SLOBODAN LEKIC | AP
Published — Friday 30 November 2012
Last update 30 November 2012 11:26 pm
BRUSSELS: NATO will deploy Patriot missiles to Turkey’s border with Syria “within several weeks” after the move is approved, officials said Friday.
A team assessing possible sites for the air defense systems is making good progress and is expected to report back to NATO’s military command soon, alliance spokeswoman Oana Lungescu said. This opens the possibility that foreign ministers of the 28 member countries, meeting in Brussels on Tuesday and Wednesday, could make the final decision.
Germany, the Netherlands and the US have the advanced PAC-3 model Patriots that Turkey needs to intercept ballistic missiles. Parliaments in Germany and the Netherlands must also approve the deployment.
“I expect that if the decision is taken it could take several weeks to deploy rather than months,” Lungescu said. “Anyone who thinks of attacking Turkey will think twice.”
Germany’s Cabinet will consider the deployment of German Patriots in Turkey next Thursday if NATO has made a decision by then, Chancellor Angela Merkel’s spokesman Steffen Seibert said. After that, the deployment will go to the German Parliament.
Turkey, a NATO member since the early 1950s, is hoping to get about a dozen batteries of Patriots from its allies. Most are expected to come from Germany, joined by some from the Netherlands and perhaps from US stocks in Europe.
Turkey’s air defenses consist mostly of short-range Rapier and Stinger systems, and US-made Hawk low to medium altitude missiles. Ankara has been looking to acquire a new high-altitude defense system to replace its Cold War-era Nike-Hercules batteries.
Syria is reported to have an array of artillery rockets, as well as short- and medium-range missiles in its arsenal — some capable of carrying chemical warheads.
In June, Syrian forces brought down a Turkish reconnaissance plane that further increased tensions between the neighbors. Turkey said the plane was targeted in international airspace, but Syria insisted it was flying over its territory.
Turkey has also been retaliating to shelling and mortar rounds from Syria that have landed on its territory since Oct. 3, when shells from Syria struck a Turkish village near the Syrian border, killing two women and three children. The incident prompted Turkey to convene an emergency NATO meeting and to send tanks and anti-aircraft batteries to the area.