“What’s going on in Syria can only go on for so long. At some point it has to change,” Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan told reporters on a plane back to Turkey from Latin America over the weekend.
As we’ve documented extensively over the past several days, Ankara, Riyadh, and Doha have their backs against the wall when it comes to the effort to oust Bashar al-Assad and perpetuate Sunni hegemony in the Arabian Peninsula.
Hezbollah has surrounded Aleppo and their advance is backed by what’s been described as an unrelenting Russian air campaign. The rebels’ supply lines to Turkey have been cut and without a direct intervention by either the US or the Gulf states, the battle for Syria will have been lost for the opposition which pulled out of peace talks in Geneva citing the ongoing aerial bombardment by Moscow.
Now, with time running out, both Saudi Arabia and Turkey are weighing ground invasions.
“You don’t talk about these things. When necessary, you do what’s needed,” Erdogan said, when asked if Ankara was considering sending troops into Syria. “Right now our security forces are prepared for all possibilities,” he added.
For Erdogan, there’s only one acceptable outcome: Sunni militants oust Assad and take control of Damascus. Assad’s ouster is the desired outcome for the Saudis as well, but Erdogan has a secondary agenda in Syria: preventing the conflict from strengthening the Kurds. That means he’s against any support for the YPG - even if such support would help facilitate regime change.
Over the weekend Erdogan blasted both Russia and the US.
“What are you doing in Syria? You’re essentially an occupier,” he said, in a message to Vladimir Putin. “How can we trust you? Is your partner me, or is it those terrorists in Kobani?” he asked Obama’s envoy for the international coalition against Islamic State. By the “terrorists in Kobani", Erdogan is referring to the YPG.
Erdogan's frustration reflects the fact that the various groups fighting to take control of Syria are now virtually guaranteed to lose. As we said from the time Russia first flew combat missions from Latakia on September 30, the opposition has virtually no chance of winning a war with Hezbollah and the IRGC as long as Moscow is providing air cover. The rebels have no air presence whatsoever and no anti-aircraft capability and on top of that, there's no advantage to be had in fighting an asymmetric battle with Hezbollah. Hassan Nasrallah's army practically invented urban warfare.
The only option now is a coordinated ground invasion by the rebels' Sunni benefactors.
“With rebels losing ground, Gulf states said they would be prepared to send in ground troops as part of an international coalition battling Islamic State,” Bloomberg reported on Sunday.
Please note: that quote makes no sense. The rebels aren’t losing ground to ISIS, so why should their battlefield losses trigger international calls for ground troops to “battle Islamic State”?
This is a ridiculously transparent attempt to fabricate an excuse to shore up Sunni militants who are about to be relegated to the annals of sectarian history by the combined military prowess of Hezbollah and Russia.
Sure, there’s an ISIS presence in Aleppo, but if anyone was actually interested in eradicating the group, they’d be talking about Raqqa and Deir ez-Zor, not Latakia nand Aleppo.
Underscoring just how close the world is to careening into World War III, various reports out over the weekend indicated that the Saudis may be preparing to stage 150,000 troops in Turkey. That comes on the heels of reports out of Russia which indicate that Moscow believes Erdogan is on the verge of sending in troops to prop up the rebels. And then there was this, out earlier today from Reuters:
- U.S KIRBY SAYS WELCOME SAUDI, UAE OFFER FOR TROOPS IN SYRIA
Saudi foreign minister Adel al-Jubeir confirmed that Washington would support Riyadh if the Saudis did indeed decide to invade Syria just as they have Yemen.
For what it's worth, AA denied the Saudi troop reports.
'150,000 [Saudi] soldiers will enter Syria from Turkey' are not true, say Turkish prime ministry sources: report pic.twitter.com/KRO64Tg3gi
— ANADOLU AGENCY (ENG) (@anadoluagency) February 8, 2016
While that particular "rumor" may be unfounded, Turkey and the rest of the Sunni world will need to make a decision in the next few days as to just how they plan to proceed, because as is abundantly clear from the following first-hand account from a rebel fighter, this war is just about over.
"Our whole existence is now threatened, not just losing more ground. They are advancing and we are pulling back because in the face of such heavy aerial bombing [by Russia] we must minimize our losses."
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Or, for those who need a visual summary of the above: