to the action know exactly what happened and why.
Now, as I expected, the Russians have joined the fray, again with secret communications to the Turkish authorities and which, like the earlier intimations from the United States, are not for public consumption.
The script has been re-written so many times since the incident on June 22nd that the story has become very much like an imperiled fighter twisting and turning to escape a pursuing missile.
Some reports now claim that there were three Phantoms aloft that day. Instead of some relatively harmless mission to test Turkish air defenses, this new line speaks of a highly risky operation to intentionally provoke a missile barrage from Syria, in which presumably all three jets were involved. Note that the original story line of a single unarmed reconnaissance plane has been quietly dropped.
The lead jet now develops some kind of glitch with its navigation systems and drops into dangerous airspace close to the Syrian coast, whereupon ground batteries open up and in a feat worthy of the Guinness Book of Records, actually hit a plane flying close to Mach 2.2 with anti-artillery fire at a range of 2.5 miles.
Great shooting! Aboard the stricken plane, one pilot is dead, his co-pilot takes over the controls. He executes a sharp turn to duck for cover in international airspace. The crippled jet flies on for about another ten miles, then crashes into the sea, upside down. Why the pilots did not eject is unknown, at least according to this account.
Everything here is perfectly incredible. Did the Turkish High Command, with or without the leave and knowledge of the civilian government, indulge in some freelance expedition to have their planes shot at by Syria? If the purpose of the mission was intentionally to draw Syrian missiles into action, why then did Assad’s men take pot shots with artillery fire instead of launching Russian-built missiles which the Turks were supposedly so interested in?
Now try this for the fairy tale department: we know that the bodies of the pilots were recovered by the Nautilus sea exploration vessel. Yet the High Command circulates an amazing story that the helmets of the pilots as well as their boots had been found floating on the surface.
Increasingly suspicious commentators noted that boots as worn by the two pilots are specially made for this type of aircraft. They are clamped firmly to the pilot’s seat and cannot be removed except if the crewman ejects. Anyway they are so heavy they would sink like a stone if they somehow did come loose.
The Phantom is a very big plane, dating back to the 1960’s. Its greatest advantage apart from speed lies in its massive thrust power, which allows a skilled pilot to engage and disengage from a fight at will. It is deadly too with the ability to fire radar-guided missiles well beyond visual range. Altogether it poses a formidable challenge to those it is targeting and given the enormous thrust escape velocity, it is supposed to be perfectly safe from puny ground-fired shells.
So why do the Syrians keep banging on about having downed the plane? There’s no real mystery.
A Syrian pilot recently defected along with his MiG 21, so the embattled regime needs some kind of victory to crow about, to restore home front confidence in Syria’s armed forces, plus for good measure issuing a signal warning to potential trespassers.
We are firmly in the Sherlock Holmes epic of The Dog That Did Not Bark. The United States might have leapt at as the perfect opportunity to lash out at the inhuman Assad regime for attacking the aircraft of an allied NATO power. The Turks did protest to the alliance, but a nod from the US and any talk of a joint response quickly faded.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and the US Ambassador to Turkey Francis Ricciardone have confirmed that they delivered confidential information to Ankara concerning the incident but have so far refused to elaborate on the contents of these notes.
It doesn’t help that the Turkish version is riddled with contradictory claims. The Defense Minister İsmet Yılmaz and a senior military official insisted there was no sign the plane was hit by a missile which conflicted with earlier statements. Then the military raised suspicions as to whether the plane had even been attacked at all, issuing a statement that referred enigmatically to “our aircraft that Syrian authorities claimed to have downed.”
So what then, some kind of malfunction with the plane? You guessed it. That too has been aired in the media. Everyone connected to the affair is skating around the top secret information in the possession of the Americans and the Russians who appear – for once, even if for counter-posed reasons – to be singing from the same song sheet.
Speaking at a news conference in Moscow, shortly before Turkish PM Recep Tayyip Erodgan arrived for an official visit with President Putin, Foreign Minister Lavrov enigmatically referred to the Turkish plane as the “aircraft that crashed over Syria,” according to the Turkish daily Hürriyet.
In short nothing about any incident in which the Syrian authorities reacted violently to an incursion in sovereign airspace. On July 17th the Turks hardly stilled the rampant speculation by insisting that information provided by “third countries” did not contradict anything “that the government already knew.”
I would interject for a second that the Russians seem to be referring to a plane crashing actually in Syria which obviously is in conflict with Turkish insistence that the jet fighter crashed at sea and currently rests in eight chunks about a kilometer down from the surface.
