TEHRAN,(Basirat)- Saudi Arabia and Turkey decided to refrain from deploying their ground forces in Syria after they were faced with Russia and Iran’s severe reaction
Basirat RoundTable on Syria Crisis
The Basirat News and Analysis Website has held a round-table discussion with four prominent analysts and experts on the international issues in attendance to examine different aspects of the Syrian crisis from the perspective of possible direct military intervention by regional and international players in the crisis and its implications for the regional and international community.
Dr. Mirabian, an expert on Saudi affairs, has commented on the possibility of Riyadh’s direct military intervention in Syria as follows:
After the direct intervention of Russia in the Syrian crisis and the withdrawal of Takfiris from areas under their occupation and the liberation of terrorist-held areas and the countdown that began in Syria's military and security scene, the situation has made Saudis and some other regional countries, including Jordan, Turkey and naturally, their allies like the US, the European Union and NATO extremely worried.
So we see that an alliance of the Arab countries, like Jordan, Kuwait, Bahrain, the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and Sudan, emerges without any prior announcement and their forces gather in Hafar Al-Batin in the northeast of Saudi Arabia near the common borders with Iraq and Jordan.
The Arab forces started drills code-named Raad Al-Shamal without any statement about the objective behind the military maneuvers. So after the NATO summit in Brussels, Belgium, the spokesman for the Saudi-led coalition against Yemen, Ahmed Asiri, for the first time said the Arab forces intend to enter Syria and control current situation.
The statement by the spokesman was widely covered by media outlets. The outcome of the remarks is that the true faces of the Arab forces and the reason behind their maneuvers and moves in northeast Saudi Arabia and the deployment of Saudi warplanes in Turkey's Incirlik air base were revealed gradually.
On the other side, the remarks on the deployment of the Arab forces in Hafar Al-Batin with the aim of entering Syria from the Jordanian border have caused reactions from Iran and Russia.
It seems that harsh responses by the Islamic Republic of Iran and Russia eventually led the Saudis, Turks and the EU member states to think twice about this issue.
I believe that the Saudis and Turks have been serious about their interference in Syria and these comments have not been made by chance. Even Mr. Asiri repeated his remarks on the irreversibility of ground intervention into the Syrian territory two times. As we and Yemen’s Ansarullah movement did not expect from Saudis to mount military operations against Yemen with all their power at the current juncture. However, the Saudis’ decision and intention to directly interfere in Syria should not be oversimplified or ignored, despite the fact that there is a high risk in such a move.
But it seems that the answer to the question as to why Arab countries, including Saudi Arabia and NATO hesitated to enter Syria, is that reactions in the region, especially the severe ones from the Islamic Republic of Iran and Russia caused the Arab countries to think more about the consequences of such a move.
Given the severe consequences that Saudis suffered in Yemen and tens of billions of dollars that they spent in the region and in the Syrian crisis over the past five years, Saudis now feel that they are gradually losing their influence in the region.
Danger has entered the Saudi and Turkish territories, so the situation was unbearable for Saudis and hence, their decision was not an arbitrary or imprudent one. Saudis’ decision was based on thinking and studies but since the cost of military operations in Syria is very high for the Saudis, Turks and the Westerners, it seems that the move is not on their agenda for at least a short time.
However, it does not mean that Saudis have regretted their moves or their recent decision has permanently been removed from their agenda. They will pursue their goals in Syria whenever they see fit.
Since Saudi airplanes have landed in Turkey's Incirlik air base, which is in the hands of the Americans, and since Saudis plan to enter Syria from the Jordanian territories, they have to obtain permission from Jordan and the Arab country will not give the permission without the approval of the US. However, Saudis and Emiratis have repeatedly declared that if they are to be involved in a military operation in Syria it would happen under the leadership of the US.
Saudis do not want to accept political, military and security responsibilities of such a move. The Americans are not in a situation to get involved in the Syrian crisis either. Arabic-language media outlets have recently published a conversation between Mr. Erdogan and Mr. Obama, who clearly said currently, he is not in a situation to take big decisions in the run up to the US presidential elections.
