Turkey and Saudi Arabia Talk Big, But Are Peripheral to Syrian Crisis

Despite their posturing as proactive parties in the Syrian war, Turkey and Saudi Arabia are being effectively precluded from significant intervention by the closing of ranks between the US and Russia against any third-party interference.
DEBKA Weekly’s sources describe how the two powers have imposed their joint strategy on the current military chapter of the Syrian conflict.
1. Presidents Barack Obama and Vladimir Putin have established an open line for close diplomatic and military coordination. They were on the phone to each other again Saturday, Feb. 13, directly after the Turkish artillery bombardment of Kurdish YPG militia forces near Aleppo in northern Syria.
The upshot was a decision to send their defense ministers, Ashton Carter and Sergei Shoigu, to work even more closely together in the joint effort for winning the war on ISIS and other terrorist organizations.
After this phone call, the Kremlin issued a communiqué reporting that Putin and Obama had agreed to “intensify cooperation through diplomatic agencies and other entities” to implement the cease-fire agreement reached in Munich last week.
The White House noted that Obama “emphasized the importance now of Russia playing a constructive role by ceasing its air campaign against moderate opposition forces in Syria.”
Russia’s announcement opened the door to negotiations with international bodies for “humanitarian corridors” to be laid in the course of military operations in places jointly designated by Washington and Moscow.
All air strikes will be banned over those corridors.
This is what German Chancellor Angela Merkel was talking about when she said in a newspaper interview published on Feb. 15: “In the current situation, it would be helpful if there was an area there in which none of the warring parties carry out attacks by air – so a type of no-fly zone,” she said.
Moscow sees this plan in a different light.
Russia’s chief of staff and its military command in Latakia are promoting a “humanitarian corridor” to save the eastern region of Deir ez-Zour from falling into ISIS hands. Syrian, Iranian and Hizballah forces could then be transferred from central Syria to Deir ez-Zour and its big air base and relieve Syrian army forces holding out against an ISIS siege. Meanwhile, Russian air strikes have been intensified against ISIS siege forces and cargo planes are dropping military equipment, food and medical aid to the beleaguered Syrian forces.
Russian commanders are determined to beat back the ISIS eastern offensive which is bidding for control of the Euphrates River valley (see attached map) in their first indirect confrontation.
A Russian win would come within reach of Anbar province across the border and gain Moscow its first foothold in Iraq.
2. The threats of ground action against the Syrian Kurds thrown out by Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan and Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu, are not being taken seriously.
Undeterred, the Kurdish group fighting under Russian military command north of Aleppo extended its conquests from the Menagh air base last week to Tal Rifaat on the Turkish border Tuesday, Feb. 16.
Ankara is raging against the Russian plan to allow the YPG fighters to connect the two Kurdish enclaves of Kobani and Afrin (see map) and so control the western section of the Syrian-Turkish border.
Worst of all for Turkey, its leaders see President Obama going over to the side of the Russians and the Kurds. They howled in protest on Feb. 15 when US State Department spokesman John Kirby urged Turkey and the YPG ”not to take advantage of a confused situation by seizing new territory” but also urged Ankara to halt its attacks on the Kurds.
Turkey strongly protested Kirby’s statement and vowed it would not seek anyone’s permission to fight terrorist organizations.
However, DEBKA Weekly’s military sources said that the Turks have taken no serious action in this regard. Their artillery bombardment of Kurdish positions last Saturday tapered to a trickle of just 12 shells in the following three days, all of which landed on open ground outside Kurdish positions.
Erdogan and his government, already in bad odor in Washington and targeted for punishment by Moscow, will think twice before making matters worse by directly clashing with Russian forces in Syria.
3. Saudi threats are equally hollow. Saudi Defense Ministry spokesman, Brig. Gen. Ahmed al-Assiri, said on Feb. 14 that Saudi warplanes had been deployed to Incirlik air base in southern Turkey near the Syrian border. A day later, Ankara said the planes were not in Incirlik but would arrive later.
In any case, only four Saudi F-16s were mentioned – too few for any real impact on war situation in Syria but enough to face the risk of being shot down by Russian missiles the moment they cross the border.

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