Turkey, Israel, Qatar, Saudi Arabia: A new alliance of stability in the Middle East

Published 27.06.2016 00:31

Normalization between Turkey and Israel, coupled with Ankara's close cooperation with Qatar and Saudi Arabia, signal a new balance of power in the Middle East

If the past decade in the Middle East had to be defined in one word, it would be instability. At some point, Iraq was our greatest problem, then came Iran's nuclear program, and now the world has its eyes fixed on Syria, a country so unstable that it exports instability to Europe. The Syrian refugee crisis's role in the United Kingdom's withdrawal from the European Union, or Brexit, is a case in point.

The power vacuum and a seemingly endless civil war in Syria place the national security of regional powers, including Turkey, at risk. Today, Turkey is home to 3 million refugees and also considers the growing power of the Syrian PKK affiliate Democratic Union Party (PYD) a threat to its interests. At the same time, DAESH continues to thrive on the instability in Iraq and Syria, among other places, to create chaos. Iran's sectarian aggression in Syria, Iraq and Yemen coupled with the Kremlin's interference in the Syrian civil war, add to tensions.

Finding themselves tangled in regional problems are countries like Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Israel. In recent years, all four countries turned to the United States, traditionally their closest ally, to shelter them from the storm, only to realize that U.S. President Barack Obama's administration was too busy trying to make new friends in the neighborhood. Instead of de-escalating the situation in Syria, the White House bent over backward to strike a deal with President Vladimir Putin of Russia, Bashar Assad's main sponsor. Obama's single focus on DAESH frustrated the State Department, as U.S. support for PKK militants in Syria strained relations with Ankara. Finally, the Iran nuclear deal angered Saudi Arabia and Israel.

The most recent developments in the Middle East have forced regional powers to take matters into their own hands and find an alternative to their dependence on Washington for security. In order to contain the Syrian crisis and prevent Iran's expansionism, American allies in the region are taking unmistakable steps to settle their disputes. Instability has become so widespread that it compels regional powers to cooperate more closely to get things back on track. Turkey, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and Israel, in particular, are slowly moving to form an alliance of stability in the Middle East.

Turkey and Qatar have been close allies for the past decade. Both nations share the same opinion on the military coup in Egypt, the situation in Syria and Iranian expansionism. Turkey's relations with Saudi Arabia have quickly recovered from tensions caused by vast disagreements on Egypt's 2013 military coup as King Salman revised his predecessor's foreign policy. At the same time, Turkey and the United Arab Emirates quietly restored diplomatic relations earlier this year by appointing ambassadors.

But it is quite clear that the real game changer in the Middle East will be normalization between Turkey and Israel. Ankara's relations with Tel Aviv suffered major setbacks in the wake of Israel's deadly assault on humanitarian relief workers aboard the Mavi Marmara. After lengthy negotiations, Israel accepted Turkey's terms, even though no official announcement had been made when today's paper went to press. In 2013, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had apologized for his country's actions under pressure from Obama. On Sunday, Turkey and Israel met in Rome to strike a deal on compensation to be offered to the families of the Mavi Marmara raid victims. Finally, the two governments found a middle ground on the Gaza blockade to secure the uninterrupted flow of humanitarian aid from Turkey to the Gaza Strip. The Turkey-Israel deal serves two purposes: While Israel outsourced humanitarian assistance to Turkey, Ankara opened a humanitarian corridor to Gaza and accomplished the freedom flotilla's historic mission.

Normalization between Turkey and Israel, coupled with Ankara's close cooperation with Qatar and Saudi Arabia, signal a new balance of power in the Middle East. According to unconfirmed reports, there is a seat at the table reserved for Egypt, whose continued crimes against democracy and open hostility to Doha and others raise questions about Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi's foreign policy skills. Whether or not Egypt will finally join the alliance of stability remains to be seen.

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