Saudi Arabia–Turkey proxy conflict
|Saudi Arabia–Turkey proxy conflict|
|Part of the Syrian Civil War, Second Libyan Civil War, Kurdish–Turkish conflict, Iran–Saudi Arabia proxy conflict, Russia–Turkey proxy conflict, Iran–Turkey proxy conflict, Qatar–Saudi Arabia proxy conflict, Qatar diplomatic crisis and Sudanese Revolution|
Location of Saudi Arabia and Turkey
Saudi Arabia-backed allies:
|Commanders and leaders|
Salman of Saudi Arabia|
Mohammed bin Salman
Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan
Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum
Abdel Fattah el-Sisi
Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa
Recep Tayyip Erdoğan|
Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani
The Saudi Arabia–Turkey proxy conflict is an emerging conflict to struggle for influence in the Middle East and surrounding regions between the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and the Republic of Turkey. The two countries have been fighting for influence over the entire of West Asia, as well as in North Africa, South Asia, Balkans and recently, Caucasus.
In what has been described as a cold war, the conflict is waged on multiple levels over geopolitical, economic, and sectarian influence in pursuit of regional hegemony between the two countries, especially with regard to the interpretation of Islam. The proxy conflict began in 2011, but it only started to take notice since 2017 and has since then witnessed an increase of escalation and confrontation between Saudi Arabia and Turkey in various frontiers. In addition, widespread religious sectarianism between two main Sunni forces, with both see themselves as the leading Islamic power, has further exacerbated the tensions.
The root of tensions between Saudi Arabia and Turkey have been traced back earlier, in 19th century when the Ottoman Empire fought against the First Saudi State, the predecessor of modern Saudi Arabia, where the Turks won the war and continued occupying the Arabian peninsula until 1918. This had fueled the distrust and hostility against Wahhabism, the official Islamic movement of the House of Saud, among the Ottoman elites, which was rekindled by the rise of Recep Tayyip Erdoğan to power in Turkey.
The modern root of hostility began as Saudi Arabia and Turkey started to experience Arab Spring. At first, Saudi Arabia and Turkey found themselves a common alliance against the Syrian regime of Bashar al-Assad, ultimately on the same side in the early phase of the Syrian civil war. Saudi Arabia at the first stage also saw Turkey as a guarantor. However, Turkey has demonstrated clear support for the Muslim Brotherhood, which the current ruling regime in Ankara is part of, amidst the Arab Spring, whereas Saudi Arabia was skeptical and even hostile to the Spring and even worse, MB, whom Riyadh saw as a potential enemy. On the same time, Turkey began to raise the Islamic issues more frequent, and sometimes conflicted with Riyadh's interests, fueled the future tensions between two nations.
2013 Egyptian coup
On 3 July 2013, a military coup in Egypt occurred, resulted in the ousting of Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi, and the rise of military candidate Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, who organized the coup. The coup was backed by Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, while Turkey openly denounced the coup and accused el-Sisi of undemocratic. Subsequently, Egypt drifted closer to Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, forming the seed of future alliance against Turkey between three Arab countries.
March 2014 United Nations General Assembly
Turkey had run for a seat in the United Nations General Assembly in 2014, however, Saudi Arabia had demonstrated its opposition as Turkey had backed the Muslim Brotherhood at the time and lobbied various countries to not elect Turkey for the bid. Eventually, Turkey suffered a denting defeat to Spain and New Zealand and was unable to gain a seat in the United Nations Assembly. After that, Turkey and Saudi Arabia entered into a hiatus in relations before cooperation between Ankara and Riyadh resumed under the new King Salman.
2016 Turkish coup attempt
A series of leaked emails in June 2017 by Yousef Al Otaiba lending credence to this allegation that Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates were planning to overthrow the Islamist government in Ankara back in July 2016, fueling the distrust between Turkey and Saudi Arabia.
