NATO's decision to approve the deployment of advanced surface-to-air missile batteries in Turkey turns the 28-member military alliance a participant in the ongoing Syrian crisis.
"As of Tuesday, NATO has become engaged in the Syrian crisis, making crystal clear that (it) will defend its member, Turkey, in case of any attacks originating from Syria," Mehmet Seyfettin Erol, head of Ankara's International Strategic and Security Research Center (USGAM) told Xinhua over the phone.
"Indirectly, the decision of NATO to send missile batteries to Turkey is a message intended to convey to regional and international backers of the embattled president Bashar al-Assad regime as well," Erol said, stressing that these countries that traditionally support Syria may have to think twice now before making a move.
On Tuesday, NATO approved stationing Patriot surface-to-air missiles in Turkey to protect its member from any spillover of the civil war in neighboring Syria. The alliance noted that the deployment is solely for defensive purpose, echoing similar remarks issued by Turkish government on the eve and after of the decision.
Cross-border attacks have been frequent in Turkish-Syrian border as Syria's government forces continue to battle with the rebels. Syrian mortar strikes have already killed five Turks on the Turkish side of the border and injured many more, prompting Turkey to seek NATO's protection.
LOOMING CHEMICAL THREAT
The fear that cornered Assad may resort to chemical weapons to escalate the crisis into its neighbors has also played a role in the Turkish government's decision to ask for NATO help.
"Syria has the fourth biggest stockpile of chemical weapons in the world, which includes mustard, nerve and VX gases," Emre Soncan, defense analyst, said, noting that Turkey needed to take steps to protect its population and that is why it sought NATO help in shoring up air defense capabilities.
"NATO has much experience in dealing with chemical and biological threats," he added.
Syria is the only one of Turkey's neighbors that has not signed the 1993 Chemical Weapons Convention, a treaty banning chemical weapons production, possession, distribution and use. As not being under the oversight, the exact nature of Syria's chemical arms program is not known.
Senior US officials have issued fresh warning against Assad this week not to introduce chemical arsenal into the Syrian conflict, underlining that such move will prompt swift US action. "The world is watching," US President Barack Obama said in a speech at the National Defense University Monday. "This is a red line for the United States," warned Secretary of State Hillary Clinton a day later in Prague.
Since the beginning of the Syrian conflict 21 months ago, the Turkish military's NBC (nuclear, biological and chemical) units have been mobilized to offer assistance to troops against the hazards of chemical weapons and mobile lab units for detection and inspection of chemical, biological and nuclear threats along the Syrian border.
The chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear (CBRN) teams attached to the General Directorate of Civil Defense have also been activated in the border provinces.
MISSILES FOR DEFENSE ONLY
Germany, the Netherlands and the United States are expected to provide Patriot missile batteries to Turkey as soon as national procedures were completed. Meanwhile, NATO inspection teams have already completed site surveys in Turkey's southeast to determine possible deployment locations, and the delivery of PAC-3 -- an advanced version of Patriot missile batteries, is expected to take weeks.
NATO foreign ministers said that "these systems will be under the operational command of the Supreme Allied Commander Europe ( SACEUR). Any deployment will be defensive only. It will in no way support a no-fly zone or any offensive operation."
"The purpose of Patriot deployment is to boost deterrence, but more importantly than that is to show friend and foes that Turkey is part of the NATO's collective defense system," said Cengiz Candar, a Turkish columnist. "NATO made it clear that it will undertake defense responsibilities to protect Turkey."
How many missile batteries will be stationed in Turkey was not made clear as a decision is yet to be made by NATO's military committee. Yet, it is reported by Turkish media on Tuesday that Ankara has asked for 10 missiles to protect all provinces along the border line, while the alliance is willing to provide much less.