Abdulateef Al-MulhimAbdulateef Al-Mulhim
Commodore, Royal Saudi Navy (Retired)

Shooting down of a Russian warplane by Turkey on Tuesday could not have come at a worse time in the most volatile regions of the world. Some view this incident as a giant leap to a wider clash of prides and not necessary war. At the time of writing these lines, the reports so far received indicated that it was a result of human error. Both sides should have been more cautious and vigilant. One can say for sure that there will some pieces of information that will never come to the fore. Both Russian pilots have died and according to Moscow, the Russian jet was in Syrian airspace but Ankara rejected the claim saying the Russian plane had violated Turkish airspace. In any case, it was a tragic incident caused by a number of reasons. When the Russians started air-to-ground operations in Syria, reports only mentioned airstrikes targeting “terrorist” strongholds. There was no mention of airborne radars to control and scan the area prior to the aerial bombardment, which means that Russian jets were operating in the dark. Another question that arises here is: Why there were no search and rescue helicopters, which are also supported by air cover. And why did they paralyze the air traffic over Lebanon for days to conduct air maneuvers. Is it because they don’t have air surveillance capabilities? The Russians came to a very hot area and should have been operating fully aware of the volatility of the area. Many analysts wonder as to why Russian President Putin talked about being “stabbed in the back” when the Russian plane was shot down. Did he expect his intervention would come at no cost? As for the Turkish air force, as far as I know if nothing had changed in the past years, they operate under the umbrella of NATO and their F-16 jets do lack some of the avionics that are available to the F-16s that are operated by the US Air Force. So, did the Turkish pilot act prematurely or the Turkish air force has very liberal rules of engagements. And what about their ties to NATO’s general rules of engagements? Turkey is part of the 28-member NATO and as far as we know that any attack on any member is considered an attack on all of them. In other words, the rules of engagements should have some common points under the control of the NATO’s governing body. In Syria many foreign organizations are operating covertly or overtly, which makes it all the more dangerous and eventually a no-man’s land. Now, no one knows for sure about the short-and long-term consequences of this incident. Russia and Turkey both enjoy strategic relations. Millions of Russian tourists come to Turkey and they can make a difference in the Turkish economy in addition to the current and future gas pipeline projects. Truth be told, what happened between Russia and Turkey is not only a Russian or Turkish issue but it is an issue of global significance. The two countries can bury the hatchet and things can return to normal but the opposite is also likely to happen in a region, which is already sitting on a powder keg. As for the technical aspect of the downing of the Russian jet, it is very important to note why the avionics and the ground controls of both Russia’s SU-24 and Turkey’s F-16 were not utilized properly in the encounters. The Turks and Russians should have known who is who in the air and where in the sky. Turkey says that the authorities had warned the Russian plane more than 10 times and then they opened fire but didn’t the Russian plane notice any electronic lock up indicating the seriousness of the situation. As I said earlier, the article is written and submitted only few hours after the incident, but, I think grave errors were committed by the Russian pilot by not taking his mission seriously. He was either negligent or overconfident. Or maybe the Turkish pilot was trigger-happy and released his weapon prematurely. As we have learned from history, WWI started because of one single bullet fired by a single man. WWII started as a war that was supposed to take only two months. We don’t need Russia, Turkey or any other country to add fuel to the fire in Syria. The Russian-Turkish confrontation should be used as a small step toward ending the Syrian nightmare and not to be escalated into a bloody confrontation. Written by Abdulateef Al-Mulhim. A Giant Leap Toward WWIII? reprinted with permission of Arab News and Abdulateef Al-Mulhim.