- Associated Press - Monday, June 25, 2012

BRUSSELS (AP) — Syria’s downing of a Turkish fighter-bomber has the feel of a turning point that could drag Western powers into a conflict that is spiraling out of control.

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton has vowed to hold Syria to account, while Britain’s foreign minister said Damascus won’t be allowed to act with impunity.

But for all the hard talk, the prospect of Western military intervention in Syria remains remote, at best.

For one thing, military action is unlikely to get the support of either the U.N. Security Council or the Arab League, and outside intervention without the blessing of both of those bodies is all but unthinkable. And there is little appetite among the 28 NATO countries — of which the U.S. is the largest — for another war in the Middle East.

Libya was hard enough, and for a many nervous months it looked as if that conflict might end in an embarrassing stalemate for the West. And Syria would be tougher than Libya. Syrian President Bashar Assad’s army is better equipped, better trained, better paid and far more loyal than was that of the late Libyan leader Moammar Gaddhafi.

So for the moment, despite the increasing violence and the staggering number of deaths, action by the international community seems to be limited to sanctions and strong words.

And so it was on Monday, when foreign ministers from the 27 European Union countries condemned Syria’s downing Friday of a Turkish jet but said the bloc would not support military action in the troubled country.

“What happened is to be considered very seriously,” said Dutch Foreign Minister Uri Rosenthal. Having gotten his denunciation out of the way, he let the other shoe drop: “We do not go for any interventions.”

Turkish officials have said the jet mistakenly strayed into Syrian airspace but was warned to leave by Turkish authorities and was a mile inside international airspace when Syria shot it down. The Turkish pilots are still missing.

Turkey immediately called a meeting of the North Atlantic Council, NATO‘s governing body, on Tuesday to discuss the incident. Any NATO member can request such consultations if their territorial integrity has been threatened.

An alliance diplomat said ambassadors will discuss Turkey’s concerns — and likely would condemn the downing.

“But there won’t be anything more specific than that,” said the diplomat, who spoke on condition of anonymity because of standing rules.

Turkey, too, appeared to be attempting to moderate the situation, trying to balance a response that would assuage domestic outrage over the shooting while avoiding a conflict. Turkey has been one of the fiercest critics of Mr. Assad’s crackdown, but at this point it has no wish to inflame already-heightened tensions.

A Turkish government official said the government was trying to ratchet up diplomatic pressure on Syria, where activists say more than 14,000 people have been killed in the 15-month uprising. He said the country was still working out what steps to take — though they would not include military intervention.

“We are not talking about war, but we will keep the pressure on Syria and give it no chance to catch its breath,” said the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity in line with government rules.

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