Saudi-Turkey Coalition Is Temporary and Publicity Stunt

Thursday, April 14, 2016

Riyadh, Ankara Pursue Different Goals in Syria

Interview with Ja'far Haghpanah
Assistant Professor of Regional Studies at the University of Tehran, Iran

Q: What strategy Turkey is pursuing through forming a coalition with Saudi Arabia? Is it looking for a common strategy, or just wants an opportunity to promote its policies for dealing with the Kurdish issue?

A: Although in terms of the final output their goals are similar and, as they have claimed, they have sufficed to cooperating in air strikes against terrorist groups, every one of them pursues different approaches and fundamental principles. At present, containing Iran in the region is very important for Saudi Arabia with Syria being a priority. For Turkey, however, Syria is per se important, especially those regions that are close to its borders. Apart from issues related to Kurds, Syria is also important to Turkey from a different viewpoint as well. Unlike Saudi Arabia, which only has tensions with Iran, Turkey is a rival to both Iran and Russia. Compared to Saudi Arabia, Turkey pursues more ambitious goals across the region, but is currently in a defensive and passive position. Apart from what everybody says, it is not Turkey which is part of Saudi Arabia’s camp, but Ankara is trying very slyly to take advantage of Saudi Arabia in line with its interests. At present, Saudi jets are supposed to be stationed in Turkey’s Incirlik Air Base. This is indicative of some form of more or less unequal relationship between the two countries and, in this relationship, Turkey has relatively the upper hand.

Q: Under current circumstances, how Saudi Arabia assesses its relations with Turkey? Does Riyadh want to use Turkey, which is a member of the NATO, as military backup?

A: In general, more than being based on strategic decision-making and fully calculated, the policies of regional countries, in general, are based on some sort of passive, impulsive and hasty behavior. Not only in case of Saudi Arabia, but also with regard to other countries, retrospective and calculated components, which would follow a special strategy, cannot be observed. Many policies are simply adopted on the basis of temporary exigencies and in proportion to current developments in region. Perhaps, if Saudi officials adopted a strategic approach, they would see Turkey as their rival in the region. There are not many areas of overlap, in terms of discourse, components of soft power and hard power, and even in strategic terms between these two countries’ interests. Although both of them have been traditionally part of the Western block, strong bonds between them have been lacking. The criterion for their cooperation, however, includes considerations, which stem from impulsive, hasty and emotional behaviors that are combined with despair and fear. Therefore, at present, bolstering cooperation in order to achieve such short-term common goals as containing Iran, is a priority for the two sides. Under such circumstances, Saudi Arabia is bent on taking advantage of Turkey. However, I believe that such a cooperation cannot continue and persist over the long run and when their interests diverge, each of these countries would follow different models, frameworks and approaches.

Q: In view of the issue of Saudi Arabia’s purported military and Islamic coalition, is it possible for this convergence and boost in relations within framework of a joint strategic cooperation to lead to some sort of military operations in Syria, and on larger scale, across the region?

A: The military and Islamic coalition purported by Saudi Arabia is mostly of a publicity nature and has not been created in practice. This issue is mostly due to problems which face the Saudi government in the Arabian Peninsula, especially in Yemen. It seems unlikely that such a coalition could be easily extended to cover Daesh in Iraq or Syria. This is true because in the first place, Saudi Arabia is not well fitted to lead such a coalition and its maneuvering room is more limited than other members of the block, especially Turkey. Secondly, these two countries are pursuing totally different goals. We know that Turkey has the upper hand as compared to Saudi Arabia.

Q: In view of the type of tensions between Turkey and Russia, to what extent security and economic issues would cause Turks, in particular Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, to expand relations with Saudi Arabia?

A: The two countries of Turkey and Russia are trying to find substitutes for each other, especially under the existing unfavorable economic conditions in the region. For example, Turkey and Egypt were major destinations for Russian tourists, which are no more available to them. Therefore, at present, Russian tourists mostly go to Israel, because it is economically justified and in view of Russia’s cold weather, Israel can be an attractive place for Russian tourists. Turkey has also taken a similar course. Given the economic blow that has been dealt to Turkey through severance of trade, financial and tourism ties with Russia, Ankara is seeking to make up for the loss elsewhere. One of those places was Saudi Arabia because it seemed to be able to yield rapid benefit. The Turkish officials hope they would be able to attract part of the undecided capital from Arab countries, which are not very much willing to make investments in the United States and Europe, in order to organize their economy because Turkey’s economic conditions are not very satisfactory. However, there is no economic overlap between the two countries in other sectors.

Q: In what direction future relations between Turkey and Saudi Arabia may move? Will Turkey be able to use these relations to achieve its political goals, especially in the northern part of Syria?

A: Relations between Turkey and Saudi Arabia are a function of bilateral considerations that exist. I mean, political, economic, security, cultural and sectoral issues are also a function of regional security dynamism. At present, the security aspect is dominant with the main axes being Syria crisis as well as common interests that both countries have, especially in containing Iran’s regional influence. Therefore, in the short run, one can expect expansion of relations as well as operational cooperation more than before in a way that would affect the situation in Syria and intensify the crisis there, because both countries are regional powers and have many capacities to play a role in this regard. However, in the medium term, it seems that outlook of relations would depend on regional security with Syria being the main axis. Of course, in addition to regional powers – including Iran, Turkey and Saudi Arabia – such big global powers as the United States, Europe and Russia also play a role in Syria and if they make different decisions, regional powers would not have much of a maneuvering room. In that case, relations between Saudi Arabia and Turkey would be mostly affected by bilateral considerations and priorities rather than regional issues.

Key WordsSaudi Arabia,Turkey, Coalition, Publicity Stunt, Riyadh, Ankara, Different Goals, Syria, Common Strategy, NATO, Military Operations, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Political Goals, Haghpanah

Source: Iranian Diplomacy (IRD)
Translated By: Iran Review.Org

More By Ja'far Haghpanah:

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*Islamic Republic of Iran's Soft Power in Central Asia and Caucasus:

*Ghani Seeks Balanced Foreign Policy through Iran Visit:

*Photo Credit: The Freedom Articles

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