2017 Qatar diplomatic crisis
The proxy conflict between Turkey and Saudi Arabia began to gain attention after Turkey voiced its open opposition to the blockade of Qatar and sending troops to the country after Saudi Arabia cut tie with Qatar over terrorism charges. On 5 June, several of Qatar's neighbors sealed off their air, land and sea borders to Qatar-flagged vessels and vessels arriving to and from Qatar. From 5 June to 25 June, Turkey's exports to Qatar tripled in value. Turkey mainly helped Qatar with food supplies, particularly dairy, poultry and fruit products. At one point, Turkey was exporting 200,000 tonnes of vegetables to Qatar daily, and was also helping Qatar meet the majority of its dairy supply. On 6 September, a trade line route between Qatar and Turkey running through Iran was inaugurated, shortening the travel time of goods traded to under 2 days. As a response, Qatar has emerged as a major investor to Turkey in 2018, where its activities were seen as a repaying debt for Turkish support to the country when Turkey was suffering a currency and debt crisis.
Saudi Arabia, in response, has threatened to impose sanctions against Turkey, and has conducted discussions with the UAE on the topic of curbing “Turkish expansionist policy”. In turn, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan accused Saudi Arabia of being non-Islamic and heretics. An attempted coup by Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates was foiled aftermath.
Turkish military base in Somalia
In 2017, the Turkish Armed Forces inaugurated its first oversea base in Somalia. Saudi Arabia viewed it as an attempt to expand Turkish influence and had sought to thwart the move. In 2020, Saudi Arabia acquired an important military base in Djibouti.
Sudanese dictator Omar al-Bashir agreed to lease the island of Suakin to Turkey in January 2018. This had led to an increase of fear over Turkey might be using the base to threaten security of Saudi Arabia and allies Egypt and the United Arab Emirates.
In 2019, anti-Bashir protest, backed by Saudi Arabia, erupted and this led to the eventual fallout of relations between Turkey and Sudan, as Turkey had backed Sudanese dictator Omar al-Bashir to quell the protest. The deal was eventually cancelled in 2019 despite Turkish assurance about the deal.
Banning of Turkish soap dramas
In 2018, Saudi Arabia's media officially stopped broadcasting every Turkish soap dramas in the country. Although it was viewed as a way to deal with hardcore Islamic clerics by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, the real reason was thought to be ongoing Turkish–Saudi conflict.
Mohammed bin Salman's remark
Death of Jamal Khashoggi
The murder of Jamal Khashoggi in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul, Turkey on 2 October 2018 was the turning point on the increasingly strained relations between Saudi Arabia and Turkey. Saudi government's agents had secretly entered the consulate as the agents, using the pretext of providing papers for his upcoming wedding, quietly conducted assassination of Jamal Khashoggi. The gruesome assassination later went with investigation by Turkish authorities, whom many believed that the Saudi hitman squad, with secret approval from the Saudi Crown Prince, conducted the assassination. Later, the Turkish authorities shared records to various nations over the killing of Jamal Khashoggi.
Immediately aftermath, the Turkish President Erdoğan started accusing Saudi officials and eventually Saudi Crown Prince for being the culprits behind the assassination. Turkish authorities also ordered the arrest of 20 Saudi citizens to begin the trial, which eventually started in July 2020, but all of them had already fled Turkey. Saudi Arabia meanwhile denied orchestrating the killing but this has led to rupture of relations between Ankara and Riyadh.
Saudi Arabia's alliance with Syria and Kurds
Previously critical of Bashar al-Assad's regime, however with Mohammed bin Salman became Crown Prince and souring relations with Turkey, Saudi Arabia began engaging back with Syria in hope to form a united front against Turkey, signaling the change of Saudi policies against Turkey and ceasing of criticism against Assad regime by Saudi government. This was done in response to Turkish military movement in Syria, which Riyadh strongly opposed.
On the same time, Saudi Arabia also sought to increase support for the Kurds to deter against Turkey as well as Iran in response to Trump's withdrawal from Syria, which has also caused unease reaction from Damascus. Saudi Arabia also sought to back Kurdistan Region, though opposing its attempt to bid for independence.
With the conflict in Libya became increasingly violent, Saudi Arabia has thrown significant support for Khalifa Haftar, the head of the unrecognized Eastern-based House of Representatives as well as providing support against Turkey-backed Government of National Accord run by Islamists. To prevent the collapse of the Islamist government in Tripoli, Turkey sent soldiers in January 2020 to counter Saudi Arabia and its allies backing the Eastern-based administration, relieving Tripoli after being besieged by the Saudi-backed forces.
"Extremist militia" accusation
In February 2020, Saudi Minister of Foreign Affairs, Adel al-Jubeir accused Turkey of financing and sponsoring the "extremist militias" in Somalia, Libya and Syria, Saudi Arabia also moved to block all Turkish websites in Saudi Arabia. In response, Ankara announced it would block all Saudi and Emirati websites in the country.
