Turkey and Saudi Arabia could launch a ground operation against Islamic State (IS) jihadists in Syria, while Riyadh is also sending war planes to a Turkish base to fight the extremists, the Turkish foreign minister said today.
“If there is a strategy (against IS) then Turkey and Saudi Arabia could enter into a ground operation,” Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu was quoted as saying by the Yeni Safak and Haberturk newspapers after taking part in the Munich Security Conference.
“Some say ‘Turkey is reluctant to take part in the fight against Daesh (IS)’. But it is Turkey that is making the most concrete proposals,” he said.
Cavusoglu added that Saudi Arabia, which has become an increasingly close ally of Turkey in recent months, is also sending planes to the Turkish base of Incirlik to fight IS.
“They (Saudi officials) came, did a reconnaissance of the base. At the moment it is not clear how many planes will come,” Cavusoglu said.
Incirlik is a key hub for US-led coalition operations against IS, with planes from Britain, France and the United States carrying out raids inside Syria from the base.
“They (Saudi Arabia) said ‘If necessary we can also send troops’. Saudi Arabia is showing great determination in the fight against terror in Syria,” said the Turkish minister.
Saudi Arabia and Turkey both see the ousting of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad as essential for ending Syria’s five-year civil war and are bitterly critical of Iran and Russia’s support of the Syrian regime.
Asked if Saudi Arabia could send troops to the Turkish border to enter Syria, Cavusoglu said: “This is something that could be desired but there is no plan. Saudi Arabia is sending planes and they said ‘If the necessary time comes for a ground operation then we could send soldiers’.”
His comments come after Assad defiantly told AFP in an exclusive interview published on Friday that he would recapture the whole of Syria and keep “fighting terrorism”.
Turkey’s relations with fellow mainly Sunni Muslim power Saudi Arabia have warmed considerably in recent months. Ties had been damaged by Saudi’s role in the 2013 ousting of Egyptian president Mohammed Morsi, a close ally of Ankara.
In December, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan visited Riyadh for talks with King Salman as well as key decision-makers crown prince Mohammed bin Nayef and deputy crown prince Mohammed bin Salman.
Meanwhile, Turkey has also been tightening relations with Qatar, another key opponent of Assad in the Syria conflict.
Erdogan yesterday held several hours of talks in Istanbul with Qatar’s Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani, the presidency said, but the contents of the talks was not revealed.