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Mainstream, VOL LIV No 14 New Delhi March 26, 2016

West Asia: Latest Ankara-Riyadh Strategy in Syria

Monday 28 March 2016

by Hasan Hamidullah

The emergence of the Russian Air Force in Syria at a time when many had predicted the capture of Damascus by the ISIL and other fundamentalist elements within a brief spell, has thrown Ankara and Riyadh into confusion as it has foiled the Turkey-Saudi plan to bring the Sunni groups to power in Syria. The campaign unleashed by these two states to accuse the Russian Air Force and Assad’s forces of allegedly causing widespread civilian casualties in Syria is only a pretext to disrupt the peace process in the country and engineer an armed intervention there for the purpose of saving the jihadists under their control.

Riyadh’s announcement of its intention to use ground troops in Syria as part of the US-led coalition, supported by Turkey, the UAE, Qatar and Bahrain, bears testimony to the Saudi desire to involve the West in the conflict by any means with the objective of realising its military gamble in the region. At the same time Riyadh is doing everything possible to frustrate the negotiations on the Syrian settlement at Geneva with the help of a high-level negotiation committee formed by the forces opposed to Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad; and this negotiation committee includes terrorists of Ahram ash-sham and Jaish al-Islam. This committee is striving to press certain prelimi-nary conditions aimed at stopping the offensive of the Syrian Army.

Ankara and Riyadh are coordinating their actions with the purpose of inflicting strikes on Syria under the banner of an Islamic military coalition of 34 countries, mostly Sunni, set up under the aegis of Riyadh in December 2015. For them what is imperative is that military operations against Syria are conducted not only by Turkey and Saudi Arabia but by the forces of other countries as well. Thus Ankara and Riyadh are keen to share responsibility for the aggression with other states and impart an international character to this conflict. Saudi Arabia is probing the possibility of placing a 150,000-strong Islamic military contingent on Syrian territory and this is to comprise forces from Egypt, Jordan, the UAE and Pakistan, besides Turkey.

Already there is information about the deployment of Saudi troops in Jordan and military preparaedness of Turkey thereby strengthening the suspicion that Saudi Arabia is making intensive preparations for a military invasion of Syria. According to Reuters, Syrian insurgents have received in February surface-to-surface missiles from abroad. Ankara and Riyadh are supplying weapons to the rebels through an operation station located in Turkey. Separate groups of insurgents and outside troops to be deployed in Syria are also learnt to have undergone military training under the super-vision of the CIA of the US.

When a member of the Washington-led coalition fighting the Syrian Government creates its own group and proclaims goals which are the same as those of the US, it clearly means that Saudi Arabia has been assigned tasks which are different from those of the USA for fighting international terrorism. The armed struggle against the ISIL is used only as an excuse to get the green signal from the international commu-nity for intervention in neighbouring countries—in Yemen, in Syria and in Iraq. At the same time none is pondering over certain irrefutable facts: the direct aggression of Ankara against a sovereign state by the Turkish Army’s artillery strikes on settlements of Syrian Kurds, and the genocide of Shiites in Yemen carried out by the Saudi Army with the use of cluster munitions.

Thus Saudi and Turkish troops side by side with the jihadists under the cover of the US-led coalition will fight against the Syrian Army and Kurds resulting in a considerable escalation of hostilities. However, the attempt to initiate a local conflict is fraught with unpredictable consequences—of a regional war taking a much bigger dimension and presenting the threat of a Third World War in view of Turkey’s membership in the NATO. Therefore, there is every possibility of the whole region becoming hostage to the strategy of Erdogan and his Saudi friends—that is, King Salman suffering from Alzheimer’s disease and his imbalanced son, Muhammad.

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