In an article for Foreign Policy, Stephen Cook, columnist and Eni Enrico Mattei senior fellow for Middle East and Africa studies at the Council on Foreign Relations, argues that Turkey’s attempts at the rapprochement with countries in the Middle East will be short-lived and have only come as a result broader dialogues. Renew diplomacy across the Middle East hardly speaks to a dramatic shift in regional and national opinions on competition and conflict and are simply another avenue for conflicting countries to pursue their national interests.
The recent visits of Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdoğan to the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and Saudi Arabia, Erdoğan’s invitation to his Israeli counterpart to visit Turkey, and his outreach to Egypt were due to Turkey’s suffocating economic crisis and international isolation, says Cook. Erdoğan’s economic mismanagement contributed to a lira crisis that has lasted years. With inflation now officially reaching 70% — and likely significantly higher — it was necessary to find a way out.
“Thus, he has dropped the bellicose rhetoric about the Emiratis being—among other nasty things—pirates, ignorant, and incompetent. Erdogan also transferred the trial (in absentia) of the individuals charged in the murder of Jamal Khashoggi to Saudi Arabia, ending any possibility that they will be held accountable. This is the geopolitical version of going hat in hand hoping for some investment from enormous Gulf sovereign wealth funds, trade deals, currency swaps, and perhaps drone sales.”
The fake smile on the face of the Saudi crown prince Mohamed bin Salman during Erdoğan’s recent visit indicates that the Saudis, like the Emiratis, are well aware of Erdoğan’s intentions, writes Cook.
Likewise, the Israelis do not trust Erdoğan but seem to be playing along to obtain something through Erdoğan who seeks to improve his position in the U.S.
Rather than inferring this particular moment of regional rapprochement is any different than previous ones, the current situation should be read as Middle Eastern actors seeking better positioning for continued confrontation in the future, Cook concludes.