Is it at all plausible that a second plane came to grief, given these irreconcilable accounts? In the thick of all this confusion, it cannot be ruled out. The Turks also said in the aftermath of the incident that the Syrians shot at another plane looking to discover what happened to the one that was lost.
It scarcely needs pointing out that this is yet another contradiction with the constantly evolving account and supposes that the alleged escort planes had no idea what had happened to their comrades, even though they are said to have ploughed on for some ten miles before finally ditching.
The Deputy PM Bülent Arinç, speaking after a cabinet meeting this week, said there was so far nothing to conflict with the Turkish thesis on how the incident unfolded. “There is nothing amongst the information we have obtained so far and information and documents conveyed to us by others that contradicts our thesis.”
The problem here is that the Turkish High Command and the civilian elected authorities are themselves caught in a frightful muddle of admitting that a third party shot down the jet.
There is no doubt that we are watching a cover-up in motion. Arinç says that all the mysteries will be resolved when the wreckage of the plane is retrieved from a location about eight miles from the Syrian coast. The departure back to base port in Bodrum of the Nautilus, supposedly because of problems with her optic systems, has robbed the mission of the vessel best equipped anywhere in the Mediterranean to perform such a task.
Instead, it now falls on the Turkish Navy, aided by a recovery firm said to have links to the Pentagon (see below).
Let’s go back to March of this year when Obama made a curious statement which did not receive much coverage at the time.
He was talking about Iran when he said that a “premature strike” might inadvertently undermine US efforts to halt the country’s alleged nuclear weapons program. “At a time when there is not a lot of sympathy for Iran and its only real ally [Syria] is on the ropes, do we want a distraction in which suddenly Iran can portray itself as a victim?”
The only possible source of a “premature strike” would be Israel. Obama, clearly, was clearly trying to warn off the hawks swarming around Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, clamoring for a first strike to drag the US into an early war.
But what about a subtle if not downright cunning variation on the same theme, namely a provocation that would seem to have Syria downing an aircraft belonging to Turkey, the sole regional NATO power?
When all the loose strings are sorted out, this is the only scenario that makes sense. It explains the unusual coming together of minds in Moscow and Washington. Netanyahu is capricious, unpredictable and above all impatient. Still, it would be a mistake to believe that he is straining at the leash simply to get rid of Iran and Syria as the chief obstacles to Israeli dominance in the Middle East.
That still leaves one man standing, namely Recep Tayyip Erdogan, the popular and soundly-entrenched Turkish premier, his detractors would even say, de facto dictator. Israel and Turkey are formally estranged after the Gaza convoy incident in June 2010, which cost the lives of nine Turkish citizens at the hands of Israeli commandos. Israel’s refusal to offer any meaningful apology has left both countries in a state of undiplomatic relations.
What better than to trick the Turks into some premature lunge at the Assad regime? Erdogan’s first bullish threats aimed at Syria were soon tempered after confidential briefings from US diplomats in Ankara. What little solid information reached the public domain made it clear that the US is not yet ready to strike Syria or Iran, despite the fact that plans are already in place to do so.
It is common talk all over Ankara and Istanbul, those twin power houses of Turkey, that Israel is connected to the attack. After all, it would not be the first time by any means that she jumped the gun to gain a pivotal advantage
Is it any co-incidence too that Kadima, Israel’s chief opposition to Netanyahu, has chosen precisely this moment to abandon the shaky governing coalition. Theoretically, this was prompted by the on-going efforts to reach a solution to the problem of devout young men who refuse to put on a uniform in the armed services.
But it also looks like jumping ship.
UPDATE: The Turkish media have been circulating the name “Felix” as that of a US company connected to the Pentagon which is now set to salvage the downed jet. My research, which may well not be perfect, has failed to produce reference to a company or corporation of that name involved in undersea wreck recovery. Other sources point to a CIA operation but neither can be proven at this stage. What is quite clear is that the Nautilus, equipped with highly sophisticated undersea rovers, is out of the action, either voluntarily or under “wise counsel.” It hardly matters either way.
Richard Cottrell is a writer, journalist and former European MP (Conservative). His new book Gladio: NATO’s Dagger At The Heart Of Europe is now available from Progressive Press. You may order it using the link below (or by clicking here – Gladio, NATO’s Dagger at the Heart of Europe: The Pentagon-Nazi-Mafia Terror Axis):
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Edited by Madison Ruppert