HATAY: Turkey has bolstered its defences and deployed additional troops on its southeastern Syrian border in recent days as the United States tries to build international support for a military strike on Syria.
The reason for the additional security measures were not clear but Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan has repeatedly said Turkey was ready to take part in any international coalition against Syria.
Ankara has been one of the biggest critics of President Bashar Al Assad’s government and is openly supporting the rebels fighting to overthrow the Syrian leader.
Asked yesterday what Turkey’s role would be in a potential coalition against Syria, Erdogan said: “Whether it would be as an opposing force or supplying forces to provide logistical support, all this would be determined by circumstances.”
The US Congress is due to debate this week whether to authorise the use of force after US President Barack Obama proposed limited strikes on Syria with the aim of punishing Assad’s government for what Washington says was the use of chemical weapons on Syrian civilians.
Automated firing units using Stinger missiles for very short range air defences have been set up on top of a high hill in Turkey overlooking the Mediterranean right on the Syrian border town of Yayladagi in Hatay province. The defence system’s radar was active, witnesses said.
Convoys of military vehicles have moved between bases near the southeastern border over the past week, carrying equipment and military personnel. Neither the Turkish military nor the Ministry of Defence were available to comment on the additional measures.
Turkish daily Hurriyet also reported yesterday that several Turkish fighter jets took off for a patrol flight from a southeastern air base near the Syrian border due to ‘increased activity’ in the area.
State news agency Anatolian reported on its website (www.aa.com.tr) that similar deployments including tanks further east along the border in the Kilis and Gaziantep provinces.
Turkey has already been bolstering security along the 900km frontier over the past year as the civil war in its southern neighbour has spilled onto its own soil. It said late last month that it had already sent aid workers trained to identify and decontaminate chemical weapons victims to the Syrian border in preparation for another possible poison gas attack.
Turkey is sheltering more than a quarter of the 2 million Syrians who have fled the fighting since March 2011.
Israel to be notified
Meanwhile, the United States would notify Israel hours in advance of an attack on Syria, an Israeli official said. Asked how much advance notice Israel would get from its U.S. ally about such attacks, an Israeli official briefed on contacts with Washington said: “Hours.”
Israel plans to deploy anti-missile systems and troop reinforcements on its Syrian and Lebanese fronts if Obama green-lights strikes against Syria. Reuters television filmed what looked like an Iron Dome missile interceptor battery being positioned on the outskirts of Jerusalem yesterday. An Israeli military magazine, Bamahane, said a month ago there were six such batteries deployed around the country and occasionally rotated geographically.