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The war in Ukraine changes relations in the Middle East

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This article by Amin Saikal, Assistant Professor of Social Sciences at the University of Western Australia, originally appeared in The strategist April 22.

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has shaken friends and foes in the Middle East. They are engaged in reassessing their relationship with the United States and Russia. It is difficult to say whether this will lead to a more stable and secure Middle East, but, so far at least, some changes in Turkish-Israeli, Turkish-American and American-Emirati relations are going in the direction desired by the parts.

Turkey’s relations with Israel appear to be improving. The two sides were best friends before the 2002 election to power of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s pragmatic Islamist Justice and Development Party. They maintained close military, security, economic and trade relations. Turkey’s US-led NATO alliance and the US-Israeli strategic partnership played a key role in the process.

However, as Erdogan reoriented Turkish foreign policy towards supporting the Palestinian cause and winning over friends in the Muslim world, Turkish-Israeli relations soured. Israel has pushed back against growing criticism of Erdogan over his brutal treatment of Palestinians in the occupied territories in general and his 2008-09 military assault on the blockaded Gaza Strip in particular.

A further deterioration occurred in January 2009 when, at a rally in Davos, Erdogan berated Israeli President Shimon Peres saying, “When it comes to killing, you know very well how to kill”, and May 2010, when the Israeli army attacked a Turkish-sponsored flotilla. attempting to deliver humanitarian aid to the blockaded Gaza Strip, killing nine Turkish militants.

Recently, however, both parties have seen fit to unfreeze their relationship. Erdogan and former Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu hated each other, but since Israel’s new government took over last year, the Turkish leader has signaled some positive gestures, culminating in Israeli President Isaac Herzog’s visit to Ankara last month. Last week, Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu reportedly called for “lasting relations” on the condition that Israel respects “international law on the Palestinian question”.

Both sides are troubled by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, and each has sought to mediate, but so far without success, a resolution to the conflict. Neither condemned Russia’s actions, but their mutual distrust of Vladimir Putin’s Russia for geopolitical reasons cannot be ignored in their drive to improve their relationship.

Likewise, Erdogan now seems to realize that his fondness for Putin over the past few years was strategically misguided. He struck up a close friendship with the Russian leader essentially to underscore his annoyance with the United States and its European allies for not strongly backing his harsh crackdown on opposition following the failed 2016 coup against him. . As part of this, he purchased the S-400 surface-to-air missile system from Russia, which angered Washington. In response, the United States denied Turkey the sale of F-35 fighter jets, for which Ankara had already paid.

Before the Ukraine crisis, the two sides decided to resolve their differences, with the United States offering F-16 fighters as replacements. Yet, given Russia’s aggression against Ukraine, Erdogan has good reason to distance himself from Putin, who disregarded his efforts for a diplomatic resolution, and to prioritize partnership of Turkey with NATO. The normalization of Washington-Ankara relations can only help catalyze an improvement in Turkish-Israeli relations.

On the other hand, the US has recently engaged in intense networking to get its ties with the UAE back on track. UAE leaders were unhappy with the Joe Biden administration’s response to Yemen’s Houthi drone attack on the country last January, viewing its response as very slow and weak.

To underscore its disappointment as an ally of the United States, Abu Dhabi has been somewhat muted in its response to the Russian invasion of Ukraine. He abstained from voting at the February 25 UN Security Council meeting condemning Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, although this is generally understandable as the UAE was poised to take over. Russia to the monthly chairmanship of the council. However, his abstention in the April 7 UN General Assembly vote that suspended Russia from the Human Rights Council proved quite alarming for Washington.

To undo the damage, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken met with powerful Abu Dhabi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed in Morocco last week and reportedly apologized for Washington’s late and inadequate response to the Houthi attack. . He underscored the value of America’s partnership with the UAE and assured him of America’s full support in the face of any threat that the UAE, as well as several other Gulf States, perceives from the United Arab Emirates. Iran. Relations are now said to be “on the right track”.

On the other hand, most of America’s Arab allies in the region voted the same as the UAE in the UN General Assembly. They included Saudi Arabia and Egypt, which, along with Israel, formed the strongest pillars of American influence in the region. This can only mean greater disappointment for Washington.

While improved Turkish-Israeli and Turkish-American relations may make Washington happy, the Biden administration needs to recalibrate and do a lot more footwork if it wants to have the “right” strategy in the Middle East.

Amin Saikal is the author of Iran Rising: The Survival and Future of the Islamic Republic and the editor of Weak States, Strong Societies: Power and Authority in the New World Order.

This article is republished from The strategist under Creative Commons license. Read it original article.

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