Syria Feature: Confusion over “Saudi-Turkish Joint Drills”

PHOTO: Turkish tanks on the Syrian border, October 2014

Amid consideration by both Turkey and Saudi Arabia of their next steps in Syria’s five-year conflict, there is confusion on Friday over claims of “joint military drills”.

Turkish newspaper Hurriyet said sources had confirmed the exercises “as part of a decision to strategically cooperate against common threats”. However, other military officials denied the planning in comments to the State-run Anadolu Agency.

With the shift of the US to support of Kurdish groups, Turkey and Saudi Arabia are the leading backers of Syria’s rebels, who are facing challenges from a regime-Russian-Iranian-Hezbollah offensive, Kurdish advances, and the Islamic State.

In December, Saudi Arabia accompanied its backing of an opposition-rebel bloc with the proclamation of an “Islamic coalition” to develop forces to face regional threats. However, the declaration has yet to produce any outcomes.

The claim of Turkish-Saudi drills follow a recent visit by Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu to Saudi Arabia. Hurriyet’s military sources said the trip was not focused on the US-led coalition against the Islamic State in Syria, but on other areas of “mutual ties” in political and military affairs.

The sources distanced themselves from the Saudi effort for a multilateral coalition. “The togetherness that is being mentioned cannot actually be called an ‘Islam army’. Even if there is such an initiative, Turkey will not be a part of its military branch,” said a senior Turkish official.

The unnamed sources set out two concerns about any intervention with ground forces. The first is the lack of preparations buy the US, “as it knows a United Nations decision cannot be met” due to Russia’s backing of the Assad regime. The second is that the Turkish army will not cross the Syrian border without a UN Security Council resolution.

An official later said that a visit by Turkish military commanders to Saudi Arabia was merely for “the common aim… for the two countries’ militaries to put forth a joint stance in responding to regional problems”.

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Scott Lucas is Professor of International Politics at the University of Birmingham and editor-in-chief of EA WorldView. He is a specialist in US and British foreign policy and international relations, especially the Middle East and Iran. Formerly he worked as a journalist in the US, writing for newspapers including the Guardian and The Independent and was an essayist for The New Statesman before he founded EA WorldView in November 2008.


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