MER – Dancing with Saudi Arabia

Dancing with Saudi ArabiaWhen Ahmet DavutoIlu was only a modest foreign policy aisor back in the earlier years of the Justice and Development Party (AKP), Turkey made a name for itself in the mediation industry of diplomacy.Today, the days when Turkey tried hard to mediate between Syrians and Israelis, Americans and Iranians, Serbs and Bosnian Muslims are long gone.

From the days of zero conflict with neighbors, we landed in the land of andquotprecious lonelinessandquot where Turkey has zero neighbors without problems.Turkeyand#39s isolation in foreign affairs has got so bad that even Recep Tayyip ErdoIan had to recently admit that he is snubbed by world leaders.

This new Turkey of the AKP is naturally unable to mediate any conflict in the region because it has become part of the problems. From being a mediator, Turkey has turned into a country that needs mediation.

This sad state of affairs was most visible recently during ErdoIanand#39s visit to Saudi Arabia, where the new king, Salman bin Abdul-Aziz Al Saud Salman, apparently tried to reconcile Turkey and Egypt. This was not a very subtle move by the Saudis since the Egyptian president was in Riyadh at the same time as ErdoIan.

In an interview with the Saudi press, the president of Egypt, Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, whom Turkey accuses of staging a coup that unseated the democratically elected Muslim Brotherhood (MB) government, felt the need to say that his country has never insulted Turkey.ErdoIan, in turn, acknowledged to the Turkish media that the Saudi king wants to see better relations between Cairo and Ankara He was quick to add that Turkey has no problems with the Egyptian people.

Beyond the question of whether this mediation attempt has any chance of success, the fact that Saudi Arabia is trying hard to reconcile Turkey and Egypt is in itself very telling. In many ways, it is a clear sign of how regional dynamics are pushing the new king to become a more active player in regional diplomacy.

Of course, the urgent question for Saudis is Iran. During the course of the past decade, the Shiite nemesis of the kingdom has managed to effectively control four countries of crucial importance for Saudi Arabia: Iraq, Syria, Lebanon and now Yemen.

Needless to say, the Saudis feel encircled by this andquotShiite crescentandquot and feel the need to fight back with some regional alliance-building of their own in order to consolidate the Sunni front.Making things worse for Riyadh is the fact that the Barack Obama administration appears ready to sign a nuclear deal with Iran that will not eradicate but only postpone the nuclear ambitions of the country.

Iranand#39s nuclear potential is an existential threat for another country that has problems of its own with the Obama administration. Benjamin Netanyahu was in Washington yesterday, trashing the potential agreement between Iran in a joint session of the US Congress.

The balance of power in the Middle East obviously makes strange bedfellows. Yet, to have Israel on its side is little consolation for Saudi Arabia The real challenge for the new king is to fully consolidate the Sunni front against Iran.

This is where the Egyptian-Turkish rift really hurts. Egypt and Turkey have a total population of 160 million.

Egypt is the most important country in the Arab world and Turkey is the only Muslim member of NATO. To have these two Sunni Muslim countries with the largest armies and economies in the region engaged in a diplomatic war at a time when the Shiites are uniting is a major setback for the Saudis.

This is why it makes sense for Riyadh to mediate between Turkey and Egypt. But the more difficult challenge will be to convince the AKP government that the rapprochement between Iran and the West is not in Turkeyand#39s national interest.

After all, in the good old days of Turkish mediation, ErdoIan delivered a similar nuclear deal with Iran, which Washington angrily refused, At the end of the day, Turkey is likely to continue dancing with the Saudis without changing much of its ways with Egypt and Iran.

SOURCE: Today’s Zaman