Saudi Arabia and other Arab countries as well as Turkey are aware that the US is not in a position to take aggressive and unpredictable actions in the crisis-hit Syria, so the Saudis, Jordanians, Emiratis, Turks and other countries cannot take such an action without the support of the US and NATO.
In the last moments of the political crisis in Yemen, the Americans announced to Saudis that they are agreed with the military intervention in Yemen on March 27, 2015. Saudis promised the US that they will end the Yemeni crisis in three weeks. Therefore, we can conclude that the Saudis were not able to take a major action in Yemen without the approval of the US. Accordingly, the intervention in Syria is much more important than in Yemen.
In conclusion, Dr. Mirabian pointed to Saudi Arabians’ new policies toward the Islamic Republic of Iran and the region, saying:
Saudi Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir says his country will resume its ties with Iran when Tehran gives up meddling in the affairs of Syria, Iraq, Lebanon and Bahrain. In fact, Saudi Arabia is pursuing a win-lose approach and thinks that it is a regional superpower and others have no importance, but this is not possible.
Until three years after the beginning of the Syrian crisis, the Islamic Republic of Iran had not gotten involved in the crisis, but at the time, Qatar, which is a country in the size of our Kish or Qeshm islands with a population of about 300,000 had been involved in the Syrian crisis.
If Saudis consider themselves as a regional player, they should accept the Islamic Republic of Iran as another major player in the region. The problem that faces Saudis is that today, the West has accepted the issue, but Saudis have not accepted the fact yet. Accepting this fact is very difficult for them because they feel that if Iran becomes a major player in the region and a regional power, they will not be important any longer.
The Saudis should immediately accept the issue. They should accept that within a framework of regional cooperation with the Islamic Republic of Iran, they can live a peaceful life. Without regional cooperation, there is no possibility for co-existence in the region. It is not possible for Saudi Arabia to become a regional hegemony and along with its allies, impose its political views on the crises in Syria, Iraq, Lebanon or Yemen.
Dr. Shoaib Bahman, an expert on Turkish affairs, continued the discussion revolving around the new Turkish policy in the region as follows:
The military intervention in Syria by Turkey is not a new topic. Since the beginning of the Syrian crisis, Turks have always raised the issue. In 2014, they proposed an initiative in the parliament and Turkish MPs voted for a bill that allowed the government to cross the common borders with Iraq and Syria when appropriate and to deploy its military forces in the countries. In addition, the bill also allowed other countries to use its military bases.
Therefore, Turkey’s military intervention to Syria is not something new. What has made the issue outstanding today is two points:
The first point is the military operation that was carried out over the past few weeks by the Syrian army troops and Resistance Front forces, who managed to deal heavy blows to terrorists. This was alone a great achievement for the Syrian government and army. In fact, the operation is moving in a direction that it can cut off roads connecting Turkey with terrorist-held areas. So the achievement can be a very big blow to terrorist groups.
The second point is what happened in a few weeks, which is Kurds’ advancement in northern Syria. The advances connected three Kurdish cantons together in northern Syria. This is while the Turkish government considers PYD, which is known as the most important Kurdish party in northern Syria today, as a branch of the PKK.
Given the links between the PYD and the PKK, the Turkish government naturally is fearful of Kurds’ advances and the formation of a Kurdish corridor in this area.
From the beginning of the Syrian crisis, Mr. Erdogan has repeatedly announced that formation of an autonomous Kurdish region in the north of Syria is Turkey’s redline.
On the possibility of Turkey’s military involvement in Syria, it seems that based on the same stances that Turkey had adopted since the start of the crisis, Turks have several conditions to deploy their troops in Syria.
First, Turkish military officials have explicitly said that in no circumstances, they will deploy forces unilaterally for a ground war in Syria. These remarks mean that Turks are seeking to cooperate with the US-led coalition.
