ANKARA — Turkey and Saudi Arabia plan to hold joint military drills, potentially fueling sectarian tensions along Sunni-Shiite lines in the Middle East.
Turkish diplomats say the military exercises will come as part of an understanding between Turkey and Saudi Arabia to “cooperate against common threats.”
“The planned exercises do not particularly aim at any specific target,” said one senior diplomat in Ankara.
But analysts remain cautious.
“This is clearly a move that would provoke an Iranian response, in some way or another,” said one Ankara-based security analyst.
In January, Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu visited Saudi Arabia. In late January, Turkish Chief of General Staff Army Gen. Hulusi Akar visited the Saudi capital.
A Sunni bloc of countries made up of Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Qatar, is fighting a proxy sectarian war in the Syrian theater against a Shia or Shia-dominated bloc including President Bashar al-Assad, Iran and Iraq that is supported by Russia.
Last December, Saudi Arabia said that it would spearhead efforts to build an “Islam Army” that would consist of 34 Sunni Muslim countries. The Islam Army would fight terrorism and Islamic radicals in the Middle East. Turkey is a member of the Islamic alliance.
While some unconfirmed reports have surfaced that Saudi Arabia and Turkey might plan to send land forces to Syria to augment Sunni rebels fighting Assad, one senior Turkish security official called that "pure speculation." He would not confirm or deny any military incursion into Syrian soil.