Patriot batteries would send signal to Syria

Ernesto Londoño / The Washington Post /

When NATO countries deploy Patriot batteries along Turkey’s border with Syria, the missile-blasting system is likely to play a more symbolic than tactical role, telegraphing to embattled Syrian President Bashar Assad that the alliance backs Ankara’s staunch support of the rebels trying to topple him.

Although Syria has hundreds of ballistic missiles, analysts say Patriots are unlikely to be fired unless an international coalition decides to establish a no-fly zone in northern Syria. That’s because Assad has shown no willingness to take on Turkey, his militarily superior neighbor, at a time when his forces are losing ground to the opposition, analysts say.

“The first and overwhelming reason for this is political posturing,” said Christopher Harmer, a retired Navy pilot who has followed the Syrian conflict at the Institute for the Study of War. “There is no real threat from Syria into Turkey.”

The Turks have provided support and a safe haven to Syrian rebel leaders, drawing rebukes from Damascus and its allies, Iran and Russia. Both nations also have criticized the Turkish request for Patriots, saying it could inflame matters.

As fighting between rebels and Syrian forces has escalated in recent weeks, Turkey argued that it needs to bolster its defenses along the border. The request took on a sense of urgency in recent days, amid Syria’s intensifying aerial bombardment of rebel positions close to the Turkish border and growing concerns that Damascus could use chemical weapons against the opposition in a last-ditch move.

Artillery rounds have landed on Turkish soil as rebels and Syrian forces have exchanged fire, though such incursions appear to have been accidental. Patriots are not designed to interdict low-flying weapons and would be of little use to stop such volleys.