Following on the recent news about a Syrian ceasefire deal reached by the U.S, Russia, and other powers, Saudi Arabia is sending fighter planes and troops to join the anti-ISIS fight in Syria. The planes will stage out of neighboring Turkey, as the AFP reports:
The planes are to be stationed at the Incirlik base, which is already hosting US, British and French war planes taking part in the strikes against IS fighters in Syria.
Private NTV television said four Saudi F-15 jets would arrive at Incirlik on Friday. It said that 30 ground personnel and equipment had already arrived aboard C-130 Hercules military transport planes on Tuesday.
Saudi Arabia and Turkey have had an often-undisguised rivalry over the last half-decade for leadership of the Sunni world. However, the menace of the Syrian Civil War—and the failure of America, an ally to each, to intervene as expected—has drawn them closer together. In this case, though, that isn’t necessarily a good thing: It adds yet another strand to a complicated web of alliances and rivalries that criss-cross the Syrian Civil War. If, for instance, Turkey’s rivalry with Russia heats up, could Saudi Arabia now get drawn in?
This is a symptom of the lack of U.S. leadership, as Washington would traditionally have taken the lead in providing security to both countries. Furthermore, untested and under-prepared leaders have emerged in Saudi Arabia and elsewhere—making the possibility of a misjudgement in time of crisis more acute.
TAI Editor Adam Garfinkle recently diagnosed the situation Saudi Arabia and Turkey find themselves in—one that may give context to the latest Saudi move:
All U.S.-aligned Sunni states are in near panic as a result of American self-deterrence. The wriggling about of the Saudi government, one day seeming to resolve to send troops into Syria, the next backing off when the intended diplomatic tripwire fails to ensnare the Americans, is one case in point. The Turks are in an even deeper pickle. They desperately need to staunch the refugee flow from the south, but the Obama Administration refuses the idea of a humanitarian zone on the Syrian side of the border. If the Turks try to create that zone by themselves, and get into a fight over it with the Russians, they have no expectation now that the United States will have Turkey’s back. That completely deflates the credibility of Turkish threats, and everyone knows it: Erdogan cannot do anything. He can’t even turn to ISIS for help, because ISIS and a variety of Kurdish groups are now busy setting off bombs inside Turkey.
Even if—perhaps especially if—the Saudis are just trying to lay another tripwire by sending this planes, the move is therefore disturbing. It’s as easy to start a wider war by accident as by design and America is tolerating a lot of tripwires that are being laid around the regional dynamite keg right now.