It seems the balance of power in Syria is set to shift once more; Saudi Arabia is conducting the largest military drill ever held in the Middle East; 20 Gulf states and their allies will join in the festivities, scheduled to take place from the 14th of February to 10th of March.
The venue will be the King Khalid Military City in Hafr Al Batin, and the representatives of Saudi Arabia, UAE, Bahrain, Kuwait, Qatar, Oman, Jordan, Senegal, Sudan, Maldives, Morocco, Pakistan, Chad, Tunisia, Comoro Islands, Djibouti, Malaysia, Egypt, Mauritania, and Mauritius are expected to turn up, where they will exhibit the deadly coordinated dance routine of some 350,000 soldiers, 20,000 tanks, 2,500 warplanes and 450 helicopters.
“A military exercise will be commanded by the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia with the participation of 20 countries and the Peninsula Shield force as well,” said the official Twitter account for the exercise that has been dubbed “Northern Thunder” (hmm, looks like heavy steel-coated rain is the forecast for some unnamed region in the north).
“The main objective is to demonstrate the high combat readiness of the participating armed forces and their readiness and ability to function successfully in joint operations.”
Saudi Brigadier General Ahmed al-Assiri said the drill “will serve to boost fighting capabilities, exchange information, benefit from experiences and expertise and enhance coordination between the participating countries.”
The drill’s stated purpose is to show that Saudi Arabia and friends “stand united in confronting all challenges and preserving peace and stability in the region.”
A military drill that happens to be the largest the Middle East has ever seen is unlikely to have been conducted simply because Saudi Arabia wanted to show off its many chums though. Instead, the drill coincides with the prospect of Saudi Arabia and its allies losing a key supply channel to its jihadist moderate rebels: the Azaz corridor.
The strategic city of Azaz could fall to former-US/current-Russian ally the Kurdish YPG which had coordinated the takeover with Russia; this is a scenario that Turkey had already promised to meet with the “harshest reaction” possible if they did not withdraw.
“The YPG will immediately withdraw from Azaz and the surrounding area and will not go close to it again,” Turkey’s prime minister, Ahmet Davutoglu, told reporters on Saturday. He added that Turkey would make Menagh “unusable” if the SDF did not withdraw.
” “US has previously put pressure on YPG to not cooperate with RuAF east of Efrin,” Aaron Stein, a Turkey expert and senior fellow at the Atlantic Council, said Saturday on Twitter.
“They did not listen.””
“For some time, Syrian rebels have been struggling to hold onto a narrow but crucial strip of territory between the northern border town of Azaz and the contested city of Aleppo. This corridor is the lifeline for antiregime forces in the north because it is their land bridge to Turkey. Yet it now faces imminent threats on several fronts: from the east by the Islamic State (IS), from the west by the Kurdish Democratic Union Party (PYD), and from the south by the Syrian army and its allies.”
Should Azaz fall to Russia and the Kurds, the entire supply chain that the CIA, Saudi Arabia and Turkey uses to arm their “moderate” rebels is threatened. It’s also somewhat hilarious to note that one US-backed rebel group is on the verge of check mating all the other US-backed rebel groups.
“The Russian military action has changed the shape of a conflict that had effectively been stalemated for years. Suddenly, Mr. Assad and his allies have momentum, and the United States-backed rebels are on the run…”
Mr. Kerry enters the negotiations with very little leverage: The Russians have cut off many of the pathways the C.I.A. has been using for a not-very-secret effort to arm rebel groups, according to several current and former officials.
As the balance shifts in favor of Assad and Russia, this “drill” is more likely a preparation for a possible full-on ground invasion to restore “leverage” to the US, Turkey and Saudi Arabia.
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