Who first dropped bombs on Yemen?
The presidents of Turkey, Russia and Iran held the fifth Astana Process summit in Ankara on Sept. 16. Apart from the announcement on the removal of the remaining obstacles before the establishment of the Constitutional Committee, the latest summit did not yield any other concrete result.
But any opportunity that brings President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, President Vladimir Putin and President Hassan Rouhani together is important and therefore attracting global attention. As this summit has taken place only a few days after Saudi Arabia’s oil plants were hit by Iran-backed Houthis in Yemen and the United States has accused Iran of the attack, the Ankara Summit has received even more attention.
Although the escalation in the Gulf region was not on the official agenda of the three leaders, they disseminated views on the matter at the press conference.
The surprise came from Putin who quoted a verse from Surah al-Imran in a message to both Iran and Saudi Arabia. “And remember the favor of Allah upon you – when you were enemies and He brought your hearts together and you became, by His favor, brothers,” Putin quoted the Quran in the presence of two senior Muslim politicians.
Well, he first sued for peace between these two important regional powers and then offered them sophisticated Russian defense systems in a half-joke.
Erdoğan’s answer to the same question was also very interesting. “Just now, Mr. Putin wanted to remind us of a warning from our God. Let me briefly state it by saying believers are brothers. This is not the supposed outcome of brotherhood,” Erdoğan said. And he added: “However, who first dropped bombs on Yemen? If the answer to that question can be found, I believe we will reach the conclusion that the current point is a provocation.”
Although he did not put it bluntly, he implied that he accuses Saudi Arabia and its partners of starting the war in Yemen. But then another question comes to minds: Who did support the Saudi-led attack on Yemen in 2015?
Let’s refresh our memories: In March 2015, a nine-nation coalition founded by Saudi Arabia, that included United Arab Emirates, Egypt and 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 the Houthi movement backed by Iran.
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 Hadi, about which Saudi Arabia informed Turkey in advance.”
Furthermore, 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.
One of the reasons for Turkey’s open support to Saudi Arabia at that time was its hopes to fix the broken ties with the oil-rich Gulf country after the toppling of Mohamed Morsi through a military coup in Egypt.
In a statement in late March 2015, Erdoğan blamed Iran: “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.”
About five years after these words, Erdoğan seems to have changed his mind on who started the fire in Yemen and forgotten that his government supported the military campaign that brought about one of the worst humanitarian catastrophes to one of the world’s poorest nations.
The Yemen case is a strong evidence of the absence of sound foreign policy in the Turkish capital. That’s why this column frequently underlines the need of a drastic return to the traditional foreign policy lines based on principles and absolute national interest.