Does Turkey regret supporting Saudi Arabia in Yemen war?
According to the UN, war-torn Yemen is on the brink of a major catastrophe as nearly three-quarters of its 22 million population need humanitarian aid and protection. The conditions on one of the poorest nations of the world have drastically worsened in the last seven years.
The uprisings that had started in 2011 had turned into a sectarian conflict between Shiite Houthi movement and Sunni groups, being supported by Iran and Saudi-led Sunni powers respectively.
In March 2015, a nine-nation coalition founded by Saudi Arabia, that included United Arab Emirates, Egypt, Jordan, had launched a major military offensive into Yemen in a bid to re-instate Yemeni President Abdrabbuh Mansur Hadi to his post after he was ousted by Houti movement.
The Saudi decision to intervene into civil war came after the change of the throne in January 2015 with King Salman leading the oil-rich monarch and his ambitious son Mohammed bin Salman becoming one of the most influential men in the country.
Saudi’s expectations of an easy win in Yemen have proven to be wrong although the coalition received the support of prominent Western countries, including the United States and the United Kingdom. The armed conflict in Yemen had rapidly become an extension of other proxy wars in Syria and Libya between Iran and the Sunni world.
There seems no an end to the war with expectations that talks between rival groups will be launched in Sweden this week or the next after a two-year break. However, the devastating consequences of the war will remain for a very long time.
In the catastrophe in Yemen there is a take for Turkey as well. The Turkish government had announced that it supported the Saudi operation into Yemen only a few days after the intervention started.
A written statement issued by the Foreign Ministry in late March 2015 said “We support the military operation launched by a coalition force consisting of the countries in the region, led by the countries of Gulf Cooperation Council against the Houthi movement upon the request of the legitimately elected President Hadi, about which Saudi Arabia informed Turkey in advance.”
It also underlined Turkey’s belief that “this operation will contribute to the prevention of the threat of civil war and chaos that emerged and to the restoration of the legitimate state authority.”
Furthermore, President Erdoğan announced that Turkey was ready to provide logistical and intelligence support to the coalition forces although it would not actively take part in the military operation.
It was an open support to the new Saudi King Salman and an effort to normalize strained ties between Turkey and Saudi Arabia over the coup d’état staged in Egypt in July 2013 by Saudi-supported Abdel Fattah al-Sisi against Turkey’s leading regional partner Mohammed Morsi. Erdoğan’s visit to Saudi Arabia in late February 2015 was a turning point to this end.
At a press conference in late March 2015, Erdoğan had directly slammed Iran over its efforts to increase influence in the region, stressing “Iran is in efforts to dominate the region. Can it be tolerated? This has started to annoy many countries in the region, including us, Saudi Arabia and the Gulf countries. It’s impossible to tolerate this. Iran must see this.”
Erdoğan, at a press conference in Buenos Aires late Dec 1, approached to the Yemeni war from a rather different perspective by underlining the international community’s responsibility in lending a hand to starving children and suffering innocents.
He also said: “An inclusive political solution seems to be the only way to achieve lasting peace and stability. We are supporting efforts within the scope of the United Nations to stimulate the negotiating process. In this context, we hope that the process started with the meeting of parties, that have not met for more than two years, in Sweden will bring peace to Yemen as soon as possible,” he said.
The reason for this inconsistency derives from Turkey’s changing regional objectives following a new conjecture in the Middle East. This new conjecture has led Turkey to cooperate with Iran in Syria and to spar with Saudi Arabia in the same theater.
Plus, the killing of Saudi journalist, Jamal Khashoggi, in the consulate general at the hands of Crown Prince’s closest aides in Istanbul has re-surfaced the long-standing tension between Turkey and Saudi Arabia.
This new balance in the region has obviously pushed Turkey to return to its traditional foreign policy line that prioritizes dialogue, mediation, the use of peaceful means in resolving conflicts in third countries.
Turkey could do much more in promoting and protecting Yemen’s independence, sovereignty, territorial integrity, and unity if it would stay neutral and mediate between the rival parties instead of supporting the Saudi offensive. The regrettable Yemeni case should set a new precedent for Turkey in dealing with future similar conflicts.