In Translation: Strategic implications of Turkey's failed coup

Erdogan and the Turkish National Security Council

Erdogan and the Turkish National Security Council

Last weekend's aborted  coup in Turkey, and the crackdown that has followed it, has been the focus of excellent think-pieces in the last week (such as this excellent piece by Aaron Stein). Most are concerned with the domestic implications for Turkey and the ambitions of President Erdogan. In the Arab world, reaction has been divided and mostly concerned with the strategic implications for the region, particularly as it came as Ankara had announced an effort to patch up its relations with neighbors. The most concrete element of this new policy that has been achieved thus far is the discreet settlement reached with Israel over the Mavi Marmara incident, and the potentially most significant element were overtures to Russia and Syria. (Reconciliation with Egypt, also floated prior to the coup, seems unlikely after Egypt so clearly welcomed the putsch.) 

In the article below, the commentator Abdel Bari Atwan (whom I find relatively equidistant these days from the main Arab "concerned parties" in the new regional great game) focuses in on the potential of a reversal of Turkish policy on Syria. Atwan wagered that the issue might be addressed in Wednesday's National Security Council meeting in Ankara (it does not appear to have been) but this is one issue worth watching.

As always, our friends at Industry Arabic provided the translation. They're great, please check them out for your business (or other) needs.

Is President Assad the biggest winner after the failed Turkish coup? What is the surprise Erdogan is preparing to unleash on Wednesday? How do we explain the chilliness and confusion of the Saudis toward Ankara? And why is Jubeir suddenly more optimistic about solving the Syrian crisis?

Abdel Bari Atwan, al-rai al-youm, 20 July 2016

Let us leave aside the failed Turkish coup and all the consequent purges, which have included tens of thousands of judges, teachers, imams, security officers, state employees and both high and low-ranking officers — let us leave all of that aside, even if temporarily, and try to explore the steps President Recep Tayayip Erdogan is preparing to embark on at the regional and international levels.
Surprises from President Erdogan these days are many and various — you need to stop and catch your breath every now and then while trying to keep up with him — but the most prominent may be “reconciliation” with Syria, entry into negotiations with it, and a shift in Turkey’s attitudes toward it, politically and militarily.
We’ve spoken about this issue here more than once before, and have quoted more than one statement from Mr. Binali Yildirim — the prime minister, and the second man in Turkey — in which he spoke about the futility of the war in Syria and the need to stop the bloodshed and return to “zero problems” with neighbors. What is new this time is that assurances in this direction came from Erdogan’s own mouth the day before yesterday. This may be the biggest surprise, and could gladden the hearts of some while giving others heart attacks.

In video and audio, President Erdogan told a group of his supporters on Monday evening that “his country would put all its disputes with neighboring countries behind it,” and revealed that his country would take an important decision after the National Security Council meeting which will be held tomorrow (Wednesday).
We do not know what important decision the Turkish national security leadership — with the participation of the prime minister, senior state officials, and the military and security establishments — will take, but we do know that the biggest disputes with neighboring countries, which it will put behind it, are with Syria, the source of all the problems Turkey is enduring these days, including “terrorism” and its bombings in Ankara and Istanbul, and Kurdish aspirations to establish a “state” taking shape along its northern border.
Of course we do not deny the existence of disputes with Iraq, as well as others with Egypt, and third, to a lesser extent, with Iran, and fourth with Russia, which are on their way to being resolved. However, all of these disputes are secondary, or are directly related to the Syrian issue, and will all melt away if there is a change in Turkish policy toward this issue.
In this article, we will try to read between the lines of Erdogan’s statements and see what they involve in terms of meanings and indicators on this or that issue and what we can deduce through these readings. We can summarize them in the following points:

  1. There has been an accelerating political and media trend by President Erdogan’s government to review its friendly relations with Washington, as well as a lack of concern with European threats to stop negotiations to include Turkey in the European Union if it reinstates the death penalty. There is a chance of a rupture between the two sides on the grounds of the American government’s refusal to extradite US-based Turkish preacher Fethullah Gülen, who has been officially accused of being behind the failed coup.
  2. A state of “chill” has prevailed over Turkish-Saudi relations since Mr. Yildirim’s statements about the possibility of restoring his country’s relations with Syria. The confused reaction of Saudi media toward the failed coup reflected this chill, as Saudi channels, including the official Al Ekhbariya and semi-official Al Arabiya, appeared at first to sympathize with the coup, and then corrected this and timidly welcomed its failure.
  3. A strange statement was made by Mr. Adel al-Jubeir, the Saudi foreign minister, on the sidelines of the European Union-Gulf Cooperation Council Ministerial Meeting in Brussels yesterday. He said, “There is hope of finding a solution to the Syrian crisis,” while adding at the same time that, “the support of his country for the Syrian opposition will continue, as well as the war on ISIS.” What made this strange was that Mr. Jubeir was uncharacteristically optimistic about a political solution in Syria and did not mention the departure of President Bashar al-Assad, whether peacefully or through war, at all.

We do not want to preempt events or jump to hasty conclusions, however we do not hesitate to say that President Assad could be the biggest winner to emerge from this failed Turkish coup, whether it was real or fabricated, for several reasons, listed below:

  1. The Turkish-Russian rapprochement will be definitive, and could enter a stage of unprecedented strategic cooperation if US-Turkish relations collapse. Two days ago, Sergei Lavrov confirmed there was close cooperation between Moscow and Ankara around the Syrian issue.
  2. The phone conversation initiated by Iranian President Hassan Rouhani with his counterpart Erdogan — and which was greatly welcomed and appreciated by the Turkish president when Rouhani offered congratulations on the failure of the coup and readiness for cooperation between the two countries — could be a prelude to joint Iranian-Russian mediation to resume Turkish-Syrian relations.
  3. The Syrian opposition has disappeared from the political scene over the last three days. So far, no delegation representing it has arrived in Ankara to at least show solidarity with Erdogan.

The Turkish landscape is changing, and Turkey will be different after the coup, as we said in a previous article. So is it the case with President Erdogan. We are less than 24 hours from finding out about the biggest transformation, which the Turkish President will announce after the National Security Council meeting. These are long hours to wait, at least for us.