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Prospects for military cooperation between Turkey and Saudi Arabia

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan (L) meets King of Saudi Arabia Salman Bin Abdulaziz (R) in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia on 14 February 2017. [Kayhan Özer/Anadolu Agency]
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan (L) meets King of Saudi Arabia Salman Bin Abdulaziz (R) in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia on 14 February 2017. [Kayhan Özer/Anadolu Agency]

Only a few days ago, the Turkish-Saudi Coordination Council held its first meeting in Ankara. It was the application of the visions of the Turkish and Saudi leaderships. The council emerged from the summit held between the two countries in April 2016. The meeting was a new point on the path to strategic partnership aiming to improve the bilateral relations between the two countries and coordination regarding regional and international issues.

The Coordination Council’s meeting was held between the Turkey and Saudi Arabia’s foreign ministers. The fact that it coincided with the current meeting between Turkish leader Erdogan and Saudi King Salman is evidence that the meeting was coordinated to pave the way for the summit held yesterday in Riyadh between the two leaders.

Erdogan met with Saudi Foreign Minister Adel Al-Jubeir at the presidential palace in Ankara during his recent visit. This is an important indicator that Turkey has a lot of hope in its cooperation with Saudi Arabia and the Gulf countries, after international ambitions and greed harmed the region and the Muslim issue around the world.

Also read: Turkey, Saudi share ‘identical’ interests in the region

The Turkish and Saudi leaders face the task of addressing the leaders of the world, such as US President Trump, French President Hollande, German Chancellor Merkel, and others, to express their rejection of linking Islam to terrorism in their political statements and election campaigns. A position like this expressed by the two largest Muslim countries would be met with support from the Arab and Muslim leaders. They must back these two countries by refusing to use Islam and terrorism in the same sentence. This will force the leaders of the Western and Eastern worlds to avoid this combination and to find other phrases and terms to condemn terrorism, without describing it as Islamic.

Otherwise, the clash between the civilisations and religions will increase, whether or not the leaders want this result or not. Linking Islam and terrorism, specifically, out of all other religions, philosophies, ideologies and cultures creates a state of automatic hostility among Muslims against such leaders and also may serve the terrorists who use religion as a means to incite the masses in religious and cultural wars, as well as spread hatred between nations, countries, and religions.

It is important to form active committees in all areas and fields within which cooperation is coordinated. The Coordination Council’s task is to manifest signed agreements into reality on the ground. This council is concerned with coordination between the two countries in the fields of politics, diplomacy and consular affairs. It is also concerned with economy, trade, banks, money, naval navigation, production, energy, agriculture, culture, education, technology, military affairs, the military and security industries and media, press and television by means of institutional cooperation.

The current summit between Erdogan and Salman is the sixth summit of its kind in nearly two years, in addition to the dozens of meetings between Turkish and Saudi officials. However, the feelings of dispiritedness was felt by citizens only days after the summits, as they have not seen any practical results from the meetings, and have even seen contradicting positions in some instances. Such instances include the contrasting positions on the Turkish efforts to impose a safe zone in northern Syria, cleansing the Arab cities from Kurdish terrorist parties, Turkish-Russian communication, the Aleppo agreement, and preparing for the Astana conference and holding it without any encouragement from Saudi Arabia.

These positions raised questions amongst those observing the situation regarding the lack of a clear Saudi position towards Turkey, while Turkey seemed to be acting alone in these projects, especially those regarding Syria. The articles that addressed this tepidity were perhaps not too far from the truth, but they probably weren’t informed about the confidential communications between the two countries.

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The presence of secret communication between the two countries is confirmed by the renewed summit meetings and the several meetings between ministers and officials. However, the citizens must also feel the results and this can be achieved by seeing joint economic, tourism, industrial and military projects on the ground in both countries. The qualitative progress desired by the people of both countries and the people of the Muslim nation is true and effective cooperation in the field of joint military industries, especially because both countries participated in joint military manoeuvres in their countries in the past two years and because both countries were forced to enter military battles outside their borders; Yemen in Saudi Arabia’s case and Syria in Turkey’s.

The Saudi Air Forces participated in the Al Nour 2016 Exercise at Konya Air Force Base in Turkey last June, which was the third military manoeuvre Riyadh and Ankara participated in over a two month period.

This exercise was held about two weeks after the Anatolian Eagle 4-2016 and EFES-2016 exercises that were held in Turkey last May, and in which Saudi Arabia participated. The Anatolian Eagle 4-2016 exercise is the largest and oldest joint air combat exercises in the world, while EFES-2016 is one of the biggest military exercises in the world in terms of the number of forces it involves and the size of the exercise field, extending over the two cities of Ankara and Izmir.

Turkey also participated in the North Thunder exercise held in northern Saudi Arabia, between 27 February and 11 March last year. It was attended by forces from 20 countries, in addition to the Peninsula Shield Force, the GCC’s joint military forces formed in 1982. On 27 December 2016, Turkey’s Aselsan, a company for military and electronic production, announced that it had begun cooperating with Saudi Arabia’s Taqnia company for technical development and investment, to found a company for advanced electronic defence industries in Saudi Arabia, with a capital of $6 million.

This military coordination between the two countries is promising for both countries and the region, which is facing regional and international greed, as well as projects to divide the countries in the region. Saudi Arabia and Turkey may not be too far from such projects if they don’t prepare for them from now. Thwarting any plan to divide Syria or Iraq guarantees the prevention of later divisions, and will be an indication to the greedy that their divisive projects will fail even before they start. What is even more promising is the fact that there are military agreements between Turkey and the other GCC countries, with the exception of Oman.

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Saudi Arabia’s position in favour of the Turkish military standpoint in northern Syria that considers the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) the Democratic Union terrorist organisations is of great importance to Turkey. The Saudi foreign minister said in a statement on 24 January that the coordination between Riyadh and Ankara regarding the crisis in Syria is “existent and very solid”. He also promised to send Saudi Special Forces to combat terrorism in northern Syria, and this equates to the firm Turkish position on supporting the military coalition led by Saudi Arabia to combat the Iranian influence in Yemen since 20 March 2015.

This agreement and cooperation in the military confrontations faced by both countries is very important for them, especially in light of Trump’s administration, which has proposed a number of projects for the region. One of the most significant things about Trump’s projects for the region is that they dismayed Iran and its leaders, as well as the leaders of the Iranian militias in Iraq, Syria and Lebanon. In his most recent speech, the leader of Lebanon’s Hezbollah referred to Trump as an “idiot” because he promised to put an end in the Iranian domination in Iraq and the region.

Translation from Al-Khaleej Online, February 2017.

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