Nagorno-Karabakh conflict and Armenia
The Turkish government openly blasted Saudi Arabia for siding with Armenia in the conflict after Saudi Arabian channel Al Arabiya broadcast the speech of Armenian President Armen Sargsyan and perceived Saudi Arabia's sympathy toward Armenia in the conflict, despite Saudi Arabia's plead for neutrality and called for a solution to solve the conflict; in response, Saudi Arabia called for boycott anything related to Turkey and Turkish. Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates' relations with Armenia, the adversary of Turkey, have grown considerably despite Saudi Arabia and Armenia have no official relations, with Saudi Arabia sponsored the solution to recognize the Armenian Genocide a year before the Armenian–Azerbaijani conflict.
Involvements by parties
Saudi Arabia's supporters
United Arab Emirates
The United Arab Emirates have been Saudi Arabia's most staunch ally in the conflict, and often provides rhetoric criticism and hostile to Turkish government's ambition. The United Arab Emirates had previously executed a plan to remove the AKP from power, but it was unsuccessful. Turkey has threatened the United Arab Emirates after the country signed Abraham Accords normalising relations with Israel.
As the relations between Israel and Turkey become increasingly deteriorated while Israel's relations with Saudi Arabia have been warming, Israel and Saudi Arabia have engaged in larger cooperation to deal with Turkey. Mossad's chief Yossi Cohen, in 2020, named Turkey for the first time as a threat for the Middle East after discussing with Saudi, Emirati and Egyptian counterparts. In addition, Israel and Saudi Arabia are now working closely to monitor Turkey and its activities and Saudi Arabia had also supported the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain on its peace agreement with Israel to counter Turkey.
Following the removal of Muslim Brotherhood candidate Mohamed Morsi and installation of Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, a junta leader, relations between Saudi Arabia and Egypt have improved, though differences are yet to be settled. Egypt, in addition, has become Turkey's strongest critic in Africa and the Middle East alongside the United Arab Emirates, resulting in tensions with Ankara over Gülen movement, Caucasus (notably Armenian Genocide), Syria and recently Greco–Turkish spat in Mediterranean Sea.
Historical conflicts between Russia and Turkey have been the main reason for Russia to seek closer cooperation with Riyadh, as Saudi Arabia and Russia have increasingly opposed to Turkish ambitions. On 4 October 2017, a three-day visit of King of Saudi Arabia Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud to Russia began, the first official trip to Russia (or the USSR) by a reigning Saudi monarch, which was hailed "historic". Following the increasingly warm relations between Russia and Saudi Arabia, Riyadh demonstrated significant support for Moscow for the first time, in the Syrian civil war, while Russia and Saudi Arabia openly sided with Libyan warlord Khalifa Haftar in Libya. Russia also quietly approved Saudi Arabia's allies on normalizing relations with Israel, in which Turkey opposed. In 2018, Saudi Arabia, along with Israel and the United Arab Emirates, lobbied to the U.S. President Donald Trump that he should improve relations with Russia and rethink about sanctions relating Ukrainian crisis, given Ukraine's alliance with Turkey.
Although Armenia and Saudi Arabia have no official diplomatic relations, increasing tensions between Riyadh and Ankara forced Saudi Arabia to seek closer tie with Turkey's rivals, which Armenia has been highlighted due to also sharing tense relations with Turkey over the Armenian Genocide. The move began with the sudden congratulations of Armenian independence day by Saudi monarchy to Armenia in 2018.
In 2019, Saudi Arabia agreed to sponsor a final solution to acknowledge the Armenian Genocide in the United States Congress. Saudi Princess Reema bint Bandar Al Saud, in her statement, condemned Turkey. Saudi Arabian ambassador in Lebanon had also paid a visit to Armenian Genocide memorial to demonstrate Saudi solidarity to Armenia. When the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict erupted in 2020, Saudi Arabia provided tacit support for Armenia throughout its media outlet Al Arabiya.
Greece and Cyprus
After Turkey and Greece got spat with each other over Mediterranean Sea disputes, Saudi Arabia openly supported Greece and Cyprus and accused Turkey of occupying Northern Cyprus. Saudi Arabia also ordered embargo on Turkish products in solidarity to Greece.
