Just as it seemed that John Kerry had accepted that Assad was going to continue in power and that a deal between the USA and Russia might be possible, it looks this afternoon as if the Syrian war might get much worse. Saudi Arabia is to deploy military jets and personnel to Turkey’s Incirlik Air Base in the south of the country, ahead of a possible ground invasion. It might be sabre rattling or the prologue to an expanded, prolonged war.
The laughable pretext for Saudi and Turkish intervention might be to attack ISIS, but ISIS which is fighting the Shia and the Kurds is de facto on the same side as Erdogan and Saudi Arabia. The real reason for the intervention would be to maintain supply lines to the Sunni rebels.
Alternatively, or additionally, the intervention could be spun as an attempt to create a safe zone for refugees from Aleppo. This would play on European fears of more migrants
reaching our shores. Patrick Cockburn, a journalist who tends to be right, wrote for The Independent on Thursday,
Armed intervention by the Sunni states could be presented as the creation of 'a safe zone' for the tens of thousands of displaced people in the area, though it certainly would not be safe as it would be in the center of a battle zone.The defeat of the rebels, including the Al Qaeda affiliate al-Nusra, in Aleppo has led to the besiegers becoming the besieged, cut the rebels' supply links to Turkey and left the them facing complete defeat. Turkey wants to prevent this primarily to prevent the Kurds, who are the only troops that have been fighting ISIS effectively, solidifying their own statelet. This is why Turkish artillery today struck targets in and around Aleppo, including the Minnigh airbase, recently taken by the Kurds from Islamist rebels. Erdogan fears an assault on ISIS territory by Russian-Syrian and Kurdish forces could bring the Kurds to the Turkish border.
The Saudis, of course, like the Americans and Israel, fear the reestablishment of the Shia crescent made up of Iran, Assad's Syria and Hezbollah in Lebanon.
If the Saudis and Turkey send troops or planes they will be fighting Syrian and Russian forces. They may be entering a trap set by Russia. Russia has better planes than the Turks and complete air superiority in Northern Syria between Aleppo and the Turkish border, which will make Turkish intervention very difficult indeed. It is very possible that the Turkish army will refuse an order to intervene.
Erdogan is regularly lampooned inside and outside Turkey as an Ottoman sultan. A war with Russia follows in a very long but not very happy Ottoman tradition. There were twelve Russo-Turkish wars between 1568 and 1918, only one of which was won by Turkey, or two if you count the (first) Crimean War, where Turkey was rescued by Britain and France. One was a draw, one was the First World War, which both countries lost, and the other eight ended in Russian victory.