By Iran Review
By Elias Vahedi*
Turkey started a new trend in its foreign policy in 2016 whose most important components were improvement of ties with Russia, cooperation with Iran and opposition to establishment of a Kurdish state in Syria instead of trying to topple the legitimate government of Syrian President Bashar Assad.
Since that time, Turkey’s foreign policy has practically moved outside the rail set for it by the United States. Therefore, the United States and Europe took unfriendly positions on Turkey’s failed coup d’état in 2016 and some analysts went as far as claiming that they were even masterminds of the botched coup one way or another.
At the same time, the insistence shown by the United States for helping Kurdish militia in Syria (including the militants of the People’s Protection Units or YPG) and its resistance against extradition to Turkey of US-based political and civil rights activist, Fethullah Gulen, who has been incriminated by Turkey as the main protagonist behind the failed 2016 coup, have been seen by the majority of politicians and political elites in Turkey as signs of Washington’s hostility or, at least, dishonesty in its relations with Ankara. As a result, these developments have further deepened an atmosphere of pessimism toward the United States’ policies in Turkey.
In addition, the crisis in Qatar’s relations with Arab allies of the US and show of serious support for Qatar by Iran and Turkey as well as imposition of new sanctions against Iran and Russia by the United States are all signs of new political alignments among regional and transregional players in West Asia region. On the other hand, these new alignments have been further highlighted by the effort made by Qatar and Turkey to get close to the axis formed by Russia, Iran and China as opposed to the alliance among the United States, Saudi Arabia and the Zionist regime of Israel.
All told, the question is does the existing trend in the region signify a new alignment or, at least, a change in old alignments, or positions taken by Turkey and Qatar are just temporary and ephemeral?
In response, the hypothesis that can be offered is that the change in the previous alignment in the region in which the axis of the United States, Arab countries and Turkey stood in the face of the opposite axis formed by Iran, Russia and China, has caused two important regional actors to distance from the Western – Arab axis and get close to the eastern (resistance) axis.
The gap in relations of Turkey and Qatar with the United States and the Saudi-led alliance in the region dates back to years ago. At that time, the support offered by these two countries to the Muslim Brotherhood as a social and political movement in the Arab world upset the United States and Saudi Arabia. Therefore, they preferred to support a coup d’état staged by Egypt’s former army chief, General Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, against the country’s then president, Mohamed Morsi.
However, since Turkey and Qatar aimed in their foreign policies to topple Syria’s government, despite fundamental differences with Saudi Arabia and the United States, they were somehow dragged toward the Western – Arab axis, which opposed the Syrian government. After Turkey changed its official stance on the issue of Syria, which took place when the United States did not accept to stop supporting establishment of an autonomous Kurdish region close to Turkey’s border with Syria, trilateral consultations among Russia, Turkey and Iran for the resolution of the crisis in Syria became more serious. The result has so far been holding of five trilateral meetings on Syria, establishment of ceasefire in the Arab country, and humanitarian exchanges in some important conflict zones such as Aleppo, in addition to establishment of no-conflict zones in Syria.
Following intensification of tensions between Qatar and other Arab states of the Persian Gulf, Doha started to drift away from the Western – Arab axis in the case of Syria and got closer to Turkey and Iran. This development further proves how real new alignments in the region are. The remarkable point in this regard is that while maintaining its past relations with the United States and Saudi Arabia, on the one hand, and with the European Union’s member states, on the other hand, Turkey has also adopted policies independent of the West and its regional allies.
This independence is so important to the government of Turkey that despite loud protests from Arab countries, it did not change its mind about military buildup in Qatar and, of course, this holds water for Qatar as well.
Of course, the decision by Turkey and Qatar to distance themselves from the axis formed by the United States, the Zionist regime and the Arab allies of Washington seems more to be a tactic under the present circumstances rather than a strategy. However, the reality, which must be taken into account here, is that some alliances like the military and economic alliance of Turkey with the United States and the European Union first started with these very tactics and through such cooperation modalities.
Qatar is an Arab country, which will not be able to maintain its current position in the absence of ties with its Arab neighbors and also without relations with the United States. Turkey, for its part, has the second most powerful army among the NATO member states and most of its defense and security structures are closely related to NATO.
A symbol of this relation is Incirlik Air Base near the Turkish city of Adana, where scores of warplanes belonging to NATO and its allies are deployed and according to various sources, 50-90 B61 atom bombs belonging to the United States are being kept there. Therefore, experts believe that if Turkey decides to get out of this organization, it would be only possible over a long period of about 20 years. On the other hand, about 60 percent of Turkey’s foreign trade is conducted with the member states of the European Union. Therefore, it would not be possible for Turkey to change its mind about membership in the European Union and replacing its member countries with other countries as trade partners, at least, in short term.
In view of the above facts, it can be concluded that although closeness of Turkey and Qatar to the anti-West resistance axis is not a strategic and long-term decision, it will lead to qualitative and quantitative expansion of ceasefire in Syria while causing these countries to oppose new anti-Palestinian policies of the Zionist regime. Turkey may also decide not to pay heed to new Western sanctions against Iran, Russia and Qatar.
Therefore, the current trend in which Turkey and Qatar have got closer to each other and their convergence with the anti-Western – Arab axis can be considered as a turning point from the viewpoint of the interests of other regional countries, especially Iran.
More cooperation by Iran with the axis formed by Turkey and Qatar, which despite being Sunni states are supporters of the revolutionary movement of the Muslim Brotherhood, will defuse the effort made by the axis of the United States and Saudi Arabia to isolate Iran. On the other hand, Iran’s cooperation with the axis of Turkey and Qatar will prevent this axis from turning into a threat for Iran. If the increasing military presence of Turkey in Qatar is taken into consideration, the importance and necessity of Iran’s presence in this regional alliance will become evident more than before.
* Elias Vahedi
Expert on Turkey and Caucasus Affairs