The developments of the past few days in the Middle East, especially in Syria, Turkey, and Saudi Arabia have triggered an atmosphere of fear concerning a conflict that may involve the entire region.
In the past day, Turkey has already pursued Kurdish militants inside Syria using heavy artillery against targets south of its border with Syria. The Syrian government and Turkish military have confirmed that targets have been hit in Hatay Province, Aleppo Province, Idlis Province, and Latakia Province inside Syria.
Damascus has already sent a letter of complaint to the United Nations, where it described the attacks as an assault on Syrian government forces. It called for the UN to “take responsibility for international peace and security by putting an end to the crimes committed by the Turkish regime.” It also added that Ankara’s offensive is “an attempt to increase the morale of armed terrorist groupings, who are being defeated (by the Syrian Arab Army).”
On the other hand, Saudi Arabia has started to mass its troops near Syria as part of a military ‘exercise’, announcing it as the “largest and most important” in the region’s history. Over the weekend, Riyadh also announced its commitment to oust the Islamic State (ISIL/ISIS) threat out of Syria thus justifying its planned military drills, which as of press time, will commence in a few hours.
Riyadh’s and Ankara’s military escalation an act of desperation
Although far from being implemented, last week’s talks of a cessation in hostilities in Syria as discussed by major world powers in Munich have been received rather negatively by the Saudis and Turkish government. For one, both countries fear that a cease fire agreement might benefit Bashar Al Assad, Syria’s legitimate president, to stay in power and put to waste their 5-year effort of supporting the so-called ‘moderate’ rebels fighting the Syrian government.
Syria’s government described the Turkish attack on Aleppo, Syria’s second largest city and stronghold of different terrorist groups including Islamic State, as retaliation for the advances made by the Syrian military against rebel groups fighting Assad’s regime. The Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu insisted that the artillery firing was in response to Kurdish insurgency crossing into Turkey’s border with Syria. Contrary to this claim, it has been revealed that Turkey’s interest in Syria has been the supply of illegal oil being shipped from IS to refineries in Turkey – an operation which was stopped by the Russian air campaign against Islamic State.
Escalation will lead to total war in the region
The Turks and Saudis possible ground offensive in Syria will have unimaginable consequences for the region. At present, the conflict in Syria already involves all major rebel and terror groups in the region, including the likes of Al Qaeda, Al-Nusrah Front, and Islamic State. The United States and Russia are involved in ‘fighting’ IS, but both having a different outcome in mind for Syria’s future. NATO forces are also involved in the military operations, as provided by the UK, France, and now Turkey.
Experts and commentators alike have described the Syrian Civil War as a “proto-world war with nearly a dozen countries embroiled in two overlapping conflicts.” In the latest Munich Security Report, it has been stated that “for the first time since the end of the Cold War, the escalation of violence between major powers cannot be dismissed as an unrealistic nightmare.”
Russia is aiming to maintain a transitional government that includes the present leadership of Syria, a prospect opposed by the United States, NATO, Saudi Arabia, Turkey and their allies. Syria’s main ally in the region, Iran, also supports Moscow’s position. Iraq and Lebanon also shares a Syria that still involves Bashar Al Assad’s regime.
The government of Turkey, which authorized the downing of Russian bomber jet back in November 2015, is currently bombarding targets in Syria, choosing to use artillery instead of its air force to avoid Russia’s anti-aircraft installation in the northern part of Syria.
Syria has warned that any invasion force that challenges the country’s sovereignty will be considered an act of war. Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, who for years has advocated a negotiated settlement for Syria, gave a grim warning against such invasion force, saying that “the Americans and our Arab partners must think well: do they want a permanent war? All sides must be compelled to sit at the negotiating table instead of unleashing a new world war.”
So far, the American position in this latest conflict escalation is to lead the different factions back into the negotiating table and warned Turkey and the Saudis against destabilizing actions in Syria, as stated by US Secretary of State John Kerry in a recent Munich Security Conference. Curiously though, behind the negotiations US Defense Secretary Ashton Carter said he expects commando units from Saudi and the UAE to start covertly invading Syria.
Saudi Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir announced in a conference that “there is some serious discussion going on with regards to looking at a ground component in Syria, because there has to be a possibility of taking and holding ground, that one cannot do from the air.” The Foreign Minister is advocating for a ground offensive, but that which should involve and be led by the United States. Earlier, he also called for the removal of Bashar al-Assad “by force.”
As for the Iranians they have warned that a military escalation led by the Saudis will be met in kind. Speaking in Tehran, Iranian Deputy Staff Brigadier General Masoud Jazayeri declared that “we will not let the situation in Syria get out of control so that some rogue states could implement their policies. If needed, we will take some appropriate decisions.”