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A plan for a Saudi-Turkish alliance with Assad

The regional map is changing, and Washington is submitting to the new reality imposed by Iran via its nuclear program

Abdulrahman al-Rashed

Published: Updated:

In response to Russian President Vladimir Putin’s proposal last week for a regional coalition to combat terrorism, Syrian Foreign Minister Walid al-Moallem said: “I know Russia is a country that works miracles, but for us to ally with Saudi Arabia, Turkey, Qatar and the United States… is something that requires a huge miracle.”

Putin is right that only such a coalition can deter the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), but including the Syrian regime as it is today will thwart the plan. Russia should push toward a Syrian regime without President Bashar al-Assad and according to the Geneva I communique, then establish an alliance that includes this new regime, Gulf countries, Turkey and Jordan in order to fight ISIS. Such an alliance could provide stability in Syria, as well as regional and global safety.

An alliance between Turkey, Jordan, Saudi Arabia and Assad would be tantamount to recognizing Tehran’s domination over Syria

Abdulrahman al-Rashed

The problem with Putin’s proposal is that it underestimates the disagreement with Assad. Putin views the war in Syria as a mere misunderstanding among neighbors who can reconcile and cooperate for the sake of fighting ISIS. He specified potential alliance members as Saudi Arabia, Turkey and Jordan. The problem does not lie in the idea, but in the list of countries.

The issue is not a misunderstanding. We know each other well, and we tolerated the Syrian regime even when it killed former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafiq Hariri and another 20 Lebanese leaders in the last decade. However, when it killed more than 250,000 Syrians and displaced 9 million in the past four years, the relation shattered and is irreparable. Reconciliation would increase regional unrest and would not deter ISIS.

Iranian influence

The regional map is changing, and Washington is submitting to the new reality imposed by Iran via its nuclear program and expanding influence in Iraq and Syria. This expansion threatens the existence of Gulf countries, Turkey and Jordan.

The Iranians currently manage the regimes of two big countries, Iraq and Syria, and an alliance between Turkey, Jordan, Saudi Arabia and Assad would be tantamount to recognizing Tehran’s domination over Syria. It is dangerous for the Gulf states and Turkey to ignore Iranian expansion. Tehran is a greater threat to us than the ISIS - this must always be taken into consideration.

A coalition of Saudi Arabia, Turkey and Jordan is good in the sense of allying moderate Sunnis against extremist Sunnis, but including Assad ruins the political religious formula.

American officials do not understand the region’s complicated history. Putin is asking Sunnis to fight Sunnis, but the Americans are pleading for Iranian help – in other words, extremist Shiites fighting extremist Sunnis. This is a terrible mistake because it will empower ISIS as Sunnis worldwide, who form Islam’s sweeping majority, will rise to support people of their sect.

The concept of Al-Qaeda and ISIS is based on sectarian and historical struggle led by extremists. It resembles the 30-year wars between Protestants and Catholics in central Europe in the 17th century, which inflicted destruction, famine, disease and bankruptcy.

In the last decade, Saudi Arabia succeeded in deterring Al-Qaeda after a bloody war, and the Americans only succeeded in defeating Al-Qaeda in Iraq after seeking the help of Sunni tribes. The duration of the fight against ISIS and religious extremism depends on who is involved - whether it is the Assad regime and Iran, or Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Jordan.

This article was first published in Asharq al-Awsat on July 7, 2015.

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Abdulrahman al-Rashed is the former General Manager of Al Arabiya News Channel. A veteran and internationally acclaimed journalist, he is a former editor-in-chief of the London-based leading Arab daily Asharq al-Awsat, where he still regularly writes a political column. He has also served as the editor of Asharq al-Awsat’s sister publication, al-Majalla. Throughout his career, Rashed has interviewed several world leaders, with his articles garnering worldwide recognition, and he has successfully led Al Arabiya to the highly regarded, thriving and influential position it is in today.

Disclaimer: Views expressed by writers in this section are their own and do not reflect Al Arabiya English's point-of-view.