THE LEVANT – By Dr. Amer Al Sabaileh – Across the region, some of the more stable countries continue to face political and military challenges. Of particular note at this point in time is Turkey and Saudi Arabia, for very different reasons.
Turkey is currently mired in a dilemma triggered by prioritizing its objectives in Syria over effectively confronting ISIS. Turkey is focused on toppling the Syrian regime by creating a buffer zone along its border of ‘liberated areas’ to protect groups loyal to the aim of creating a pro-Turkey Syrian government
Recent developments on the Turkish border have not gone according to plan. The battle for Kobani attracted global attention and raised questions about the Turkish President, Erdogan’s true intentions.
As events in Kobani developed, it became clear that Turkey was refusing to allow Kurdish refugees across the border, and it did not provide any military supplies to the Peshmerga soldiers fighting in the battle against ISIS.
Closer to home, these developments are likely to escalate tensions between Erdogan and the Kurdish population in the region, especially given the reconciliation process between these two parties has already reached somewhat of a dead end.
Turkey’s actions during this incident have global analysts and media along with EU and NATO member countries asking questions. In addition, Erdogan’s clear lack of diplomacy in these matters and Turkey’s apparent lack of commitment to confront ISIS, places it in a very difficult place diplomatically and strategically.
Another stable country in the region that is facing several challenges is Saudi Arabia. The direction of events in Syria, Iraq and more recently Yemen, have increased the risks and challenges for the Saudis.
The Saudis are facing incongruity between their overall strategy of fighting against the Muslim Brotherhood in the region, and supporting Erdogan’s vision for Syria, which is definitively pro-Muslim Brotherhood.
In addition, failure to achieve a strategic agreement with Iran will increase their challenges exponentially. The Saudis took an aggressive stance against Iran in Syria, with the Saudi Foreign Minister accusing Iran of occupying the crumbling state. They have also made other inflammatory remarks, including on the death of the Shia cleric Sheikh Al Nimer.
The Saudis would benefit from taking a more flexible and tolerant approach if they are seeking success in putting an end to the ongoing regional crisis. It would behoove them to ease regional tensions given recent reports of growing instability in eastern Saudi Arabia, the escalation of the situation in Yemen and the internal Saudi struggle with extremist Wahhabi clerics.
The Saudis must also beware the developing situation on the majority-Shia island kingdom between it and Iran. All opposition groups in Bahrain have boycotted the elections, fostering chaos in the small Kingdom. This is in addition to the British High Court ruling that the Bahraini Prince Nasser is not immune from prosecution for alleged torture, and his possible arrest if he enters the UK.
These developing situations could lead to a surprising few weeks, with negative consequences for some, and positive outcomes for others.