The arrival of a new Middle East player startled Washington and Jerusalem: debkafile's military sources disclose that when Turkish Prime Minister Tayyep Erdogan met Syrian president Bashar Assad in Damascus Monday, Oct. 11, they talked less about the Kurdish question and more about the role China is willing to play in the military-intelligence alliance binding Syria, Iran and Turkey.
Erdogan took the credit for China's unfolding involvement in the alliance in the role of big-power backer. Two recent events illustrate Beijing's intent:
1. From Sept. 20 to Oct. 6, the Turkish Air Force conducted its regular annual Anatolian Eagle exercise, this time without US and Israeli participation. Israel was not invited and America opted out. However, their place was taken by Chinese Sukhoi Su-27 and Mig-29 warplanes making their first appearance in Turkish skies.
Our military sources report that the Chinese warplanes began touching down at the big Konya air base in central Turkey in mid-September for their debut performance in the Middle East and Europe.
Konya has served NATO and the United States for decades as one of their most important air bases.
2. Our sources add that the Chinese planes refueled only once on their journey to Turkey in… Iran. When they touched down at the Gayem al-Mohammad air base in central Iran, their crews were made welcome by the Iranian air force commander Gen. Ahmad Migani.
It was the first time Chinese fighter-bombers are known to have visited the Islamic Republic.
The Gayem al-Mohammed facility, located near the town of Birjand in South Khorasan, is situated directly opposite the big American base of East Afghanistan near the Afghan-Iranian border town of Herat.
The Turkish prime minister painted the military alliance binding Tehran, Ankara and Damascus in rosy colors for Assad's benefit as more central to the region and more powerful than Israel's armed forces after overcoming the IDF's military edge.