Middle East, News

Gulf countries support intervention in Syria

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SETA Foreign Policy Research Assistant Gülşah Neslihan Akkaya speaking to The New Turkey said the Gulf countries will support a possible US intervention in Syria although they have not released any official statement in this regard.

How the Gulf countries, which have supported various opposition groups in Syria since the beginning of the crisis, will approach a possible US intervention in Syria is a matter of curiosity. The SETA Foundation (Foundation for Political, Economic and Social Research) Foreign Policy Assistant Gülşah Neslihan Akkaya answers questions by The New Turkey about the approaching US intervention.

What does the intervention in the Syrian crisis mean for the Gulf countries?

Although the members of the Cooperation Council for the Arab States of the Gulf (GCC), are six separate countries, consisting of Saudi Arabia, Qatar, the United Arab Emirates (UAE), Kuwait, Bahrain and Oman, only three of them (Saudi Arabia, Qatar and the UAE) have played an active role in the issue of Syrian crisis.Saudi Arabiasees the overthrow of the Syrian regime as an opportunity to weaken the influence ofIranin the region. Syria has become much more critical for Saudi Arabia with the arrival of the post-Saddam period in Iraq and with the Lebanese government’s rapprochement with Iran following the former Prime Minister Rafiq Hariri’s assassination. In addition,Saudi Arabiaaims to clear away the criticism of “pro-status quo” for their position in the face of the Arab uprisings and to increase its regional influence by supporting the regime change and formation of a Sunni government close to Saudis inSyria. On the other hand,Qatar, as the most frequently talked about country during the Arab revolts, supports the Syrian opposition; therefore, seeks to have a wider ground of legitimacy and reinforce its political presence in the region.Qataralso aims to expand its sphere of influence by filling the gap created by the regional countries.

What is the position of the Gulf countries in the Syrian crisis so far?

The Gulf countries have supported the Syrian opponents by different methods and at different levels against the Bashar al Assad regime. The GCC states in a joint decision withdrew their diplomatic representatives fromSyriaand deported the Syrian ambassadors. The Gulf countries,Saudi ArabiaandQatarin particular, provided economic, military and political support to the opponents inSyriaas they play a critical role in arming the opponents and providing material as well as diplomatic support to the Syrian National Council. Despite all, some opposition groups felt closer toSaudi ArabiaandQatarmore than the others, and their struggle negatively affected the debates in the National Council and National Coalition of Syria. Lastly, Ahmad Jarba, backed bySaudi Arabia, became the new head of the coalition, and Saudis have become influential again over the Free Syrian Army’s Military Council. This is interpreted asQatar’s losing control in the Syrian issue. The UAE, on the other hand, adopted the Saudi line as they hosted the media operations against the Islamic groups in the opposition.

How do the Gulf countries view the use of chemical weapons in Syria?

The only condemnation for the use of chemical weapons in Syria came from Qatar among the Gulf countries. Qatar Foreign Ministry announced in the issued statement that the Syrian regime crossed all the international red lines by using chemical weapons against their own people. Although Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Turki Faisal did not issue any official statement on the subject; while addressing a meeting of the Saudi-Moroccan Joint Commission in Jeddah, he said Assad’s regime has lost its Arab identity and it no longer belongs to the Syrian civilization that has been held in high esteem in the Arab world. The Saudi minister called the United Nations (UN) for an emergency meeting and asked the international community to adopt a serious stance against the use of chemical weapons. The UAE,Kuwait,OmanandBahrainhave not issued any official statement. However, voices are heard fromSaudi ArabiaandQatarthat it should be an extensive and a game changing intervention.

How do the Gulf countries view any military intervention in Syria in the face of the chemical weapon use?

First of all, none of the Gulf countries has issued an official statement that they may support a possible military intervention in Syria. AlthoughSaudi ArabiaandQatarsaid the Assad regime was way over the line, they talked about the punishment without mentioning a military intervention. No official statement has been issued; however,Saudi ArabiaandQatarwill clearly support the intervention asSaudi Arabiais the number one arms provider to the Syrian opposition. Even, it is claimed thatSaudi ArabiaChief of Intelligence Bender bin Sultan held a secret talk with Russian President Vladimir Putin and offered him a secret oil agreement in order forRussiato withdraw support fromSyriafor a military solution in the country. As theUSis evaluating a possible intervention, if theUSmilitary bases in the Gulf countries are considered, it would not be wrong to say that these bases will be used in an intervention.

How did the course of relations between Turkey and the Gulf countries proceed as far as the Syrian crisis is concerned?

Turkey and the Gulf countries have adopted a considerably joint position against the Syrian crisis and taken side with the Syrian opposition. They provided political, economic and military support to various opposition groups inSyria. Although dialogues continue with all the opponents,QatarandTurkeysupported different groups againstSaudi Arabia. Until this crisis is resolved completely, a drastic change in their positions is not expected in the overthrow of the Assad government. Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu during a diplomatic visit to the Saudi capital Riyadh after the use of chemical weapons in Syria, stressed that Turkey and Saudi Arabia have a strong will to end the Syrian crisis and that it is important to have a joint act until the Syrian people have peace and calm again. A similar statement came from both Qatar Foreign Minister Khaled al Atiyya and Davutoğlu during al Atiyya’s visit toTurkeyfollowing the chemical attack against civilians inSyria.

However, it should be said that the Syrian crisis is a Lithmus paper for the future of Turkey-GCC relations. In fact,Saudi Arabia’s foreign policy inSyriais driven by an anti-Iran attitude, butTurkeysees this crisis as an obstacle in front of the stability and peace in the region, in the country and at its borders. Therefore, expectations ofTurkeyandSaudi Arabiawill differ after the crisis. As a matter of fact, the support of the other Gulf countries for the July 3 coup inEgyptclearly reveals the differences in approaches of the sides for the region.

Resource: Translated by Handan Öz

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