According to Turkish analysts, popular opposition to a war with Syria remains high even as Erdogan warns that an all-out conflict with its neighbor, though unwanted, ''is not far off,'' and that embattled Syrian President Bashar al-Assad ''stands on crutches.'' The Turkish government envisages five levels of military response to escalating tensions with Syria, Milliyet daily wrote on Tuesday. These are: artillery response to stray mortar fire from Syria; beefing up military presence along the border; air force raids against Syrian positions, and, as a last resort, sending ground forces into Syria.
Turkey has already sent troops and tanks to the border, transferred 25 F16 warplanes to its Diyarbakir Air Force base, and sent warships from the Sea of Marmara to the south-eastern Mediterranean. A fifth measure would entail creating a buffer zone on the Syrian side of the border, should the current flow of war refugees, which now number 100,000, increase to 200,000. Turkey can host up to 120,000 refugees in acceptable conditions, the newspaper quoted authorities as saying. However, Erdogan, engaged in a bloody internal conflict with Kurdish separatists in the north, can ill afford to enter into an armed intervention his NATO allies have already given notice they will not participate in, Turkish analysts said. Erdogan is ''trapped between national honor and national interest,'' as Prof. Joshua Landis, who directs the University of Oklahoma's Center for Middle East Studies, put it. ''National honor demanded a strong, determined response to last week's civilian deaths. But it is in the national interest to stay out of Syria, which could potentially turn into Erdogan's Vietnam.
He could get bogged down, and it would exact a very high price.'' (ANSAmed).