As announced by the Turkish government, their second condition is that the country will be involved in a ground battle in Syria when an international agreement is reached in this regard. This is indicative of the fact that the Turkish government not only is reluctant to take military action alone, but it is also worried about reactions from the supporters of Mr. Assad's government in Syria.
Thus, in the current situation it seems that the Turks, for some reason, are not able to deploy their forces at least unilaterally in the battlefield. In other words, this topic can be discussed at different levels.
At the domestic level
1. In the first place, I should mention that Turkey is not an independent regional player and the Turkish foreign policy is dependent upon the US, NATO and other Western countries. Therefore, Turkey is not capable to mount a military attack against Syria.
2. On the other hand, Turkey has not the capacity to counter terrorism inside its own territories. In recent weeks and months, we have witnessed several terrorist attacks across the Turkish territory. If these attacks continue, in practice, they will deal countless blows to Turkey’s economy, whose major part relies on tourism.
3. In the current situation in Turkey, opposition parties are pressuring the country’s government and the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) about its policies towards Syria.
4. In addition, the government of Mr. Erdogan is in battle with the PKK and other Kurds within Turkey and for the reason, an important part of the country's intelligence, security and military power is used in these conflicts.
Therefore, in the domestic sphere, the Turkish government is currently facing a lot of problems, which makes Turkey’s ground invasion and deployment of ground forces in Syria very difficult.
At the regional level
Turks are facing two major problems in the region:
1. They cannot count on the military alliance with regional players such as Saudi Arabia. We should not forget that despite their common positions on Syria, Turkey and Saudi Arabia have ideological differences. Turks have a tendency towards the Muslim Brotherhood movement, while Saudis have a tendency towards Wahhabis and Takfiris.
On the other hand, there are serious geopolitical differences between Turkey and Saudi Arabia regarding their spheres of influence.
We saw an example of these differences on the issue of Egypt, in which the two countries had completely different orientations about the developments in the Arab country.
Moreover, Saudi Arabia’s involvement in the Yemen war has caused Turks not to seriously think about the deployment of the Saudi forces in Syria.
2. At the regional level, Turkey has greatly affected its relations with Iran and Russia due to the Syrian crisis and it seems that they do not intend to further worsen their ties with Russians in particular.
At International Level
At present, Turkey cannot rely on US, NATO and other European countries’ support for the following reasons:
1) The US, NATO and other European countries have not yet thrown their weight behind Turkey’s no-fly zone plan.
2) Western countries, despite Turkey which insists to recognize Syrian Kurdish group Democratic Union Party, also known as the PYD, as a terrorist group, do not have such a perception. Additionally, not only do not they consider PYD a terrorist group, they also supply it with arms and military equipment.
3) The US and European nations, unlike Turkey which has always beaten the drum for President Assad’s ouster, have agreed that Assad can stay in power at least until end of the political transition plan.
Thus, Turkey’s decision to deploy ground forces in Syria may not garner enough support at the international level.
After Dr. Bahman delivered his speech, the discussion moved toward this issue that Turkey and Saudi Arabia will not be able to get involved in the Syrian crisis individually or in form of a regional coalition without direct intervention of NATO and US, hence Dr. Motaghinia, a professor of international relations at the University of Tehran, explicated US and NATO policies toward the region.
In the past 70 years, the US has played a pivotal role in the crises plaguing the Middle East so that it can manage, control and balance affairs in the region. Since the start of Cold War, has taken a more effective stance on South western Asia.
Today, Saudi Arabia can make some military and security moves in Syria, Yemen, Lebanon, and Iraq thanks to the US support and help. In the past years particularly during President Obama’s tenure, the US behavioral pattern has pivoted around indirect action and Washington has been attempting to benefit from power and capability of major regional actors in such an atmosphere. Some of the players are among regional states and some are non-states and sub-national states. Therefore under such circumstances, both Saudi Arabia and Saudi-backed Takfiri groups, released by Riyadh after the Islamic Awakening movement, will be placed in an operational atmosphere.
