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Disaster averted
File - In this Jan. 18, 2012 file photo, Turkey's Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu speaks during a media conference at NATO headquarters in Brussels. (AP Photo/Virginia Mayo, File)
File - In this Jan. 18, 2012 file photo, Turkey's Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu speaks during a media conference at NATO headquarters in Brussels. (AP Photo/Virginia Mayo, File)
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Turkey’s measured reaction to the shooting down of one of its aircrafts by the Syrian regime, including calling on NATO for advice, reveals a welcome response at what could have proven a crucial crossroads in turning this conflict into a regional one.

While Syria has apologized for the incident, labeling it an accident, it has maintained that the aircraft was in its territory, which Turkey denied, and that had it been a Syrian aircraft it would have also been automatically shot down. The search for the Turkish pilots continues.

Relations between the former allies have become increasingly fraught ever since Syrian President Bashar Assad refused demands to reform. Turkey, while condemning the attack, has reacted coolly and calmly thus far, calling a NATO meeting for Tuesday, and urging the U.N. Security Council to discuss the situation.

What at first appeared a possible catalyst for spreading the Syrian crisis to an international level now looks to have been contained by diplomacy. It is unlikely that the NATO or Security Council meetings will recommend military action, with partner nations reluctant to be drawn into further overseas intervention.

The convening of Tuesday’s NATO meeting will be an important step in warning Syria that while Turkey has the support of the EU and NATO members, it is not set on military intervention. This is the correct step, for military action on the ground would fit too well with the Syrian regime’s line that the entire uprising has been sponsored by international actors.

With Damascus receiving only covert support and assistance from its friends in Moscow and Tehran, any intervention would allow this help to become explicit. Not only that, but public and media attention would be diverted from the real news on the ground – the massacres and high-level defections – and would instead focus on the foreign troops. Simultaneously, military action would give the Syrian government even greater cover to continue their crimes. Instead, Europeans and the U.S. are right to step up sanctions against the regime, sanctions which have already begun to take effect.

Hopefully, the talks will result in further pressure against the Syrian regime, which, it seems, is gradually beginning to lose confidence in its own durability and resilience. The plane disaster seems to have revealed an almost vulnerable side to an oligarchy, which has so far projected an image of itself as invincible.

At the same time, the rebels appear to be becoming more bold, growing in perseverance as the increase in regime casualties, and daily defections from the regime itself, have shown.

Increased international pressure on the regime will shake the regime’s self-confidence further, and will help to promote a collapse of the system from within. In the end, this response will save more lives than uncharted military intervention.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on June 26, 2012, on page 7.
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