Historical tensions between China and Turkey over the Uyghur issue and Turkish support for Uyghur militancy across the Middle East against China have boosted relations between China and Saudi Arabia. Riyadh was one of the signators supporting Chinese policy toward the Uyghurs, including Xinjiang re-education camps. Saudi Arabia is also an increasingly important investor on China's Muslim minority.
Turkey's open support for Pakistan's stance in Kashmir and increasing Saudi–Pakistani rift resulted in growing cooperation between India and Saudi Arabia, as Saudi Arabia didn't condemn India over Kashmir when India revoked its special status in 2020. Nonetheless, Saudi Arabia was criticized after not depicting the disputed territory into Indian territory, even though neither the territory was depicted as part of Pakistan during October 2020 G20 summit; despite this, deterioration in relations between Pakistan and Saudi Arabia are bringing India and Saudi Arabia to a common frontier.
France and Saudi Arabia have recently allied with each other due to common opposition to Turkey. France and Saudi Arabia are commonly on the same side against Turkey in Libya, Syria and the Caucasus. France and Turkey have also engaged in their own proxy war, and helps Haftar in Libya.
In 2020, Chadian President Idriss Déby denounced Turkish intervention in Libya and sent 1,500 troops to assist Khalifa Haftar, a Saudi ally.
Saudi Arabia have increased its support for the Kurds, mainly to deter Iran but recently also used to fight against Turkey, notably by sponsoring the People's Protection Units (YPG) deterring Turkish expansionism. Saudi Arabia has also invested billion for the Kurdistan region in Syria to improve infrastructures and finances against Turkey.
Saudi Arabia has been instrumental in helping and financing Khalifa Haftar's force against Turkey-backed Islamist regime during the Libyan Civil War.
Azerbaijan is Turkey's strongest ally owing by cultural commons between two nations. Azerbaijan is also the only country to openly demonstrate support for Turkish military activities abroad, notably in 2019 when Azerbaijan supported Turkey against the Saudi-backed Kurdish forces which triggered growing hostility between Riyadh and Ankara.
Syrian opposition received support from both Saudi Arabia and Turkey when the Syrian Civil War broke out, but with Saudi Arabia slowly disengaged from the conflict to make peace with Assad, Turkey became its sole supporter and have clashed with numerous Saudi-backed groups in the war.
Relations between Ukraine and Turkey have been strengthened because of Russian intervention to Ukraine amidst the Ukrainian crisis, although Ukraine has been largely vague about hostilities between Saudi Arabia and Turkey. However, Ukraine has denounced Armenia, an ally of Saudi Arabia and Russia, over the Karabakh conflict in September 2020. Turkey has also pledged to provide financial and lethal support for the Ukrainian Armed Forces, such as drones. Because of Ukraine's alliance with Turkey, this has been under target by Israel and Saudi Arabia, who, in 2018, had lobbied the U.S. to reconsider sanctions against Russia over Ukraine in fear of Turkey.
Pakistan and Turkey are also strongly allied with each other and their relationship has been described as special. Pakistan has thrown significant support for Turkey and Azerbaijan, notably the recent 2020 Karabakh conflict. Meanwhile, rift between Saudi Arabia and Pakistan have increasingly widened after Saudi Arabia didn't put any major efforts to condemn India over revoking Kashmir's special status. Pakistan has also sought to form a new Islamic bloc at the expense of Saudi Arabia in support for Turkey.
Growing Erdoğan's call for solidarity with Palestine has made him a popular figure in the Palestinian territory as relations between Israel and Saudi Arabia to Turkey greatly deteriorated. In addition, relations between Saudi Arabia and Palestine have become increasingly worsened due to growing anti-Palestinian sentiment in Saudi Arabia and anti-Saudi sentiment in Palestine.
In October 2020, Prince Bandar bin Sultan Al Saud openly criticized Palestine and accusing her of allying with Turkey to undermine Saudi Arabia.
Bosnia and Herzegovina
Government of National Accord
Turkey is the strongest backer for the Islamists ruling Tripoli, which was recognized as the legitimate government and has sent troops to involve deeper within the conflict.
