Shoot-downs of Russian military jet and helicopter in Syria ratchet-up tensions in Middle East
THE MIL & AERO BLOG, 24 Nov. 2015. Just when you thought things couldn't get much more dangerous in the Middle East comes today's news that Turkey -- a NATO member -- was involved in shoot-downs of a Russian fighter-bomber in Syria, and then a Russian military helicopter sent to search for the fighter-bomber's downed pilots likewise was shot down.
That's two Russian military aircraft shot down within 24 hours -- one by the military a NATO country, and the other allegedly by Syrian rebels presumably backed by the United States.
These incidents have put Russian leaders in ugly moods, and I think we haven't even begun to see the political fallout over this. In the downing of both aircraft the U.S. finds itself on opposing sides with Russia -- as a fellow NATO member, and as a backer of at least one group of Syrian rebels.
Where this could end up, I'm reluctant to speculate, but I wonder today if we're not in just as dangerous and precarious a position with Russia as we were during the Cuban Missile Crisis in late 1962.
Some reset we find ourselves in. I doubt if Russia and its leader Vladimir Putin are ready to forgive and forget any time soon. Early news reports say that one or both pilots of the downed Russian SU-24 Fencer jet fighter-bomber were killed during or after the shoot-down.
No fatalities have been reported so far on the downed Russian search-and-rescue helicopter that went after the SU-24 crew.
The Russian Sukhoi SU-24, by the way, is a swing-wing jet fighter bomber designed in the then-Soviet Union in the mid-1970s. It looks a lot like the U.S.-made F-111 that was retired in the late '90s, and is in service with several international air forces.
Okay, so here's the situation. We have Russia flying frequent bombing missions in Syrian territory. We also have U.S. combat jets flying combat missions in the same area. Think about the U.S. air attack Saturday on a 300-truck ISIS oil convoy.
How easy would it be for someone to make a very serious mistake in these circumstances? Would it surprise anyone to see Russia "accidentally" shoot down a U.S. combat aircraft in the next few days?
Now what about the Turkish military forces that shot down that Russian SU-24? Reportedly it was doe with an air-to-air missile fired from a U.S.-made Turkish Lockheed Martin F-16 jet fighter. The Turks claim they fired because the Russian jet had violated Turkish air space. The Russian deny this and claim their jet was in Syrian air space when it was shot down.
The Russian government is calling the shoot-down a "stab in the back" from Turkey. Will things escalate? Will a Turkish combat jet find itself "accidentally" shot down in the coming days or weeks? If so, where will it lead?
Not to be melodramatic, but world wars have started over less than this. We should buckle up because this could be a bumpy ride ... just what we need heading into the Thanksgiving holiday.