Along with the unrest in Syria and Libya, there are
two other big ongoing regional armed conflicts in the Middle East.
One of them is taking place in Iraq, where the
Iranian-backed Shiite Iraqi army is fighting against the Islamic State of Iraq
and the Levant (ISIL) around the Tikrit region. U.S. fighters have joined the
military offensive through an aerial campaign to help the Iraqi army re-take
Tikrit from ISIL, allowing it to prepare for a bigger operation to seize the
control of Mosul, a strategic town in Iraq.
The second major conflict is the Saudi Arabia-led
military operation in Yemen to halt the Iran-backed Houthi rebels who have
taken control of more than half of the country and forced President Abd Rabbuh
Mansur Hadi to leave the capital Sanaa. The offensive is actively backed by
Gulf countries - as well as Egypt, Morocco, Jordan and Pakistan - and is
politically supported by the United States.
The conflict in Yemen is generally described as a
proxy war between Shiite Iran and Wahhabi Saudi Arabia and is believed to be a
part of a broader confrontation between the two heavyweights to increase their
areas of influence.
An analysis of the Turkish government’s position on
these two regional armed conflicts depicts a clear contradiction in Turkey’s
regional priorities, and an important deviation from its traditional foreign
policy of peaceful solutions to international problems.
Here are some problematic points about the Turkish
position vis-a-vis the above-mentioned regional issues:
- A contradiction stems from Turkey’s hesitancy to
take part in the international coalition, composed of around 60 countries,
tasked to deal with the ISIL problem, which could one day stir up serious
troubles for Turkey. Meanwhile, it jumped to support the Saudi-led military
offensive into Yemen and pledged both logistical and intelligence assistance
for the Arab coalition.
- It is certainly correct to underline that these are
two different issues. A country can take perfectly different positions based on
its interests. However, looking from this perspective, it can also be argued
that Turkey should have made the exact opposite decision, meaning that it
should have taken part in the anti-ISIL campaign and recommended an immediate
halt to violence in Yemen in order to begin dialogue for a peaceful solution.
- The current understanding could lead to
justifications among those who criticize the Turkish government for pursuing
sectarian policies in the region. This can be summarized in one sentence:
Turkey is not a part of the fight against radical Sunni jihadists, but instead
it is part of the fight against the Shiite Houthi movement.
- Turkey’s strong position in Yemen is also ruining
its traditional, balance-based foreign policy. President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan
harshly lashed out at Iran as the only responsible force for major regional
troubles, accusing the neighboring country of “trying to dominate the region.”
“Can this be allowed?
This has begun to annoy us, Saudi Arabia and the Gulf
countries. It is really not tolerable and Iran must see this,” he said.
- Erdoğan’s words are a clear sign of hostility toward
Iran and are obviously dangerous. His statement unveils a new regional alliance
of Turkey, Saudi Arabia and the Gulf countries, as well as (indirectly) Egypt,
an alliance that can easily be described as the “Sunni bloc.” This new policy
is one of the consequences of Erdoğan’s important visit to Saudi Arabia on
March 2, during which he held talks with the new Saudi King Salman. The picture
that Turkey gives today is approval of the Saudi domain in the Middle East, and
a clear opposition to Iran.