The United States is an ally for both nations, thus American policy toward the increasing tensions between Saudi Arabia and Turkey has been described as fluid and uncertain. As the rift between Ankara and Riyadh deepened, the United States has been forced to take a balance policy in favor for both sides; however Turkish aggressive policies have deteriorated U.S.–Turkish relations as Turkey is now seen as an emerging threat for its disruptive behaviors, the U.S. Congress has already blocked arm sale for Turkey for two years since 2018, and its recognition of Armenian Genocide. On the other hand, the United States has to deal with increasingly assertive and aggressive Saudi Arabia as well, especially since the murder of Jamal Khashoggi, which Washington sought to avoid. The U.S. also seeks to assist the selling drones alongside Turkey, to Saudi Arabia.
Iran, for most of its history of relations since 1979, has an up-and-down relationship with Turkey and a tense relationship with Saudi Arabia, and thus Iran sought to make itself an alternative player, especially after Ankara and Riyadh secretly echoed the Assassination of Qasem Soleimani. However, economic sanctions and increasing anti-Iranian sentiment have prevented Iran from making a conducive policy, and thus Iran often has to play on a side they would favor. Though by far, Iran tends to align with Turkey, Iran has largely stayed away from many Turkish policies and even openly confronted Ankara in many sensitive issues, such as Syria, Iraq, Libya, and the Caucasus. Lack of trust between Iran and Turkey as Iranian proxies frequently fight against Turkish proxies and the hostile relations between Iran and Saudi Arabia over Iran's hawkish policies have made Iran an unpredictable player in the Middle East.
Syria's relations with Saudi Arabia and Turkey have deteriorated greatly since 2011 when both nations threw support for the Syrian opposition against Assad regime; however, Syria since 2018 has become more concentrated about threats from Turkey, and ceased criticism on Saudi Arabia, as Damascus has now identified Turkey as a bigger and more dangerous threat to its security. However, Saudi Arabia's alliance with Syrian Kurds, which also aspired to separate from Syria, complicated the relations.
Until 2010s, Sudan's main ally since 1989 was Iran, a major distinction among most Arab World. But in 2015, Iran and Sudan's relations have deteriorated after Sudan intervened to Yemen in support for Saudi Arabia in calculating for the fragile economy. However, fear of Saudi Arabia's influence pushed Omar al-Bashir to approach Turkey for help, resulting with the lease of Suakin to Turkey in January 2018. However, Omar al-Bashir was toppled in the 2019 Sudanese Revolution which Saudi Arabia supported, and Sudan's relations with Turkey have been put on hold. But so far, relations were restored with time.
Australia has strong relations with both Turkey and Saudi Arabia. However, in the aftermath of Christchurch mosque shootings by an Australian White supremacist in 2019, relations between Turkey and Australia deteriorated after Turkish leader Erdoğan openly blasted Australia and insulting much of the country in reference to Gallipoli Campaign, forcing Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison to condemn it "unacceptable". On the other hand, Australia remains a major weapon seller to Saudi Arabia and even has several military personnel (notably Mike Hindmarsh) working in the country during the Yemeni conflict, which caused widespread criticism at home.
The North African Kingdom has largely sought to balance between Turkey and Saudi Arabia amidst the intensifying conflict. In 2017, shortly when the Qatar crisis erupted, Morocco decided to send aid to Qatar while expressing desire to maintain a neutral stance and to mediate the Qatari–Saudi conflict. As Qatar is Turkey's ally, this didn't go well with Saudi Arabia at first and Saudi Arabia broadcast the issue of Western Sahara, which triggered criticism in Morocco; Morocco responded by recalling its ambassador to Saudi Arabia and suspended its military involvement in Yemen. The relationship between Morocco and Saudi Arabia returned to normal after the February 2019 Warsaw Conference.
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- Iran–Saudi Arabia relations
- Iran–Israel proxy conflict
- Iran–Turkey proxy conflict
- Iran–Saudi Arabia proxy conflict
- Qatar–Saudi Arabia proxy conflict
- Russia–Turkey proxy conflict
- Iran–Turkey relations
- Saudi Arabia–Turkey relations
- 2017 Lebanon–Saudi Arabia dispute
- 2019–2020 Persian Gulf crisis
- International Maritime Security Construct
- Arab League–Iran relations
- Arab states–Israeli alliance against Iran
- Axis of Resistance
- Russia–Syria–Iran–Iraq coalition
- Arab Cold War
- Middle Eastern Cold War
- Sufi–Salafi relations
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