Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, right, poses with Saudi King Salman at the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation Summit in Istanbul (A photo by AFP)
A former Turkish ambassador to NATO
says an emerging Turkish-Saudi alliance is based on sheer expedience and will not last long.
Recent visits between leaders of the two countries have been conducted with a fanfare but Yalim Eralp says Turkey
and Saudi Arabia
are ideologically at loggerheads.
“This Turkish-Saudi coming together cannot be long term. It is simply a practical move to deal with some short-term issues,” he told Middle East
Eye, an online news
The portal itself, which has been used as a reference by the likes of BBC News, The Huffington Post and The Guardian, said the fanfare “may be partially a consequence of the vacuous nature of the bond.”
According to Eralp, on an ideological level the Saudi Arabia and Turkey have long been at odds.
Middle East Eye touched on their divisions over how to react to the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt and elsewhere.
The Saudis fought against their rise, seeing them as an existential threat, but Ankara backed them.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has vociferously criticized a military coup by Egypt’s current President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi who toppled Brotherhood-linked government of President Mohamed Morsi.
A budding relationship between Sisi and Saudi King Salman may not augur well for similar Saudi-Turkish ties because it may push Morsi to the gallows as he faces a death penalty.
Egypt sent only its foreign minister, Sameh Shoukry, to the OIC summit in Istanbul and he did not participate in the traditional group photo, leaving the summit after reading Sisi’s message.
According to Eralp, Turkey’s policies in the Middle East have become so convoluted that they have begun to hurt the country’s image.
“Egypt represents just one Turkish foreign policy blunder. Turkey’s image has been so badly damaged that even such close ties with the Saudis no longer make it any worse.”
Turkey and Saudi Arabia have widely been blamed for the surge in the deadly militancy in Syria, supporting militants with funds, training and weapons. Turkey also stands accused of being involved in an illegal oil trade with Takfiri Daesh terrorists.
Turkish opposition daily Cumhuriyet published videos in June 2015 purportedly implicating the Turkish Intelligence Service, also known as the MIT, in ensuring safe passage into Syria for Daesh.
Damascus has long been saying that Saudi Arabia, Turkey and Qatar are funding and arming anti-Syria terrorist groups, including Daesh.
A still image grabbed from a video published on the website of the Turkish daily Cumhuriyet on May 29, 2015 shows mortar shells in boxes intercepted on a truck purportedly destined for Syria.
As King Salman arrived in Turkey to a pompous welcome, Turkish media were quick to point out the contrast between his state visit.
They cited the fate of Salman’s great-grandfather, who was publicly executed in Istanbul for starting an armed Wahhabi insurgency against the Ottoman Empire.
Middle East Eye touched on a Saudi-led coalition which Turkey has signed up to, but it has not made any firm commitments yet.
“Even in the Northern Thunder war games held in Saudi Arabia in mid-February, Turkey participated only as an observer,” it said.
Ankara has however allowed Saudi warplanes to use its Incirlik airbase, used also by the US and by other coalition partners for attacks in Syria.
“As a NATO member, Turkey cannot just enter military alliances as it pleases. It could impact Article 5, which is the cornerstone of NATO,” said Eralp.
“This Saudi-led military alliance is more a moral project. I don’t think it has any military significance.”
But Muhammed Zahid Gul, a political commentator and writer in various Arabic-language media, told MEE that the relationship is only going to strengthen.
He said he knows of 14 agreements in the pipeline between Riyadh and Ankara, many of which concern military investment.
“Many of these soon-to-be-signed agreements are about Saudis investing in Turkey’s military and armaments industry and getting Turkish-made military hardware in return. This does not violate any of Turkey’s NATO obligations,” he said.
Still, for all the unifying gestures, there continue to be signs of tensions beneath the surface, MEE said.
It said another signal that Ankara may not be ready to fully align with the Saudi position came in January, when tensions flared over the Saudi execution of Shia cleric Nimr al-Nimr.
Although Erdogan sided with the Saudis, Turkey did not respond to further pressure from Riyadh.
“Unlike other Persian Gulf states, he refused to withdraw Turkey’s ambassador from Tehran and maintained normal relations,” the news portal said.