A Turkish-Saudi push against Bashar al-Assad?
Turkish-Saudi cooperation is essential for the interests of both sides as well as for stability in the region
While all eyes are fixed on the upcoming June 7 parliamentary elections in Turkey, there are multiple reports recently circulated in the Western and Arab media regarding the possibility of creating a joint Turkish-Saudi alliance against Syrian regime.
Following an unsubstantiated report published in Huffington Post last month claiming that there were high-level talks between Ankara and Riyadh with the aim of forming a military alliance to oust Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, the Associated Press published a recent unconfirmed analysis stating that Turkey and Saudi Arabia have converged on a common strategy to topple Assad regime. The report followed a claim by main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) Deputy Gürsel Tekin, who stated that Ankara plans to send ground troops to Syria before upcoming election.
The Turkish government didn’t reply to the claims immediately – a situation that further raised concerns over the reality of Turkish intervention to Syria.
Yesterday, Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu dismissed the prospects for Turkish military intervention in Syria, but added that the balances in the war-torn country was shifting in the favor of the opposition forces wrestling to oust Assad, while there has been no confirmation from the Saudi side whether such cooperation exists.
Despite several reports regarding Turkish-Saudi alliance in Syria, Davutoğlu underlined that there was no new development between two countries regarding Syria; however, noted that Turkey’s ties with the kingdom have been very positive in recent months.
And needless to say, ties between Turkey and Saudi Arabia began to mend with the new King Salman, who engaged into efforts to strengthen his country’s relations with the main regional powers, particularly Turkey.
After a period of standoff between Turkey and Saudi Arabia, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan visited Riyadh earlier this year, where he had a meeting with the new king. In this meeting, two countries agreed to boost the support to the Syrian opposition in a way that aims at yielding results.
Turkish-Saudi cooperation is essential for the interests of both sides as well as for stability in the regionSinem Cengiz
The Syrian opposition believes that the improved relationship between Turkey and Saudi Arabia and the regional consensus has had a positive impact on the unification of the groups on the ground fighting against Syrian regime. The recent gains of the opposition forces in the northern province of Idlib, has also raised hopes regarding the possibility of Turkish-Saudi cooperation in Syria.
Both Ankara and Riyadh are aware that there are several problems in the region that necessitate a close cooperation between two countries. Among the first of all is Syria, where two countries seek for the fall of the Syrian regime.
Same track, one goal
From the very beginning of the Syrian crisis, Ankara and Riyadh managed to be in the same track with the goal to overthrow Assad and establish a more friendly government that will not pose a threat to the stability of the region. However, which groups should be supported in the opposition was not the only point of divergence between Turkey and Saudi Arabia but also the post-Assad era in Syria was the point that the two countries separated.
However, the realities on the ground seems to have pushed both Ankara and Riyadh to put aside any differences.
A strong cooperation between Ankara and Riyadh based on common interests is essential to secure the national security interests of the both countries. Among these interests, curbing Iranian expansion in the Middle East, particularly in Syria, seems to be the priority.
However, despite common goals, a realization of a Turkish-Saudi military alliance in Syria seems to face several challenges. The first challenge is related to the military realities on the ground. Although both Turkey and Saudi Arabia – two U.S. allies – are frustrated over Washington’s reluctance in Syria and its disengagement from the Middle East, it is still not clear whether two countries will have the enough ability to realize such an operation without the support of the U.S. Also, in such an operation, it is significant to calculate the reaction of Tehran, which struggles at all costs to ensure the survival of the Syrian regime.
Secondly, at a time when Turkey has entered into a tense election climate, the Turkish public may not give a green light to such an intervention. Lastly, it is still not clear what such a unilateral action will result in. However, in any case, whether it is military or not, Turkish-Saudi cooperation is essential for the interests of both sides as well as for stability in the region.
Sinem Cengiz is a Turkish political analyst based in Athens. Born and lived in Kuwait, Cengiz focuses mainly on issues regarding Middle East and Turkey’s relations with the region. She was also the former diplomatic correspondent for Today’s Zaman newspaper, English daily in Turkey. She is currently researching on Turkish-Saudi relations to complete her MA in International Relations. She can be found on Twitter: @SinemCngz