Origins of such moves can be traced back in history when Adel al-Jubeir, Saudi Arabia’s current foreign minister, was serving as Riyadh’s ambassador to the US. During that time, Hillary Clinton was the US secretary of state and was busy with approving an anti-Iran ideological forces initiative at the US National Security Council (NSC). For the same reason, it is safe to say that Daesh will have never come into existence had Washington not supported it.
US President Barack Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry’s thoughts on regional developments is that they should organize two balance of power in the context of the regional atmosphere in the Geneva Summit which may be held on February 25.
Both Iran and Saudi Arabia will participate in the conference, but these are the US and Russia which will have the final say and direct the entire situation. In fact, they want to devise a joint formula. Therefore, the US is on the one hand seeking to remain at level of world’s super powers like Russia and is on the other hand trying to keep the balance of power at the regional level.
The fact of the matter is that Obama is intent upon resolving the Syrian crisis until the end of his term in 2017 and that he plans to do it via forming a new broad-based government(Coalition government) . It is still very unclear to say whether or not Obama will be able to push with his initiative. But the US will make all-out effort in order to reach an agreement with Russia and their agreement will pivot on the no-fly zone in Syria. Turkey and Saudi Arabia also favor the issue of establishment of the no-fly zone in Syria. German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who is an effective player both in Europe and NATO, announced her country’s consensus on the no-fly zone initiative for the first time in a speech before the German Parliament on February 18.
Is NATO seeking to include Persian Gulf Arab states in its own coalition? The answer is yes. Since the 2009 Istanbul summit, the NATO has been following this approach. NATO's Istanbul Cooperation Initiative (ICI) aimed to contribute to regional security by offering countries of the broader Middle East region, including the Persian Gulf Arab states practical bilateral security cooperation with NATO.
Today, NATO member states are deeply concerned about the Salafi Islam as well as Takfiris’ action and approach. One cannot analyze the region’s problems without taking into account their historical roots. Turkey had control over the Arab world until 1919. Now Ankara has visions of reviving era of the Ottoman Empire and it assumes a unique role for itself, but it is the US which is controlling Turkey and that NATO will never let Istanbul take the initiative.
Under such circumstances, Turkey and Saudi Arabia’s motivation for taking military action against Syria is strong but it would be far-fetched without US and NATO’s role, management and control.
United Nations Security Council (UNSC) approves resolution on Yemen with the US support. As a result, Saudi Arabia allows itself to deploy its ground forces in Yemen. The US also targeted Ansarullah positions with its Cruise missiles for two times. But the situation in Syria is entirely a different kettle of fish. First, possibility for adopting a UN resolution does not exist. Second, Russia has deployed its forces in Syria. The question is: Will NATO confront Russia in a Salafists-Takfiris infested area? For sure, no.
I want to draw this conclusion that NATO does not have the required motivation for playing a military role in Syria. NATO considers the Middle East crises as a different issue from its strategic priorities. It attempts to manage the crises. Merkel’s view about the no-fly zone is also aimed at controlling the crises in the region.
When Turkish President Reccep Tayyib Erdogan gets desperate and says that Washington should choose between Turkey, Russia and others (Kurds), the US says we have already made our choice and Turkey is our ally. But when the US says Turkey is our ally, it means, according to American literature, our ally must do whatever we dictate.
So in an atmosphere like this, NATO is not eager to take military action against Syria. The US is also looking for resolving the issue via a balance of power with Russia in a diplomatic trend. As mentioned before, Washington is seeking a balance of power at the regional level as well in a bid to form a transition government in Syria until August 2016. Consequently, Riyadh and Ankara do not have the motivation necessary for taking a military action in the region. Yet, the US and NATO do not have such an approach.
One of the issues that today has caused a rift between Britain and the European Union and, accordingly, the UK insists it wants to leave the EU is the issue of freedom to act and playing a role in the crisis-hit areas. Expansion of crisis is the British government’s outlook. Therefore, the UK backs any military actions in Syria. This is while, the US and NATO do not believe in a military action.
At the end of the discussion, Dr. Jahangir Karami, a Russia affairs expert and a professor at the Tehran University, shed light on Russia’s policies and response to any possible direct military intervention in Syria.
