During his tour of the Gulf states, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and Qatar, Turkish President, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, promised that the Turkish army will step up its efforts to liberate ISIS stronghold of Raqqa, a city in northern Syria, widely regarded as the ‘capital’ of the so-called Islamic State.
Erdogan said that his visit is an ‘opportunity’ for fostering warmer Turkey-Gulf relations. Erdogan’s pro-Islamic regime is on good terms with the Gulf States, forming one of the power blocks in the extremely complicated Middle Eastern politics.
Once a staunch opponent of Assad, Erdogan has shifted Turkey’s position towards a more conciliatory approach with the Syrian regime. The past years have been very turbulent for Erdogan. The shooting of the Russian plane in November 2015 has led to a breakdown in Turkish/Russian relations. A coup d’etat attempt in July 2016 has shaken Erdogan’s regime, which responded by massive purges and arrests in the army, police and the judiciary system.
While Erdogan and Putin have eventually patched up their relations following the failed coup attempt, a series of bloody terrorist attacks and the murder of the Russian ambassador in Ankara posed a new challenge to Erdogan’s regime.
Adding to the already complex and volatile situation, relations between US and Turkey – traditional allies since the Cold War – have significantly cooled after the coup, as Turkey accused an exiled cleric, Fetulah Gullen, of organizing the coup with the aim of ousting Erdogan.
Gullen, currently living in exile in the US, has denied the allegations, but Turkey has repeatedly demanded his extradition.
At the time being, it seems that Erdogan has survived the numerous challenges he was faced with during the past two years.
Erdogan is currently working with Russia and Iran on achieving a ceasefire in Syria, while the Turkish army continues military operations close to the border with Syria. Only two years ago, this would have been unthinkable, as Erdogan was one of the most fervent opponents of Assad’s regime.
However, Erdogan’s apparent willingness to tone down his anti-Assad rhetoric and focus on fighting ISIS, is not, by any means, an indicator that he has abandoned his old dreams of Turkish supremacy in the region.
Many analysts have described Erdogan’s home and foreign policies as ‘Islamist’ and ‘Neo-Osmanist’. At home, Erdogan has strengthened his power at the expense of the secular state, while promoting conservative Islamic values. His regime still enjoys a wide support, especially among Turkey’s rural population, but his attempts to dismantle the secular state and institutions caused criticism both among his opponents at home and abroad.
Erdogan’s foreign policy has been been described as ‘unpredictable’, though it is evident that good relations with Saudi Arabia and other Gulf countries are at the cornerstone of Erdogan’s Middle Eastern strategy.
In two interviews conducted earlier this week by Qatar’s Al-Arab newspaper and Saudi Arabia’s Al-Arabiyya television channel, Erdogan said:
“I deeply believe that Turkey and the Gulf states will together take the necessary measures for ensuring the region’s stability.”
Commenting on the conflict in Syria, Erdogan told that:
Since the conflict began in 2011, we have coordinated closely with the Gulf States with a view to restoring peace and security for the Syrian people and ending the bloodshed there.
[The Syrian city of] Raqqa is the main stronghold of the Daesh terrorist group. We, as members of the [anti-Daesh] coalition, can achieve our objectives by expelling Daesh from the city. I have said this to U.S. President Donald Trump and to many others.
If we succeed in liberating Raqqa from Daesh,” he went on, “we can hand over liberated areas to our Arab brothers, which would contribute to achieving stability there. But we are in dire need of support from the Gulf States, especially Saudi Arabia.
Erdogan also defended recent Turkish drift towards a joint action with Russia in Iran in Syria, by saying that:
“Russia has had a military presence in Syria since September 2015, Iran wields enormous influence over the Shia militias allied with the Syrian regime… and Turkey has a long border with Syria and hosts 3 million Syrian refugees.”
He also added that Russia, Iran and Turkey play very important roles in resolving the conflict in Syria.
On the other hand, Iran and Saudi Arabia stand on the opposite sides in Syria, and the Gulf states are widely regarded as providing substantial financial funds to various fundamentalist movements in the Islamic world.
Hence, Erdogan’s role in the conflict in Syria should be viewed with extreme caution.
Source: Anadolu Agency
Image: Turkey Newspaper