Turkey Would Open Air Base for Syria Strikes, Cyprus Unaware

Turkey would let NATO warplanes use its bases to support an intervention in Syria.

A Qatari Mirage 2000 fighter jet refuels at İncirlik Air Base, Turkey in support of a multinational military intervention in Libya, March 25, 2011
A Qatari Mirage 2000 fighter jet refuels at İncirlik Air Base, Turkey in support of a multinational military intervention in Libya, March 25, 2011 (USAF/Sergeant Alexandre Montes/)

Turkey would likely allow NATO warplanes to use its İncirlik Air Base near the Syrian border in support of a military intervention in the country, a Turkish official told Hürriyet Daily News on Monday, while Cyprus’ foreign minister said he was unaware of British plans to use its airfield on the island in such an operation.

The Turks long pressed their NATO allies to intervene in Syria’s civil war on behalf of rebels battling the regime of President Bashar Assad. When autonomy for Syria’s Kurds threatened to exacerbate Turkey’s own Kurdish insurgency, the government in Ankara muted its demands but an alleged nerve gas attack last week prompted President Abdullah Gül to call for “concrete action.”

Ahmet Davutoğlu, the foreign minister, later described the use of chemical weapons as “a crime against humanity” that “should not go unanswered.”

France, the United Kingdom and the United States are also convinced that gas was used by Assad’s forces, killing hundreds of civilians in a suburb of the capital Damascus. Secretary of State John Kerry on Monday described the attack as a “moral obscenity” and vowed that it would not be “without consequences.”

His British counterpart William Hague had earlier downplayed chances that the gas was deployed by rebels as “vanishingly small.”

British newspapers have speculated that RAF Akrotiri in southwest Cyprus might be used to launch airstrikes against Syrian government and military targets. The island nation’s foreign minister, Ioannis Kasoulidis, told state radio on Tuesday, however, “I have the impression that the British bases won’t play any primary role.” He did urge other powers to involve themselves in Syria’s conflict, saying, “The people of Syria don’t deserve to be left at the mercy of attacks of this kind.”

Britain has two military bases in Cyprus, a former colony which lies less than one hundred kilometers west of Syria at its closest point. Like Turkey’s facility at İncirlik, it has previously been used in support of Western military operations in the Middle East and North Africa.

If there is an intervention in Syria, it is expected to commence with missile strikes from American navy ships deployed in the Mediterranean Sea. The United States have also stationed F-16 fighter jets and Patriot air defenses in neighboring Jordan, War is Boring‘s Robert Beckhusen reports, which could be used to support such an operation.

French Rafale fighters, which played a key role in NATO’s intervention in Libya two years ago, could be launched from French bases in the United Arab Emirates “but this would require long range travel and midair refueling,” according to Beckhusen.

Most planes involved in enforcing a no-fly zone over Libya in 2011 operated from NATO air bases in Greece, Malta, southern France and southern Italy.

Greece’s prime minister Antonis Samaras met with President Karolos Papoulias in Athens on Tuesday to discuss his country’s possible involvement in a Syrian intervention. It was reported that the United States had asked Greece access to the Souda Air Base on Crete as well as Kalamata International Airport which houses a military facility.