This marked the first major Turkish military exercise near the Syrian
border since the revolt against President Bashar Assad in March. Over
the last month, Turkey has warned Assad of deteriorating relations amid his
bloody crackdown on the opposition, in which nearly 3,000 people were
For his part, Bashar Assad was said to have issued his first direct threat
against Israel. On Oct. 4, Assad told Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet
Davutoglu that Syria was capable of launching a missile war with Israel, Middle East Newsline reported.
"If a crazy measure is taken against Damascus, I will need not more than
six hours to transfer hundreds of rockets and missiles to the Golan Heights
to fire them at Tel Aviv," Assad was quoted by Iran's official Fars News
Agency as saying. "All these events will happen in three hours, but in the
second three hours, Iran will attack the U.S. warships in the Persian Gulf
and U.S. and European interests will be targeted."
The Turkish military said the 39th Mechanized Infantry Brigade and 730
reserve troops would participate in the exercise in Hatay. Hatay has long
been claimed by Syria, but Assad was said to have shelved his demands for
the territory amid the promise of water and other Turkish benefits.
"The exercise aims to test mobilization of and communications between
the ministries, public institutions and the Turkish military in case of
war," the General Staff said.
This marked the first year that Syria and Turkey have not conducted
joint military exercises. The maneuvers had been designed to enhance border
security and encourage joint development.
Instead, Turkey has hosted nearly 10,000 refugees who fled the Assad
crackdown on the opposition. Turkish Prime Minister Recep Erdogan, under
pressure to establish a buffer zone along the Syrian border, said his
government would soon announce sanctions on Damascus.
"What is important to us is the Syrian people," Erdogan, who plans to
visit Hatay over the next few days, said on Oct. 4. "Freedom there has been
disregarded. We never expected that."
Earlier, officials said Turkey, with the second largest army in NATO,
was blocking all weapons shipments to Syria and stopped one ship from Iran.
They cited Syrian Army attacks on Sunni rebels in towns near the Turkish
One refugee to Turkey was identified as Syrian Army Col. Riad Assad, who
joined the revolt against the regime. Assad arrived in Turkey on Oct. 4,
saying he had been a leading target of the Assad invasion of Rastan.
"We live in a safe place in Turkey," Assad, not known to be related to
the Syrian president, said.