Turkey is arguably doing more than any other country to help the Syrian guerrillas. But if Erdogan wants to convince the world that now he really means business, he's going to have to overcome skepticism from Syrian rebels themselves -- not to mention his domestic political opponents.
Abo Nidal, a 39-year-old FSA fighter, is one such skeptic. I first met him last December on a muddy hilltop in the Syrian village of Ain al-Baida. His FSA unit had raised the Turkish flag next to the green, white, and black standard of the Syrian opposition -- but now he didn't sound sure that Erdogan would match his actions to his words.
"With all due respect for Mr. Erdogan, the Syrian Army has more than several times crossed the border with helicopters and shooting. They shot a Turkish police station, they shot it from a distance," he said. "If Erdogan will help us, all we need is anti-aircraft weapons and anti-tanks weapons. We will respond and we will revenge this airplane."
Abo Nidal said that since joining the FSA he had fought only with a Kalashnikov. However, his unit had recently received rocket-propelled grenade launchers from the FSA, he said.
Mahmoud Mosa, a Syrian activist from the northern Syrian town of Bdama, echoed the lukewarm response to Erdogan's speech: "We have heard stronger threats to Syria from Erdogan before. We know that the Syrian forces are less than 300 meters from the Turkish borders in Ain al-Baida. We need deeds, not words."
The polls are also against Erdogan if he pushes for a military confrontation with Syria. According to a recent survey from the Center for Economics and Foreign Policy Studies (EDAM), a Turkish think tank, 56.2 percent of respondents oppose an intervention in Syria while 40 percent say they do not support any diplomatic or military intervention. Just over 11 percent would like to see Turkey invade Syria. And only 7.9 percent of respondents support arming the FSA.
Faruk Logoglu, the deputy chairman in charge of foreign relations for the opposition Republican People's Party (CHP), has signaled that he would oppose more aggressive action against the Assad regime. "The Turkish government has taken sides in this crisis since the very beginning," he told me. Instead of engaging with the Assad regime and the opposition on equal footing, he said, the AKP had simply chosen the opposition as a favorite.
While Logoglu condemned the violence in Syria, which he described as mostly being carried out by regime forces, he faulted Erdogan for "not listen[ing] to the full spectrum of voices" in Turkey. He also implied Erdogan was positioning himself as a Sunni standard-bearer for Western efforts to roll back Shiite Iran's influence in the Middle East.
"I am not pointing the finger at Mr. Erdogan and saying he is crusading for the Sunni leadership in the region," he said. "But most of his actions add up to such quote-unquote accusations or allegations, as you like."
The Turkish government's conditions for unilateral intervention in Syria have also yet to be met. Since Syrian refugees began fleeing into southern Turkey, Turkish officials have has made clear that there are two possible scenarios in which they'd ponder military action: First, if there were a mass influx of thousands of refugees that threatened to overwhelm Turkey's capabilities. The second scenario is if there were a large-scale massacre of defenseless civilians by pro-Assad military forces in the border area.
Yet even more important than the change in rules of engagement, the jet incident has confirmed Ankara's belief that Assad is rapidly losing control of the country. "It's a matter of time," the Turkish official said. "This guy will go."
On that point, at least, Syria's rebel fighters are inclined to agree. "He is losing his believers and the people who trust him more and more," Abo Nidal said. "There are defections every day. We think that is why they shot the Turkish plane."
Whether Ankara is prepared to give the Assad regime a final push remains to be seen, however. Asked if Erdogan's warning the Syrian military away from the border was creating a de facto buffer zone, the Turkish official demurred. "As a responsible government we had to think of everything," he said. "But frankly we haven't decided on anything yet."