NATO missile deal with Turkey does not equal no-fly zone, Levin says

The Patriot missile systems alliance members agreed to provide Ankara "in and of themselves" did not constitute a de facto no-fly zone, Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Carl Levin told reporters on Tuesday. 

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That said, the Michigan Democrat noted that any decision to establish a formal no-fly zone backed by NATO missiles or American warplanes is still up for debate. 

For his part, Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) backed the NATO deal, adding the creation of a legitimate no-fly zone along the Turkey-Syria border could be key to ending the more than year-long civil war between Syrian rebels and embattled President Bashar Assad. 

“I think that’s a wise move, and I think if we had a no-fly zone around the population centers for the rebel forces this war would end quickly,” Graham said on Tuesday. 

Graham, along with Sens. John McCain (R-Ariz.) and Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.) have been the leading advocates on Capitol Hill for an established no-fly zone backed by U.S. airpower during the early days of the war. 

Their comments come hours after alliance leaders in Brussels approved the Patriot missile systems transfer to Turkey. 

Ankara initially requested the missile defense weapons in November as a way to keep the brewing Syrian civil war from bleeding over into Turkish territory. 

"In response to Turkey's request, NATO has decided to augment Turkey's air defense capabilities in order to defend the population and territory of Turkey," NATO foreign ministers said in a formal statement, according to Reuters. 

Prior to Tuesday's agreement, negotiations between Brussels and Ankara over potential military support has ramped up in recent months amid growing tensions between Turkey and Syria along the border. 

In October, Turkish lawmakers took the controversial step of authorizing military action inside Syria after Assad's forces launched a mortar attack against targets into Turkish territory. 

Shortly after the cross border attack, Turkey Prime Minister Tayyip Erdoğan met with NATO leaders to discuss possible action by the alliance against Assad's forces under Article 4 of the NATO charter. 

Article 4 requires consultations with all NATO members when a partner nation feels its "territorial integrity, political independence or security" is being threatened by an outside country.