Tipping Point: Turkish Air Force Intercepts Syrian Airliner



A Syrian Arab Airlines passenger jet departed Moscow, Russia Wednesday night bound for Aleppo, Syria.  However, before it landed safely within Syria’s borders, Turkish F-16 fighter jets forced it to land at Ankara Airport in Turkey, heightening tensions between the two countries.

Authorities on the ground carried out a “thorough search” of the aircraft after the Turkish government received reports that the plane was carrying weapons, missile parts, and military communications devices.  Although details of exactly what was seized remain foggy at this point, 35 passengers bound for Syria are still being held at Ankara while the Turkish government approves the flight’s departure.

The plane was destined for Aleppo, Syria—an area that has been locked in bitter sectarian violence between Pro-Assad and Anti-Government forces.  As Syrian in-fighting begins to spill over its borders into Turkey, the international community is forced to sit and watch as thousands of civilians are killed and stability in the region deteriorates.  On Monday, United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki Moon said the situation between Syria and Turkey had become extremely dangerous and urged the international community to stop the flow of arms into the region—the Turkish government has taken Moon’s words to heart.

Moon also added that the current situation was causing serious risk to the stability of Syria and its neighbors.  Such statements seem to indicate that the UN may be setting into motion the steps necessary to initiate a General Assembly Referral.  This move could ultimately lead to charges from the International Criminal Court.

Article 39 of the United Nations charter states: “[t]he Security Council shall determine the existence of any threat to the peace, breach of the peace, or act of aggression and shall make recommendations, or decide what measures shall be taken . . . to maintain or restore international peace and security.”

Has the United Nations already taken too long in showing international leadership?  Shouldn’t this issue have been addressed nearly a year ago when Pro-Government forces in Syria began their crackdown on opposition forces instead of waiting for the violence to spill over to Turkey?  Should the United States have taken a more active role in simmering tensions or committing resources to stop the violence?


  1. I think that the root of the quagmire is the U.N. Charter itself. The authority of the Security Council in matters like this ( i.e. civil wars which rise to the level of humanitarian disaster and violate recognized International Human Rights) often acts to disrupt the efforts of the members of the International Community that seek to put an end to these one-sided wars of aggression. Chapter VII, Article 51 of the Charter specifically mandates that the Security Council has the sole authority to decide when and how a response to international violence will be settled. Given the nature of the P-5 and the fact that certain members will, at any given time, exercise their veto power to estop others from using military force to intervene in other countries who are in clear violation of International Human Rights Law.

    Perhaps it is time to recognize a customary international law that allows for humanitarian intervention when the Security Council refuses to act and the majority of the International Community endorses such an intervention by countries who are capable of successfully stopping the ongoing violence. (See “Are We Moving Towards Int’l Legitimation of Forcible Humanitarian Countermeasures in the World Community” by Antonio Cassese).

  2. While the International community is interested in the situation in the middle east and wants to promote peace and stability in the region, there needs to be some semblance of order. Turkey took the matter into their own hands and detained a passenger jet along with civilians on evidence that could only be considered “murky” at best. This action could only serve to heighten the tensions in the region and pushed too far in my opinion. Article 39 states that the council can make recommendations or decide what measures can be taken, but says nothing about taking action.

    There is undoubtedly a need to curb the import of arms to Syria and the U.N. should be able to investigate, but Turkey is threatening to heighten the tensions in the region. The U.N. needs to establish some criteria for searching a passenger plane so that the rights of Syrian civilians are not being violated based on an unreasonable hunch that weapons are on board. While the upside is that the illegal arms are seized, the downside is that the tensions will boil over in the region and the situation will be made worse.

  3. The incident is viewed in isolation. I would direct your attention to the Convention on International Civil Aviation (aka Chicago Convention) viz:

    Article 1: “Every state has complete and exclusive sovereignty over airspace above its territory”.

    Article 13: (Entry and Clearance Regulations) “A state’s laws and regulations regarding the admission and departure of passengers, crew or cargo from aircraft shall be complied with on arrival, upon departure and whilst within the territory of that state”.

    Article 9(b) “Each contracting State reserves also the right, in exceptional circumstances or during a period of
    emergency, or in the interest of public safety, and with immediate effect, temporarily to restrict or prohibit flying over the whole or any part of its territory, on condition that such restriction or prohibition shall be applicable without distinction of nationality to aircraft of all other States”.

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