March 31, 2015

Turkey and the Arab Gulf States: A Dance with Uncertain Expectations

Turkey’s evolving relations with the Arab Gulf, particularly with Saudi Arabia and Qatar, need to be analyzed in the larger regional context. This analysis will therefore focus primarily on Turkey’s relations with the Arab Gulf states in light of changing regional dynamics in the Middle East. The civil war in Syria, the military coup in Egypt, the rise of ISIL, Iran’s regional influence and nuclear ambitions, Sunni-Shia sectarian tensions, and the future role of the Muslim Brotherhood are all critical factors impacting Turkey’s relations with Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Iran, and other Gulf states.

Iran’s nuclear ambition and Tehran’s growing influence in Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, and, most recently, Yemen present the most daunting national security challenges for Saudi Arabia. That Saudi Arabia’s regional rival is exerting increased influence through its allies in large swathes of Yemen, Syria, and Iraq has exacerbated Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) concerns. In Iraq, the leading role of Iranian commanders in Baghdad’s attempt to reconquer Sunni territories lost to ISIL is very alarming for Riyadh. Even more concerning are the growing prospects of a deal between world powers and Iran on Tehran’s disputed nuclear program. To the Saudi security establishment, an Iranian nuclear program left intact and progressing toward a threshold capacity represents an existential threat.