05/15/2013 06:21 pm ET Updated Jul 15, 2013

Syria's Civil War Spreads to Turkey

After two massive car bombs exploded in a Turkish border town last week killing at least 43 people, Turkey warned it will take the necessary measures to protect itself. This is a not so veiled warning to the Syrian regime of President Bashar Assad, a one-time close friend of the Turkish government and prime minister, that such actions will not go unpunished.

"Nothing will go unanswered," said Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu, who vowed that Turkey will do all it can to find those responsible for the attacks on the town of Reyhanli.

Turkish threats are not to be taken lightly. Not only does Turkey have the most powerful military in the Middle East, it can invoke the right for NATO to intervene on its behalf. More than two years into a civil war has heavily taxed the Syrian military who even at the best of times would be no match for Turkey's well-trained and well-disciplined military.

Since the mass exodus of Syrian refugees began in the wake of the fighting in Syria, many have sought refuge in Reyhanli, a town sitting on the border close to Syria.

The attack on Turkey carries grave consequences for several reasons. First is Turkey's track history in how it responds to such threats. If one looks at how Ankara handled similar attacks by Kurdish separatists in the past, Ankara's reply was almost always heavy-handed. Ankara's intent was to always send a message saying, "Don't mess with us."

Second, Turkey knows it needs to set an example. It simply cannot afford to allow the Syrian civil war to ooze over into its territory and not take firm action. These first attacks are very important because they will set the future pace of events to come. If Turkey acts rapidly, decisively and harshly, the perpetrators of this attack will understand that there are serious consequences to pay for such actions and may have second thoughts about ordering similar attacks in the future.

If Turkey allows too much time to pass without taking action it will be perceived by the perpetrators of this attack as a sign of weakness and more attacks may follow, including possible attacks in Ankara and Istanbul, as the perpetrators will want to up the ante.

That is why for Turkey it is paramount that this attack against its territory and its people is not seen as something that those responsible believe they can get away with.

Who is to blame for this attack? Turkey believes it was the Syrians. Turkish officials said they suspect that members of the Syria intelligence apparatus to be responsible.

Third, if indeed Turkey can prove that it was Syria who was behind this attack, given that Turkey is a member of NATO, it would be Turkey's right to invoke Article Five of NATO's charter which states that an act of aggression directed at any one member of the North Atlantic organization is automatically considered as an attack against all members of the Alliance.

Article Five is the basis of NATO's structure. An attack against one member sets in motion the workings of a collective repost. Therefore, in the event that proof was provided that indeed the Syrian regime was responsible for the attack on Turkey it would pave the way for a strong NATO response. And such a response would not be limited to enforcing a no-fly zone.

In Ankara meanwhile, Turkish officials said they suspected the involvement of a Syrian intelligence agency. However, speaking in Ankara, Turkish Deputy Prime Minister Besir Atalay said he believed the attackers came from Turkey but were linked to a Syrian intelligence agency.

"We have established that the organization and assailants have links to the pro-regime Mukhabarat (intelligence)," he said.

Indeed, the double bombing in the Turkish border town was set to explode just minutes apart and carries the hallmark of Syrian intelligence services. The intent is to allow rescuers the time to approach the scene of the attack and then detonate the second bomb, causing even greater casualties and hitting first responders, valuable assets under any circumstances, let alone in times of crisis.

This modus operandi was seen often during the Lebanese civil war when numerous explosions were blamed on the Syrians.

In a statement made in Berlin where he was visiting, Turkey's foreign minister Davutoglu said it was "not a coincidence" that the bombings occurred as diplomatic efforts to solve the Syrian crisis were intensifying.

He accused "those who want to sabotage Turkey's peace," stressing that Turkey "will not allow that.

"No-one should attempt to test Turkey's power. Our security forces will take all necessary measures," said the foreign minister.

This extension of the Syrian conflict should come as no surprise to anyone and was in fact predicted by this reporter several times in previous columns. All the reason more why a long-lasting solution in a dire necessity.


Claude Salhani, a specialist in conflict resolution, is an independent journalist, political analyst and author of several books on the region. His latest book, 'Islam Without a Veil,' is published by Potomac Books. He tweets @claudesalhani.