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Middle East

New Arab alliance brings moral and military support to Turkey

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People celebrate in Diyarbakir - after Kurdish forces took full control of the Syrian town of Kobane, 26 January 2015. Reuters/Sertac Kayar

While Russia condemned Turkish shelling of Kurdish Syrian positions just south of its border, joining the US, France and Syria, Saudi Arabia is sending fighter planes to Turkey’s İncirlik. Meanwhile, Riyad announced massive military exercises involving twenty countries.

Turkey fights the Kurdish Workers’ Party PKK at home and want to prevent the Syrian Kurds organized in the PYD (Democratic Union Party (Syria), from getting a stronger foothold in the north of Syria.

“From the very beginning, Turkey had made it clear that there is an area by the Turkish border near Kobani that should not be open to PYD penetration,” says Iltar Turan, a political scientist with Bilgi university in Istanbul, pointing out that there is “a strong disagreement between the United States and Turkey, because the US focuses fighting the Islamic State Armed Group see the PYD as is an ally,” and “tolerate its actions in the area.”

“From a Turkish viewpoint, PYD is as much an adversary as ISIL itself.” he says.

The Syrian Kurds, he says, did not “observe Turkish objections” when Ankara accused the Kurds of “ethnic cleansing.”

But Ankara’s main concern is preventing the Syrian Kurds to get a stronger foothold in the area. “This should not be PYD territory. Turkey has not entered it, and does not seem likely at the moment not likely, but it Ankara is using fire power to keep the PYD at bay,” he says.

But Kurds in Turkey sympathize with their brethren across the border.

“The Kurdish forces in North Syria are the legitimate forces of the Kurdish people,” says Namzy Gur, vice chairman of the pro-Kurdish party HDP.

“They also form legitimate forces within Syria.”

Gur points out that the PYD is fighting the Assad regime and aims to take a place within a unified and independent Syria.

“That's why we, the Kurds in Turkey, fully support this Kurdish movement in Syria, and we think that without Kurds, there will be no peace and stability in Syria,” he says.

Meanwhile, Turkish foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu said on Saturday that the fight against the Islamic State armed group “must include ground operations” and that Saudi Arabia is sending (an unspecified number of) fighter jets to help.

But analysts say the Saudi beefing up of the Turkish air force as another goal as well.

“Not only Saudi Arabia but also other Gulf countries, particularly Qatar are interested in not allowing Assad to make a full comeback,” says Ilter Turan.

“This action (of Saudi planes coming to Turkey) will put pressure on the United States and forms a message that [Washington] cannot pretend that the rest of the Middle East does not exist and simply focus on fighting the Islamic State,” or “hide behind the PYD” which is sees as allies.

Meanwhile, the official Saudi Press Agency SPA reported that Saudi Arabia plans to organize a massive military exercise in which 200.000 soldiers of twenty Muslim countries will participate.

The agency calls the exercise, dubbed “Thunder of the North” the “most important and largest in the region’s history” in terms of the number of nations taking part and the weaponry being used.

Twenty countries will be taking take part, SPA said. Among them are Saudi Arabia’s five partners in the Gulf Cooperation Council [the UAE, Qatar, Bahrain, Kuwait and Oman], as well as Chad, Egypt, Jordan, Malaysia, Morocco, Pakistan, Senegal and Tunisia, it added.

“The significance of this exercise is it shows the willingness of these Arab and Islamic countries to launch a joint land operation together, to counter the Islamic State in Syria specifically,” says Riad Khawaji, director of the Dubai-based Institute for Near East and Gulf Military Analysis (INEGMA).

“It is also an answer to escalated Russian intervention in Syria alongside the Iranian Revolutionary Guard who are now widening their area of occupation in their country.”

“The Saudis and the Arab Alliance have big question marks about the real intention of Europe and the US supporting the Russians by helping the Kurdish forces that control a big chunk of Syria. It is becoming clearer that the US and Russia have reached some sort of deal to divide the areas of influence in Syria, and they want to give the Kurds a strong role at the expense of the Arab-Sunni community which is the majority in the country.”

And while Arab military ties seem to be strengthening, Nato is showing cracks, says Khawaji.

“Nato has done nothing to help Turkey, a member state, in protecting its borders,” says Khawaji. “So I would not be surprised if we see this alliance fracture in the coming months if it continues to fail to fulfill its obligations for its members, especially a strong and viable member like Turkey,” he says.

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