A joint group of NATO and Turkish government personnel was anticipated on Tuesday to begin surveying locations near Turkey's border with Syria where Patriot missiles might be placed, CNN reported.
Ankara asked the Western military alliance for air-defense support after a number of Syrian shells fell into Turkish territory in recent weeks, killing several people. NATO has said it will quickly consider the request; alliance members Germany, the Netherlands, and the United States have all signaled a willingness to make Patriot batteries available for fielding in Turkey.
News reports differed in projections of when Brussels was likely to give its answer to Ankara's request, with Voice of America reporting a decision could come on Tuesday and Stars and Stripes indicating the announcement would be made later this week.
NATO and Ankara insist any Patriot deployment would be solely aimed at protecting Turkish territory from missiles and other airborne threats, and would not be a precursor to establishment of a no-fly zone over Syria. Nonetheless, Damascus, Russia and Iran have all warned the move would further escalate regional tensions.
Hurriyet Daily News columnist Semih Idiz said the Turkish government worries that as Damascus runs out of options to stave off regime collapse it will violently lash out at Turkey, which has provided logistical backing and safe harbor to Syrian rebels.
"[Turkey is] worried that the situation in Syria will get out of hand, and that [President Bashar] Assad may in fact, whether the warhead contains chemical weapons or not, decide to use ballistic missiles," Idiz told Voice of America. "The [Patriot] request did come from the military wing, it (was) as much a military decision as it was a political decision."
The number of Patriot batteries that might be deployed remains to be seen. The Turkish-Syrian boundary line is approximately 560 miles long so the systems would not be able to provide complete defense from a large-scale missile attack, according to military analyst Meehan Demir.
"These missiles are just symbolic. These missiles are just a kind of message to Syria, that Turkey is here and it's not alone, it is with its NATO allies," Demir said.
International relations expert Mustafa Kibraoglu said the fielding of Patriot interceptors in Turkey might go on for years. Turkey has hosted NATO interceptors before during the 1991 and 2003 invasions of Iraq.
NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen rejected assertions that a Patriot deployment would be destabilizing. "Actually, I do believe a possible deployment of Patriot missiles will have a de-escalating effect on the situation, because it will be an effective deterrence, so that a potential aggressor wouldn't even think about attacking Turkey," he told Stars and Stripes.
"The criticism is not justified, and we have an obligation to ensure the effective defensive protection of Turkey, an ally," Rasmussen said. "It is purely defensive."
"We know that Syria has the short-range missiles at their disposal and chemical weapons," he said in explaining the military rationale for sending Patriot interceptors to Turkey.
"All in all I would expect the political decision to take within days, not weeks," the NATO chief said.
Over the weekend, the speaker of Iran's parliament, Ali Larijani, visited Ankara to express his stance against the Patriot missile placement, according to the Xinhua News Agency.
"In meetings with Turkey's top officials, we warned that the deployment of such systems will have adverse consequences and will exacerbate problems in the region," Larijani said in a Press TV report.