U.S. Says ‘Inflammatory Comments’ From Turkish Leaders ‘Very Troubling’

Patrick Goodenough | February 6, 2013 | 4:30am EST
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Until the Syrian conflict erupted two years ago, Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan – seen here with President Bashar Assad in Istanbul in 2010 – established close ties with the Syrian regime. (AP Photo/Osman Orsal)

(CNSNews.com) – The Obama administration has raised concerns with its Turkish ally over remarks chiding Syrian President Bashar Assad for not retaliating against Israeli aircraft involved in reported airstrikes inside Syria last week.

The planes reportedly targeted a convoy of anti-aircraft missile systems destined for the Hezbollah terrorist group in Lebanon as well as a military research center near the Syrian capital associated with chemical and biological weapons.

The raid has drawn condemnation from various parties – unsurprisingly from Damascus and its close allies Iran and Hezbollah, but also from some of the Assad regime’s leading critics, including opposition rebels inside the country, the Islamic blocs, and the Turkish government.

“Why didn’t al-Assad even throw a pebble when Israeli jets were flying over his palace and playing with the dignity of his country?” asked Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu.

“Why didn’t the Syrian Army, which has been attacking its own innocent people for 22 months now from the air with jets and by land with tanks and artillery fire, respond to Israel’s operation?” Turkey’s Hurriyet newspaper quoted him as saying to reporters. “Why can’t al-Assad, who gave orders to fire SCUD missiles at Aleppo, do anything against Israel?”

Davutoglu said although Turkey does not know the precise circumstances of the raid, it would not be silent in the fact of an Israeli attack against any Muslim country, the paper said.

Asked about the comments during a press briefing Tuesday, State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland replied, “With regard to the inflammatory comments from our – from the Turkish leaders, these are obviously very troubling to us. We have in the last 24 hours conveyed our concerns on this matter with senior Turkish officials.”

“Our view here is that all of us need to keep our eye on the ball, which is to get the violence to stop, to get Assad to step down, and to turn the page towards a democratic Syria,” she said.

Turkey has shifted from nurturing a close relationship with Assad until just two years ago to leading international calls to respond to a conflict that has prompted some 250,000 Syrian refugees to seek shelter in Turkey.

But Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s Islamist-leaning government is also one of Israel’s most outspoken critics in the international community, and over the past four years the Obama administration has had little success in appealing to its two Mideast allies to mend the rift between them.

Erdogan also criticized Israel over the Syria airstrike, telling reporters in Istanbul Turkey “cannot regard a violation of air space as acceptable.”

“As I say time and again, Israel has a mentality of waging state terrorism. Right now, there is no telling what it might do and where it might do it.”

Erdogan said Israel was using claims about weapons being moved into Lebanon as “an excuse” to justify its aggression.

Israeli officials have long voiced concern about sophisticated or non-conventional Syrian weapons getting into the hands of extremists – either Hezbollah or jihadist groups among the anti-Assad opposition.

The Associated Press reported that Syria’s opposition coalition in a statement criticized the regime for not defending Syria against the Israeli air raid.

“This is not the first time that Israeli warplanes violated Syrian sovereignty under the eyes and ears of those who are supposed to protect it,” it said, pledging to establish a “deterrent force” to guard against such attacks in the future.

Asked about this stance by opponents of the regime, Nuland said it did not reflect the views of the U.S.-backed National Coalition for Syrian Revolutionary and Opposition Forces (also known as the Syrian Opposition Coalition, or SOC) as a whole.

“What we’re gratified by is that the leadership of the SOC is focused now on putting the pressure on Assad to step aside and let a transition begin and have real conversations about how that’s going to proceed,” she said.

Other reaction to the Israeli air raid:

--Iranian supreme national security council secretary Saeed Jalili said during a visit to Damascus the Israelis “will regret this recent aggression,” and declared that Syria was “at the forefront of the Muslim world’s confrontation with the Zionist entity.”

--Hezbollah condemned Israel for “brutally” attacking a “scientific research facility,” and expressed its “full solidarity with the Syria leadership, army, and people.”

--The Organization of Islamic Cooperation condemned the airstrike and “invited the international community to denounce the attack and to hold Israel responsible for it.”

--Syria’s state news agency SANA reported that the foreign ministry called on the United Nations “to take the necessary steps given this grave Israeli violation, and to guarantee that it will not happen again.”

--U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon earlier called on “all concerned to prevent tensions or their escalation in the region, and to strictly abide by international law, in particular in respect of territorial integrity and sovereignty of all countries in the region.”

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