Saudi Arabia’s anti-Iran front: A bad idea for Turkey
A day before meeting with Turkish President Tayyip Erdoğan in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia’s new King Salman met with Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, in a move that none of the parties want to correlate with a U.S.-supported move by the Saudis to form an anti-Iranian, Sunni front in the region.
The idea is not a bright one, firstly because it may possibly further antagonize the already tense political balances in the Middle East.
It seems that Iran’s spreading influence across the region - after Syria and Lebanon around five years ago, now into Iraq and most recently Yemen - has come to a point where it is almost encircling Saudi Arabia with a considerable Shiite population with few rights, worries the House of Saud. It also seems that the U.S. backs, if not initiates, the Saudis in trying to form an anti-Iran - or in another words anti-Shite - front, which would also make Israel happy. (There may be another motivation in this for the U.S., looking for leverage against Iran in the current nuclear talks.)
However, trying to bring together Saudi Arabia, Turkey and Egypt and perhaps Qatar, Kuwait and others, just because they have mostly Sunni Muslim populations, against Shiite-dominated states, could lead to new cracks in the countries, rather than unity. It is also true that right in the middle of the fragile region are radical Islamist armed groups, such as al-Qaeda and the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL).
Secondly, bringing Ankara and Cairo together in practical terms doesn’t seem very likely, at least for the time being. President Erdoğan told reporters on board his plane returning to Turkey that King Salman wanted reconciliation between Turkey and Egypt. “He desires that, but without insisting. We have no problems with the Egyptian people; the administration is something else,” he said.
Erdoğan openly slams and snubs the el-Sisi regime, which came to power after toppling the elected Mohamed Morsi in 2014 in a Saudi-backed coup. Turkey and Egypt now do not have ambassadors in each other’s capitals. Trade agreements between them are also not being renewed, expiring one by one. Erdoğan sympathizes with the Muslim Brotherhood, as the organization to which Morsi belonged, which has since been outlawed as “terrorist” not only by Egypt but also by the Saudis and some other Gulf states.
Thirdly, it is not a good idea for Turkey to join any formation in the region based on confrontation with another country or countries in the region. Turkey and the Turkish people have had enough because of the ruling Justice and Development Party’s (AK Parti) policy regarding Syria. Iran is a totally different story.
Turkey and Iran are two neighbors that need to coexist in peace. The oldest existing land border between two countries on the planet is the one between Turkey and Iran, which has existed in its present form since 1639. In order to keep themselves awake at all times, the two need each other’s rivalry as well, as members of two Muslim but non-Arab cultures. Turkey is also a member of the Western military alliance NATO, so it would be irrational for Ankara to add to already existing discrepancies with Tehran.
Finally, such a Sunni partnership would be against the basic principle of Turkey’s traditional foreign policy line of “Peace at home, peace in the world”.
We are talking about Turkey, which represented Iran’s interests in Iraq, and Iraq’s interests in Iran, when the two were at war in 1980-88. It is a country that had the trust of two fighting neighbors.
We are talking about Turkey, which under Mustafa Kemal Atatürk signed the “Sadabat Pact” with Iran and Iraq, (later joined by Afghanistan), for regional peace in 1937. The Sadabat Pact included promises against targeting the regimes or domestic institutions of one another. It survived the Second World War and continued until the “Export of Revolution” policy of the Islamic Republic of Iran after the revolution in 1979.
Therefore, it is not a good idea for Turkey to join a Saudi-led anti-Iran front, even if it becomes possible after potential normalization between Ankara and Cairo.