For the past year, an intense spring atmosphere has been in the air in Turkish-Saudi relations, ever since King Salman bin Abdulaziz al Saud was crowned in January 2015. The king has proven a friend of Turkey after moving to boost ties with Ankara and courting President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, who he holds in high esteem.
The king replaced many of his officials, who were cool toward Turkey under King Abdullah, and set the stage for better relations with Turkey and since then has often met with Turkish leaders. Saudi Arabia has given warm welcomes to President Erdoğan and to Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu and now it is the turn of Turkey to treat King Salman to a jubilant reception in Ankara today.
So why all the fanfare and the warmness in Turkish-Saudi relations? The answer lies in the fact that the two countries are leading powerbrokers in the region, that they are aware of their common heritage and vital common interests, and do not like the current turn of events with Western powers seemingly making a major effort to redraw the map of the Middle East according to their own interests, while Iran is involved on a major Shiite expansion drive. They do not like what they see in Iraq, Syria and Yemen.
There are claims that the U.S. seems to have cooled toward Saudi Arabia while its arch rival Iran has been heartened with the nuclear deal it signed with Western powers and thus is acting more boldly in Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, and Yemen and even in the Gulf. Turkey also does not see eye to eye with the U.S. on many regional issues and thus Ankara and Riyadh have come much closer than before. They also feel that U.S. inactivity against Bashar Assad has brought the Russians to Syria.
Turkey and Saudi Arabia are staunchly against the Assad regime in Syria and also share the same views on the fight against DAESH. Thus Saudi jets are in İncirlik Air Base to join coalition forces in the fight against DAESH and Saudi planes have been involved in military exercises with Turkey in Konya. Besides this, Turkey supports Saudi moves to build an Islamic army against extremists who are putting the good name of Islam into disrepute.
Meanwhile Turkey supports Saudi moves to stall Iranian expansionism in Yemen and elsewhere. In January, Turkey sided with Saudi Arabia when Riyadh had a diplomatic rift with Tehran over the execution of an influential Shiite cleric in Saudi Arabia and the orchestrated attacks on the Saudi missions in Iran. Despite all this, however, Turkey is also making an effort to make good use of its offices to convince Saudi Arabia to lift the Hajj ban on Iranians for this year.
King Salman has just concluded an important visit to Egypt and seems to be mediating between Cairo and Ankara to normalize ties. There is talk that Egypt may attend the upcoming Islamic leader's summit in Istanbul this week and thus the first steps of the normalization process will be set. The fact that Turkey has also made much headway in normalizing ties with Israel also shows that the regional balances are once again tipping in favor of Turkey.
Turkey understands the sensitivities of King Salman especially about his concerns regarding the threat of religious extremism against his kingdom.
Turkey has always proven an asset for its friends under the leadership of Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. Turkey has been sincere in its regional dealings and has always safeguarded the interests of the Islamic masses. This seems to have won points with the Middle Eastern masses as well as with leaders like King Salman.