Turkey Links up with Saudi Arabia’s Nascent Sunni Bloc. Its First Target Is Syria

Saturday, Aug. 13, US President Barack Obama phoned Saudi King Abdullah at his palace in Jeddah. What followed was their first conversation in seven months of frigid relations after their bitter row of Feb. 9 over the US president's role in toppling Abdullah's friend Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak.
Obama and Abdullah refrained from communicating – or coordinating their actions – through the critical months of the Arab Revolt, leaving routine contacts to national security advisers, ministers and counterterrorism officials.
That the Saudi King was ready to take President Obama's call about the Syrian crisis was a measure of the supreme importance the Saudi royal family attaches to the popular uprising against President Assad having the right outcome.
After listening to Obama's account of Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu's discussions with Bashar Assad in Damascus on August 9, and the conclusion he and Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan reached in their phone call two days later, Abdullah made his own position clear:
Saudi Arabia, he said, had three objectives in Syria:

  1. Assad's ouster from power, to which end the oil kingdom was willing to invest all its financial and intelligence resources, is the first priority and the key to the other two goals which are:
  2. The destruction of Hizballah as a military and political force in Lebanon because its armed militia is an integral part of the military might of Syria and Iran.
    The Saudi king was clear about not ruling out military intervention to overthrow Assad and obliterate Hizballah.
  3. The undermining of the Islamic Republic of Iran's imperialist and nuclear ambitions.


Turkey jumps aboard the Saudi Sunni bandwagon


Sunday, the day after he talked to the US president, Abdullah entertained a rare visitor at his palace in Jeddah, Turkish President Abdullah Gul. They had a long chat about the situation in Syria and then issued a joint statement summed up briefly as: The positions of Saudi Arabia and Turkey are in accord on the Syrian crisis. Both stress the importance of putting an end to the bloody crackdown on protesters.
But DEBKA-Net-Weekly's sources in the Gulf disclose that the concurrence between Abdullah and Gul went a lot further than a meeting of minds: Saudi Arabia and Turkey have already come together in the pursuit of military and intelligence steps for removing Assad from power by establishing a joint Saudi-Turkish command for activating a Muslim volunteer force against his regime inside Syria. (See the preceding item about a regional war).
This joint command could evolve into the military kernel of a Sunni Muslim alliance that, as seen from Ankara and Washington, would aim squarely at sundering the Tehran-Ankara-Damascus-Hizballah axis.
The Saudis, who started working on this strategic objective six months ago, have done a lot better in a shorter time than even the king's strategic and intelligence advisers predicted. Harnessing Turkey, a major military power and NATO member, to their grouping is an unforeseen major breakthrough.
A celebratory note was evident in an article run Wednesday, Aug. 17, in Arab News, the official the Saudi crown's mouthpiece: Under the title "The Rising power," the writer asserts: "The Arab Spring has replaced Egypt with Turkey as one of the major players in the Middle East."


Assad may try and blow up the emerging Saudi-led bloc


The article goes on to say: "In the normal course of events, the visit to Jeddah of Turkish President Abdullah Gul this week and his talks with Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Abdullah would raise little attention… Until this year, there were two prime motors of peace and stability in the Middle East: Saudi Arabia and Egypt. The Arab Spring has temporarily taken Egypt out of the equation. Like Saudi Arabia, Turkey is a driving force for sanity and peace in the region. It is now seen as such."
Such praise for Turkey has not been heard for many years from Saudi Arabia – a development which DEBKA-Net-Weekly sources say may turn out to be one of the few achievements Obama administration's Middle East policies can boast in recent months.
Using the Syrian crisis to energize the rise of a Sunni Muslim bloc against the Shiite-led Iranian-Syrian-Hizballah alliance – and then for patching up the US administration's quarrel with Saudi Arabia, if only very partially, would be a major feat for Obama diplomacy. King Abdullah is still not ready to go all the way in confronting Iran, including military action.
The prevailing view in Washington and most Middle East capitals, according to our military sources, is that Assad will take the lead in steps for breaking up the Sunni grouping before its institutions and modes of operation are firmly established.
His most obvious course would be to catch his enemies, the US, Turkey and Saudi Arabia, off guard with a surprise attack on one of Syria's neighbors.

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