The shoot down of a Russian plane by Turkey was something of an inevitability. For quite sometime the Russians have been pretending to bomb IS, even though most of their attacks have been directed at the anti-Assad forces, some of whom are allies of Turkey, notably the Turkmen militia. It was these groups who the Su-24 was attempting to bomb when it was shot down.
Much of the debate revolved around whether Turkey’s shoot down was an over reaction, given that the Russian plane was only over Turkish airspace for only about 17 seconds. However from the Turkish point of view that hardly mattered. The Russians supplied them with an excuse to act and they took it.
Clearly Ankara was sending a message to the Russians, but also Washington. Since the Paris attacks the Turks have worried that NATO will adopt a “my enemies, enemy is my friend” attitude towards the Russians and ignore their actions in Northern Syria. Clearly this attack indicates that this is not acceptable to the Turks, no more than they’ll accept arming of the Kurds. Which is of course a problem because the only land force on the battlefield who is likely to defeat IS anytime soon is the Kurd’s.
While Russia, unlike the US, has a clear plan and a strategy, namely keep Assad in power, this shoot down should highlight its a plan doomed to failure. If indeed they succeed in driving out the Turkmen, the rebels will simply retreat into Turkey. Then, like Hezbollah in Lebanon or the Viet Cong in North Vietnam, they’ll continue to lob artillery shells and rockets into Syria as well as launch raids into the country. The Syrians and Russians will be powerless to stop them without taking on Turkey, who currently has the largest army in the region….and NATO backing them up.
Putin of course tried to save face, claiming his forces were getting revenge for the Russian airliner (there are no IS fighters within a hundred miles of where the aircraft was shot down) and deploying anti-aircraft missiles, ignoring the fact that Turkey has some very effective ground based missile systems of its own and any attempt to shoot down a Turkish jet would probably escalate the crisis and give Turkey the excuse they need to send in their forces. And Turkey has more than sufficient military forces at its disposal to easily overwhelm the Russian forces in the region, as well as those of their Syrian allies.
What this event shows is exactly why IS exists. Because the competing interests of the various powers, Russia, the Assad regime, the Kurds, Iran, the Saudi’s, prevents them from uniting to take action against IS. As many military experts have pointed out, any moderately equipped army, supported by air strikes, would wipe ISIS off the map in a few weeks. Historical lessons that should have been learnt in 1945….or indeed during the Yugoslav war…..or the Khmer Rouge’s reign, have been ignored. And we all know what happens when you ignore the lessons of history.