Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Iran ahead of a nuclear deal

Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Iran ahead of a nuclear deal

Saudi Arabia has two main threat perceptions: democracy on the one hand, Iran on the other. The Saudi regime swings between the two, according to a high level Turkish official.

In the height of the Arab spring, the Saudi regime under the late King Abdullah, who passed away last January, feared democratic waves more than the threat of Iran. That’s why he supported the Egyptian military coup against the Muslim Brotherhood, which did not make Ankara happy.

Assuming the throne after the death of his half-brother, King Salman recalibrated foreign policy.

He has sought to put Saudi Arabia’s stamp on the Middle East and has made support for rebels fighting Syrian President Bashar al-Assad a priority. Not that the new Saudi rulers are less allergic to democracy; they have now swung back to Iran as the bigger threat.

Indeed, Tehran’s military and politico/diplomatic advances in the last few years gave enough reason for a revival of the fear of Iran.

Ankara believes Iran has gained a level of over confidence forcing the limits of hubris. Iran sees Iraq as totally under its tutelage, so much so that Iranians are not resorting to covert operations in the country any longer, as they used to do in the past; they are playing it openly.  

Following the developments in Yemen, statements by Iranian officials that Tehran controls four Arab capitals (Baghdad, Damascus, Beirut and Sanaa) were enough to make the Saudis freak out. The result was military intervention in Yemen and a boost of support to the Syrian opposition.

Obviously the cooperation and coordination between Ankara and Riyadh on the Syrian issue has increased, with the Saudi recalibration and following Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s visit to the Saudi Kingdom last March. All this however has led to speculations about the creation of a Sunni axis against Shiite Iran.

If one where to believe that Turkey has become an active member of such an axis then one would also assume that Turkey would be equally suspicious of a nuclear deal between Tehran and the Western powers.

Yet this is not the case. On the contrary, as a country that has worked actively to mediate an agreement between the relevant sides, Turkey still favors a nuclear deal despite the fact that Iran remains the most important stumbling block in front of Turkey’s aim of toppling the al-Assad regime. In contrast to Ankara, Saudis, together with Israelis, are extremely worried a deal will further strengthen Iran’s hands. 

No doubt an agreement between the West and Iran will end up further boosting the self-confidence of the regime in Tehran.  Boosted self-confidence can have two consequences. 

Iran can opt to continue with the engagement policy and recalibrate its policies on the “Four Arab capitals,” which can perhaps slowly extinguish the fire in the region, or it can opt to consolidate its positions, as it will gain additional financial resources when its assets are unfrozen as a result of the deal.

As of now, it seems hard to guess which option Tehran will take and what the consequences of a nuclear deal (if it will indeed be a permanent one) on the regional crisis will be.

What is certain is that, in contrast of those who are prone to believe that Turkey’s foreign policy has totally fallen victim to a Sunni ideology, Ankara’s genuinely welcoming attitude to a nuclear deal can help show that Turkey’s alliance with Saudi Arabia is driven by the aim of toppling the al-Assad regime, not motivated by fear of Shiite Iran.