Last week, the southern border province of Kilis was hit twice by Katyusha rockets that were fired from a DAESH-controlled region in northern Syria, resulting in the death of two civilians and the injuries of several others. As an active member of the U.S.-led, anti-DAESH coalition, Turkey has always been a target of DAESH. In the last year alone, DAESH has perpetrated suicide attacks in Suruç and Ankara; however, its cross-border missile fire onto Turkish soil is a relatively new threat for Turkey as well as the NATO alliance.
Responding to questions from Daily Sabah as to whether preparations are being launched by NATO to prevent a repeat of the DAESH attacks we have already seen, a NATO official said on Tuesday that "NATO's commitment to the defense of all allies is steadfast." Recalling NATO's decision to support Turkey after the downing of a Russian jet last year, a NATO official said that this package includes more AWACS presence, amped up aerial surveillance and an increased naval presence in the Eastern Mediterranean. ''We continue to augment Turkey's air defense with anti-missile systems. We welcome Spain's decision to extend its Patriot deployment to Turkey in 2016 and we expect other announcements shortly. In February, NATO also decided to intensify the intelligence, surveillance and monitoring along the Turkish-Syrian border. This will complement the assurance measures we decided on late last year," the official noted, adding: "all of this shows the strong commitment of our allies to defend of Turkey, and will contribute to increasing stability in the region."
Defense industry expert Arda Mevlütoğlu acknowledges that NATO's military presence; especially the Patriot deployments, certainly fills in a very large gap in Turkey's air defense capabilities; however, he also asserted that the performance of current and future deployments are not enough to provide a solid air defense umbrella because the coverage area and strike range are limited. "The protection of all major cities and strategic installations and facilities requires significant amount of systems though," Mevlütoğlu said.
In fact, the previous incidents revealed that the current NATO presence is unable to protect Turkish borders. In March 2015, the rocket that was fired by Syrian government forces across the Turkish border exploded in the Reyhanlı district of the southern province of Hatay. Several Turkish media outlets reported on Thursday that the Patriot radars did not intercept the Syrian missile, and some claimed that the Patriot system is only programmed to protect NATO at the İncirlik base. In response to Daily Sabah's questions, a senior NATO official in Brussels admitted that "the missile landed outside the areas covered by the current Patriot configuration."
Turkey is one of the important flank countries since the Cold War, and has been a member of the NATO alliance since 1952; however, NATO's weak reaction during the latest example of the spillover of violence from neighboring Syria has raised questions about NATO's capability and commitment to protecting Turkey. "NATO's military support, so far, has not reflected a spirit of alliance; the borders of which are faced with serious security threats," defense industry expert Mevlütoğlu added.
The recent DAESH missile attacks also raised questions regarding the availability of weapon systems within the Turkish Army, and if they would be adequate in protecting Turkish soil. Regarding the issue, defense industry expert Oytun Kan said that the Turkish Armed Forces do not possess an air defense system capable of countering short-range rockets and artillery shells such as the Israeli Iron Dome system. "In which case, the best military option to counter such threats is to detect and eliminate the source of fire with aerial bombardment or counter-artillery fire. The challenge there is the mobility capabilities of these type of weapon systems," he added. In line with this statement, Mevlütoğlu pointed out that weapon systems such as Katyusha are very cheap and easy to acquire, transport and use; thus, there are very few measures to counter them. "Israel, for example, is pouring hundreds of millions of dollars into the development of an advanced sensor as well as weapon systems to detect and intercept such rockets," Mevlütoğlu said. "Developing intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance capabilities is a key aspect of defense against such a threat;an item NATO also failed to provide to Turkey," he concluded.
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