Turkey Revives Alliance with Saudi Arabia, Qatar as New Chess Game Starts in Syria

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Elyas Vahedi
Expert on Turkey and Caucasus Affairs

In the course of more than four years of Syria crisis, the years 2013 and 2014 were a time for relative decline of the power of the opposition in the war-ton country. However, following victories gained by the Jaish al-Fath – which consists of such terrorist groups as al-Nusra Front, Ahrar ash-Sham and others – in 2015 in the Syrian cities of Idlib, and Jisr al-Shughur, and also after the conquest of the ancient city of Palmyra by ISIS Takfiri group, the hypothesis that has been most popular is that the Syrian army is no more capable of handling all opposition groups. Soon afterwards, rumors circulated in international media about the possible dispatch of military forces by Iran to directly help the Syrian army in its fight against terrorist groups.

Regardless of what measure will be taken by the axis of Iran, Syria, and Lebanese Hezbollah movement to stop further strengthening of opposition and terrorist groups in Syria, most analysts believe that a new alliance among various Syrian opposition groups has been the most important reason behind recent triumphs of those groups in Syria. They also add that foreign actors have played a part in the organization of this new alliance. Although Turkey has acted in alliance with Saudi Arabia and Qatar since the beginning of the ongoing crisis in Syria, the military coup d’état in Egypt and subsequent crackdown on the Muslim Brotherhood across the region, led to tension between Turkey, on the one hand, and Arab regimes in Cairo and Riyadh, on the other hand. As a result, the alliance formed among Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Qatar headed toward failure. However, after the Saudi king changed, conditions turned in favor of Turkey and Qatar and, at present, Saudi King Salman has inclined more toward Turkey and Qatar in line with its foreign policy. He has even tried to pressure Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi to give concessions to Turkey with regard to the Muslim Brotherhood and former Egyptian president, Mohamed Morsi, who is affiliated to the Muslim Brotherhood. In doing so, Riyadh has been actually trying to appease the Turkish government.

Apart from this, the role played by the US government in training the so-called moderate Syrian opposition groups in Turkey and Jordan shows that Washington actually welcomes the alliance of those opposition groups in Syria which are not as extremist as ISIS. Some even say that one of the main reasons behind recent victories of Jaish al-Fath against the Syrian army was the use of new weapons, including American Tow missiles. The final goal pursued by Saudi Arabia and Qatar in Syria is to pave the way for the triumph of Sunni groups; an effort which if successful, would break up the strategic axis consisting of Tehran, Damascus and Beirut and would also finish Saudi Arabia’s work in one of the fronts it has opened against the rising influence of Iran in the region. In the meantime, Turkey believes that the Sunni part of the Muslim world is more apt than the Shia sector for the influence of Ankara and can provides Turkey with a better opportunity to present its model of government as a successful model for other Islamic states. In line with this goal, Turkey believes that after the fall of the Syrian President Bashar Assad’s government, the Arab country will turn into its backyard because Turkey enjoys more advantages in Syria compared to Saudi Arabia and Qatar.

Apart from these strategic goals, from a tactical viewpoint, Turkey is seriously trying to create a buffer zone in Syria in order to be able to have a more powerful impact on developments on the ground in that country. Ankara also wants to use such a zone as a barrier against spread of insecurity from Syria onto its soil. Of course, it should be noted that it is difficult to change Turkey’s alliance with the aforesaid Arab countries into a strategic axis because Turkey does not have much in common with those countries. On the one hand, the issue of the leadership of the axis is a covert challenge between Turkey and Saudi Arabia while, on the other hand, regardless of what is going on in Syria, Turkish officials cannot close their eyes to the advantages of the Shia axis. In the meantime, despite the existence of some signs, the role of the United States seems to be largely equivocal. Perhaps, one could claim that the White House is currently using the dual containment strategy that it had already used to deal with other crises. Based on this strategy, the United States is trying to both prevent further strengthening of Iran in the region, and put a brake on the complete success of the alliance of Sunni countries. Washington even aims to prevent further spread of Turkey’s model of moderate Islam, which seeks to introduce Ankara as a regional superpower. Each and every one of these cases is considered by the United States and Israel as a threat against their interests in the region.

Key Words: Turkey, Alliance, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, New Chess Game, Syria, Al-Nusra Front, Ahrar ash-Sham, Jaish al-Fath, Iran, Lebanese Hezbollah, King Salman, Muslim Brotherhood, Shia Axis, United States, Israel, ISIS, Vahedi

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