The Iran factor in Turkey-Saudi Arabia relations

BY: Yasin Aktay*

We had previously stated that the image of Turkey reflected on the screens of Saudi Arabia and the image of Saudi Arabia reflected on Turkey’s screens are not pleasant at all nowadays. The matter is not limited to the language reflected on the news about some events or its bias alone. For Turkey’s part, the situation is not at all a subject of a campaign.

It is out of the question that anyone in Turkey is involved in a hostile campaign against Saudi Arabia. At the most, Saudi Arabia may be perturbed by the language used in the comments in relation to some events, or there may be an obvious orientalist discourse reflected in the news. It is not unimportant, however, a hostile campaign is quite out of the question.

Unfortunately, the situation in the Arab media is far beyond this level. Nowadays, there is an intense smearing and attrition campaign against Turkey. There is a heavy propaganda by some forces originating from Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates with well-prepared footage claiming that Turkey is in chaos nowadays, that it is not safe, that pickpocketing activities, especially against Arab tourists, have increased, and that there may be a terror incident at any time in any part of Turkey.

In footage, it is suggested that Europe, the U.S. or any part of the world is much safer than Turkey and that visiting Turkey is unreasonable under the circumstances. At the same time, there is a strong recommendation to those who have investments in Turkey to halt and withdraw their investments through exaggerated comments about the losses they may experience in the future with reference to the devaluation of the Turkish lira.

This seems to be a step completing the attack that we have started to experience the moment we entered into the process of the June 24 elections. At the same time, it is a meaningful event showing who is ranking with whom in the June 14 election campaign. The campaign will not remain at a level where candidates will present their programs to the voters, or where election manifestos are discussed. More than this is occurring through external interventions.

We were going to mention the factors affecting Turkey-Saudi Arabia relations, especially the way these factors are reflected in the media of both parties. What prompts the media to act in this way?

One of the most important subjects determining Turkey- Saudi Arabia relations is Iran. Turkey’s relations with Iran somehow have an effect on its relations with Saudi Arabia. This is because Iran is a clear threat to Saudi Arabia, and it is face to face with Iran on many fronts. Saudi Arabia is fighting alongside the legitimacy coalition that it has formed against the Houthis who are supported by Iran in Yemen. It is feeling the Iran threat in Lebanon, Syria, Iraq and most importantly on its own borders.

The Saudis are getting anxious about Turkey’s support, especially with regard to the nuclear energy program in the UN Security Council and most recently against the withdrawal of the U.S. from the agreement. However, this anxiety originates from a misunderstanding about Turkey’s attitude. Turkey will never support Iran against Saudi Arabia, but it will never deem Iran as an enemy either.

On the other hand, Iran’s activities threatening Saudi Arabia also disturb Turkey and in that matter, Turkey certainly stands closer to Saudi Arabia. It strongly opposes the sectarian expansionist policies implemented by Iran in Syria, Iraq, and Yemen, and it is exceptionally anxious about these policies. Particularly, it won’t refrain from feeling Iran’s sectarian threat toward Saudi Arabia as a threat toward itself.

In fact, the interesting part is that Iran’s threat to Saudi Arabia or Gulf countries causes nothing but an increase in arms sales of the U.S., which is also considered as an enemy of Iran. Every time Iranian threat comes on the agenda, it is seen that Gulf countries are purchasing billion dollars of weapons from the U.S. This event alone is enough for us to understand the reality of the functional relationship between Iran and the U.S.

On the other hand, Turkey’s support to Iran’s nuclear program does not mean that it is embracing Iran’s activities and mistakes in other fields. Turkey’s support is completely based on principal. Everyone, even Iran, has the right for peaceful nuclear energy. However, no one, even Israel, has the right to a nuclear weapon program.

With this attitude, Turkey is unveiling the hypocrisy and unprincipled approach of the U.S. and the world order in general. Why are the powers that are staying silent to the nuclear weapons that Israel possesses opposing the peaceful nuclear weapons of Iran? The goal is to articulate this question and constitute a political consciousness. The goal of course cannot be taking the part of Iran against Saudi Arabia.

In fact, Turkey gave similar support to Saudi Arabia recently. In relation to the compensation that will be paid to the relatives of those who died in the September 11 attacks, Turkey strongly opposed the U.S. which was trying to bill Saudi Arabia.

With this stance, Turkey both gave a strong message that we can solve our own problems within the regions and expressed that we can very well practice our own independent policies against the U.S. In this way, a method has been found to solve a dispute without taking sides and to prevent carrying the dispute to the level of hostility.

We will continue to evaluate the factors affecting the relations between Turkey and Saudi Arabia.


*Yasin Aktay is a member of the Turkish parliament and a leading figure of the ruling Justice and Development (AK Party) in Turkey. (Published in Yeni Şafak Turkısh newspaper on 28 May, 2018)