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Warming Ties Between Turkey and Gulf States Are Sign of Changing Geopolitical Landscape
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan (R) meets UAE's national security adviser Sheikh Tahnoun bin Zayed Al Nahyan (L) at Presidential Complex in Ankara, Turkey on Aug. 18, 2021. (Mustafa Kamaci/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images)

Warming Ties Between Turkey and Gulf States Are Sign of Changing Geopolitical Landscape

Turkey and the UAE set aside their differences for better economic and energy cooperation

Ties between Turkey and two Gulf states are exhibiting a major thaw in relations after years of tense and hostile relations.

A planned visit to Turkey by the de facto leader of the United Arab Emirates, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed al-Nahyan, which is scheduled for next week and is the first such visit in years, signals a thaw in an otherwise fraught relationship.

Meanwhile, Bahraini Foreign Minister Abdullatif Bin Rashid Al Zayani is on a visit to Turkey this week, highlighting improved relations with the tiny Gulf state.

Relations between Turkey and the UAE reached rock bottom a year ago, when Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said Ankara was considering severing diplomatic ties with Abu Dhabi after the UAE normalized relations with Israel under the US-brokered Abraham Accords.

Ties between Turkey and Gulf monarchies including Saudi Arabia have been contentious in the last few years, but a breakthrough in the relationship between Ankara and Abu Dhabi began in August when Erdogan held a rare meeting with UAE National Security Advisor Sheikh Tahnoun bin Zayed Al Nahyan. Two weeks later, the Turkish president and the Emirati crown prince spoke by phone.

Tension was fueled by the two countries’ involvement in regional conflicts, and support of opposite warring parties, including Libya’s war; their quarrels also extended to the eastern Mediterranean and the Gulf.

Last year Turkey accused the UAE of destabilizing the region with its involvement in Libya and Yemen, while Abu Dhabi and other Gulf and Arab capitals criticized Turkish military and political actions.

The devaluation of the Turkish lira and Turkey’s growing need for foreign investment serves the Emirati interests. It will create an interdependency between the states.

Yusuf Erim, chief political analyst and editor-at-large for Turkish public broadcaster TRT, told The Media Line that “these visits should not be viewed in isolation but rather as part of a bigger picture which shows a changing dynamic in the region.”

Erim says that changing of the guard in Washington and other events hastened the rapprochement.

“The election of US President Joe Biden, the lifting of the GCC blockade on Qatar, the Aramco attack [in Saudi Arabia], a possible return to the Iran nuclear deal” are some of those events, he said.

With the US military pulling out of Afghanistan, and the administration of US President Joe Biden turning its attention toward China, Erim argues that it opens the door for new alliances.

“It leads regional players to revise their foreign policy positions. With the US shifting its focus from the Middle East to China, and bipartisan agreement on that, it makes these new ties lasting for a long time,” he said.

Dr. Hay Eytan Cohen Yanarocak, an expert on Turkey from the Jerusalem Institute for Strategy and Security (JISS) and the Moshe Dayan Center for Middle Eastern and African Studies at Tel Aviv University, told The Media Line the changing geopolitical landscape forced these countries to rethink their policies toward each other.

“Due to (former US President Donald) Trump’s departure, the UAE cannot rely solely on the US. Therefore, Abu Dhabi seeks to mend her fences with her regional rivals i.e., Turkey and Qatar,” he said.

Many observers say the two countries have a deep ideological divide, and are expected to focus on managing their differences, and working on building stronger economic ties, rather than resolving their issues.

Ankara is looking for sound investments from the UAE specially in the energy sector, while Abu Dhabi is seeking deeper trade and economic ties.

“By doing so, the UAE strengthens its hands vis-a-vis Iran and also could penetrate into the Turkish market. The devaluation of the Turkish lira and Turkey’s growing need for foreign investment serves the Emirati interests. It will create an interdependency between the states,” Cohen Yanarocak said.

But despite progress with the UAE, Turkey’s relations with Egypt and Saudi Arabia have yet to make major diplomatic headway.

 

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