By Xinhua writer Zhang Wei
BRUSSELS, Dec. 5 (Xinhua) -- NATO has agreed on Tuesday to deploy advanced Patriots missiles to member state Turkey's southern border to counter potential attack from neighboring Syria.
Though the military alliance limits use of the Patriots only for defensive purposes, analysts argue the long-expected move has brought NATO closer to the Syrian conflict and wider operations could be taken if the situation deteriorates further, particularly in case of the use of chemical weapons.
FAIL TO CONVINCE RUSSIA
"We stand with Turkey in the spirit of strong solidarity. To the Turkish people we say: we are determined to defend you and your territory," NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen said. "To anyone who would want to attack Turkey we say: don't even think about it."
The NATO top official repeated that the deployment would only be defensive and would never be used to support a no-fly zone or any offensive operation.
"We have no intention to intervene militarily. There is no change in our position, but of course we will do what it takes to protect our ally Turkey," Rasmussen said.
He said Germany, the Netherlands and the United States had agreed to provide missile batteries that Turkey requested last month to defend itself against potential missile attack from Syria, especially with a chemical warhead.
U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said Wednesday that the deployment might not be able to affect conflicts in Syria, but "it does send a clear message to the Syrians that Turkey has full support of its NATO allies."
However, both Rasmussen and Clinton apparently failed to alleviate Russian concerns over the deployment during their meeting with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov.
"This stockpiling of armaments is always creating an additional risk that these armaments will be used ... We have purely political concern that the conflict is increasingly militarized," Lavrov said.
Lavrov insisted the threats against Turkey should not be overstated and called for political and diplomatic solutions rather than military intervention to end the bloodshed in Syria.
RED LINES FOR SYRIA
Marc Pierini, a visiting scholar at Carnegie Europe, believed that NATO's decision draw "a clear red line for Damascus: the Turkish territory is off-limit to the Syrian army and air force."
"There was a U.S. red line about chemical weapons, a French one about Lebanon, NATO is now drawing another one concerning Turkey," he said.
The director of think tank NATO Watch Ian Davis said that given the unpredictable consequences, NATO countries currently had no appetite for military intervention in the Syrian crisis.
"It (the deployment) is unlikely to have much impact on the Syrian conflict and regional security more generally and is very unlikely to be a precursor to establishment of a no-fly zone over Syria," said Davis.
However, some security experts argued that following deployment of the Patriots, which are capable of shooting down aircraft and missiles, there will be a deterrent effect that may dissuade Syrian aircraft from operating near the Turkish frontier.
NATO's move will provide support for Syrian rebel fighters who are most vulnerable to Assad's air strikes, experts said.
NATO's decision also came as U.S. reiterated its warning to the Syrian government not to use chemical weapons against rebel forces or would face consequences.
"The use of chemical weapons is and would be totally unacceptable, and if you make the tragic mistake of using these weapons there will be consequences and you will be held accountable," U.S. President Barack Obama said on Monday.
Analysts said after Obama secured his second presidential term in November, U.S and other western powers are shifting their strategies in Syria by pushing for integration of rebel forces, recognizing its legitimacy and mulling supplying weapons.
NATO's deployment of surface-to-air missiles is part of the whole strategy that aims at reinforcing western countries' military influence over the future of the Syrian crisis and achieve their ultimate goal of toppling down Assad's regime, analysts said.