Saudis and Turks prepare air, sea and land war against Assad


In recent days a number of key military initiatives have taken place both in Saudi Arabia and in Turkey which correspond with recent threats made by both countries to reverse the tide of the Syrian war, following a number of key battles won by Russian and Assad regime forces.

A contingent group of supporting countries have sent soldiers to Saudi Arabia, while both air forces of the Arab kingdom and those of Turkey have engaged in a number of manoeuvres in the air, taking off and landing at an air base in the south of the Turkey close to the Syrian border.

In recent weeks a number of tough statements have been made by Saudi Arabia’s foreign minister alluding to a ground attack.

Similar war cries have come from Turkey’s President as both countries have a lot to both gain in ousting Syria’s President Assad who in recent weeks has teased them with press statements about his longevity in the country since the war tipped in his favour with Russia helping his own regime army.

Over the weekend though, his reaction to the build up reached fever pitch. Assad warned on Saturday that that the Syrian regime will deal with [Turkish and Saudi soldiers] like “terrorists,” a term he uses to refer to insurgents fighting against him.

Speaking to a Spanish newspaper in an interview, Assad spoke about the possibility of both Turkey and Saudi Arabia sending ground troops into Syria: “We”re going to deal with them like we deal with the terrorists. 

We”re going to defend our country. This is aggression.”

Yet events are changing on the ground fast. Just today news reports also indicated that a batch of anti-aircraft rockets – US made ‘SAMS’ – were delivered to opposition groups fighting Assad and Russian forces inside Syria.

Saudi Arabia started large-scale military exercises close to the Iraqi border. The military training known under name of “Northern Thunder” is expected to go on all this week and involves more than 2,500 warplanes, 20,000 tanks and 450 helicopters. 

According to reports, Riyadh has billed the manoeuvre as “the largest and most important” drill ever staged in the region with allies of Saudi Arabia providing their own soldiers, from neighbouring Arab countries but also countries such as Pakistan, Chad and Sudan which make up the 350,000 ground force.

The exercises would involve ground, naval and air forces personnel.

Termed “The Northern Thunder”, the drill will continue for another week. 

The aim of the exercise is to send the message that Saudi Arabia and its allies “stand united in confronting all challenges and preserving peace and stability in the region”.

Neither the US nor any Western nation is part of the event but recent press reports have hinted that Riyadh is hoping that the US will send their own troops – at least special forces – to join it.

“Large military forces have been sent to observe the manoeuvres at the Iraqi-Saudi border in coordination with the security authorities,” local media stated.

The move by Saudi Arabia follows last week’s joint airforce manoeuvres in Turkey with Turkish and Saudi fighter jets carrying out missions together.

Six Saudi F-15 fighter jets took part in the air defence training in the central Turkish region of Konya, the military said in a statement.

The exercises are within the framework of cooperation and military training between the two countries and had been scheduled in advance, it added.

But the start of the exercises comes just two days after Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu announced that Saudi jets would be based at Turkey”s air base of Incirlik in Adana province to fight Islamic State (IS) militants, despite most regional analysts expecting the attacks to be aimed at Assad regime soldiers.

He also said that Turkey and Saudi could even launch a ground operation in Syria against IS, while emphasizing no decision had been taken. 

Turkey has long argued in Washington to be allowed a 10 kilometre ‘buffer zone’ inside Syria to operate its own troops from and where Sunni opposition fighters – which Ankara and the West support – could use as a safe base.

The Syrian war in recent days has climaxed with Russia bombing hospitals and Assad’s forces moving in on the key opposition stronghold of Aleppo. 

Turkey has also bombed Kurds fighting there as they have gained considerable ground and pose a threat to the security of Turkey.

As US Secretary of State John Kerry and his Russian counterpart, Sergei Lavrov, ramped up efforts for outlining terms of a lasting truce in Syria, Assad showed some willingness to stand with a cease-fire.

He said he is ready for a cease-fire on the condition that “terrorists” do not use a lull in fighting to their advantage and that countries backing insurgents halted support for them – a direct reference to both Saudi Arabia and Turkey.

His comments were made as the Syrian opposition said it had agreed to the “possibility” of a temporary truce, provided there were guarantees that Russia would respect such a cease fire and that sieges were lifted and aid deliveries were allowed country-wide.

“We have said that we are ready to stop military operations, but the issue relates to more important factors … such as preventing terrorists from using it to improve their positions,” Assad responded to El Pais.