In stark contrast to the Egyptian President Abdel-Fatteh El-Sisi’s cool reception in Riyadh Monday, March 2, Salman, the new Saudi King, laid out a red carpet for Turkey’s President Tayyip Erdogan who arrived on the same day.
DEBKA Weekly’s military and intelligence sources reveal exclusively that Salman and Erdogan were so closely in tune that it took them just 35 minutes of conversation to wrap up their business, which was to draw the outline of a new political-military pact linking Saudi Arabia, Turkey and Pakistan for a concerted Sunni challenge to Iran’s push for Middle East Shiite hegemony.
Their conversation covered four aspects of the new partnership:
1. Turkey’s attachment to the bilateral deal under which Pakistan is under contract to provide Saudi Arabia with a nuclear umbrella
Under the new trilateral arrangement, Pakistan would extend a nuclear weapon to the Turkish army if that country was directly threatened with attack by a nuclear bomb or nuclear-capable long-range surface missiles.
The precise mechanics of how the three-way nuclear partnership would work remained to be hammered out in detail.
The Mid East nuclear arms race in full spate
The principle appeared to be that a trilateral consensus would govern the handover of nuclear arms to Turkey. But it is not clear whether Riyadh will have the power to veto such a transfer. Gulf intelligence sources report that this and other points were set aside for further discussion.
For now, it was decided that Saudi Arabia would foot the bill for the conveyance of nuclear arms from Pakistan to Turkey, as well as for the cost of establishing the military and technical infrastructure to handle it.
So, while Washington and Jerusalem Cassandras bandied grim warnings about a Middle East nuclear race yet to come in the vague hereafter, DEBKA Weekly’s sources can confirm that the race is already afoot, initiated by the Sunni governments with the most to fear from their bellicose neighbor in Tehran.
The groundwork for the Salman-Erdogan accord was laid in Islamabad in the last week of February. Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu had four meetings face to face with Pakistan’s Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, who has long cultivated friendly personal ties in the Saudi royal court – and especially with the new Saudi Defense Minister, the king’s son Prince Mohammed bin Salman.
2. The two prime ministers agreed that Turkey would set up a military-technological command center in a Saudi town, most likely the northern town of Tabuk near the Jordanian border. There, too, France keeps a squadron of Rafale fighter-bombers at the local air base.
This command center would be in charge of coordinating Turkish-Saudi military interchanges and oversee joint exercises. The first Turkish-Saudi naval drill is planned to take place soon on the Red Sea.
A new railroad network to link new allies with China
3. Sharif and Davutoglu also agreed to establish a new railroad between Turkey and Pakistan. This rail link would make it possible to swiftly transport military manpower and equipment to Turkey in an emergency.
It would also have the effect of bolstering the volume of trade between China and Pakistan by providing it with a new outlet by rail.
The project also looks ahead to the ending of the Syrian conflict, when another rail connection cutting through Syria and Jordan would reach the Saudi town of Tabuk and then link up with the Gulf Cooperation Council’s railway running from Kuwait to Bahrain via Saudi Arabia.
The emirates of Qatar and Bahrain are planning to build a bridge to link their capitals.
Once this great railway network is finished and in place, China, one of Riyadh’s suppliers of intercontinental nuclear missiles, will have a direct overland rail link to Saudi Arabia via Pakistan and Turkey. Riyadh and Beijing have agreed to put up most of the financing.
4. Saudi Arabia and Turkey will expand their military and intelligence partnership in the Syrian conflict to counteract the Shiite drive led by Iran’s Revolutionary Guards.
For their intervention, they will divide the war-torn country between them – the Saudis operating mainly in the south and the Turks in the north.
Riyadh usually prefers to limit its sponsorship in such ventures to financial assistance to the favored party. And indeed, already this week, DEBKA Weekly’s military sources reported that the Saudi imprint on the southern Syrian battlefield was discernible in the large sums of money rattling in the pockets of the Syrian rebel forces.
Those forces are fighting fiercely to check the advance towards the Golan town of Quneitra of Hizballah-backed Syria units, reinforced by Shiite militias imported from Afghanistan and Pakistan – and all under the direct command Iranian generals.