Some important questions need to be asked here: Why did Russia decide to engage in a military action against terrorism in Syria? How has Moscow defined its scope of operation? And how much it is geared up to expand it? The answer is that Russia engaged in Syria mostly for political reasons. In fact, the Russian government decided to get involved in the Syrian crisis as it felt the situation is getting worse and worse and that its attempt to bring Western countries particularly Turkey and Saudi Arabia to the negotiating table did not succeed. Western nations, Turkey and Saudi Arabia maintained that there is no need for talks and everything will be settled with respect to the Syrian government.
In my opinion, there is a difference between Iran and Russia over the future of Syria. Moscow sought, by its air raids, to give a guarantee to the Syrian government that parties involved in the conflict will come to the negotiating table, while the Islamic Republic has always supported the legitimate government of Syria with the purpose of safeguarding the country’s sovereignty and allowing Syrians to decide on the fate of their country.
Russian airstrikes are not going to continue forever. Moscow believes the air raids should have a definite timeline and that time comes when the strikes bring the parties to the negotiating table and now it has already happened. But the Syrian peace talks did not go through as Turkey and Saudi Arabia came to realize that the Geneva negotiations will not bring about their desired results. So they decided to deepen and expand the crisis in an attempt to engage the West in the current complicated situation. They seek to reverse the process developed in the Arab country in the wake of the Russian airstrikes and the peace talks.
Threats and ultimatums from Turkey and Saudi Arabia in respect of deployment of ground forces in Syria were mainly aimed at worsening the situation in Syria and scuttling the talks. I also do agree with my friends that these two countries need NATO and US support in order to be able to take a military action against Syria.
I believe that NATO will not simply engage in such a military plan which its orchestrators are two Middle Eastern nations; it is very unlikely. If we rest on the assumption that Riyadh and Ankara will finally get involved in the Syrian crisis – it should be mentioned here that Turkey has already engaged in the Syrian crisis. Over the past few days, it has been shelling the positions of fighters of the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) and its affiliated Democratic Union Party (PYD) in the northern parts of Syria. It may also target the government’s positions and help Saudi troops enter Syria soil as well – Russia’s reaction will not change and it, as before, will remain at level of the air raids. Russia has no plan to deploy ground forces in Syria and will not do this for several reasons. The new edition of Moscow’s military doctrine, signed by President Vladimir Putin in December 2015, has not predicted this. Russian officials do not see this as well.
Russia will prevent (in case of any limited) Saudi and Turkish boots in Syrian territories which are under the control of government forces by its airstrikes. Obviously, Russian Hmeimin military base in Latakia Province, in the northwest of Syria, is a high priority.
Another assumption is that Russian air offensive against Saudi and Turkish aggressors may turn into another war. The aggressors might target Russian warplanes. In that case Moscow may show reaction from its navy base in the Mediterranean.
If we look at the regional developments from an international perspective, big steps are needed to be taken in order to turn the current crisis in Syria into a Russia-NATO confrontation. Therefore, the assumption of Turkey and Saudi Arabia’s deployment of ground forces in Syria is not a compelling reason to believe NATO will confront Russia because that will deepen both the crisis and the situation in the Arab country.
When we study Russian officials’ remarks, Russia’s strategic documents, and analyses of Russian think thanks and researchers, we come to understand that they themselves do not view the Syrian issue as an extensive international crisis; they have not predicted NATO-Russia confrontation.
In the past months, Russian armed forces, including Air Force, Ground Force and Navy Force carried out intensive military operations and drills in a bid to be highly prepared if Russia’s air raids in Syria turn into a confrontation with Turkey. Such measures need to be taken in Syria and the Black Sea area, but there is a difference between the military exercises carried out by nations around the world and what an analyst should carefully understand by studying potential realities happening across the globe.
I also do agree with my colleagues that the possibility of a Russia-NATO confrontation does not exist, but the likelihood of Russia’s irritation over Saudi Arabia and Turkey’s war-mongering measures against Syria does exist.