Turkey reaches out to Syria

Will the UAE be the venue of a historic reconciliation?

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan confirmed on Thursday that the foreign ministers of his country, Syria, and Russia will soon meet to discuss “strengthening communication.” This followed meetings held in Moscow last week between the three countries’ defence ministers and intelligence chiefs.

Erdogan didn’t say when or where the meeting would take place. But the surprise visit of UAE foreign minister Sheikh Abdullah Bin-Zayed to Damascus to meet with President Bashar al-Asad suggests that Abu Dhabi might be the venue. Turkey’s foreign minister phoned his Emirate counterpart in advance of the encounter, presumably to approve this arrangement.

The UAE set the stage for this gathering when it joined China in condemning Benjamin Netanyahu’s government and demanding it maintains the status quo in Jerusalem after minister Itamar Ben Gvir staged his foray into the al-Aqsa Mosque. Both countries called for the UN Security Council to meet to consider and condemn this incursion.

The UAE has clearly begun feeling that its ‘Abrahamic’normalisation deal with Israel isn’t working as intended. It has neither curbed Israeli violations and attacks against Palestinians nor enabled the UAE to obtain sophisticated US weaponry such as F-35 warplanes. It has, instead, backfired completely. According to a US opinion poll, 88% of Emirati citizens strongly oppose and reject this normalisation. The number of UAE visitors to Israel fell to a mere 1,500 last year. There are unconfirmed reports that the UAE’s ruler, Sheikh Muhammad Bin-Zayed, called Netanyahu a few days ago to ask him to postpone or cancel his planned visit to Abu Dhabi.

Erdogan is in a hurry to get the three-way meeting arranged — as was made clear after his telephone conversation on Thursday with Putin — to pave the way for a summit with Asad in Moscow that would revive the Adana agreement aimed at protecting all sides from terrorist attacks. During the call, he referred to the need for concrete steps to be taken to clear Syrian border areas, especially Manbaj and Tal-Rif’at, of Kurdish rebel units, and enable the safe and voluntary return of Syrian refugees to their towns and villages.

Erdogan realises his only route to winning the forthcoming elections and remaining in office is via Syria and meeting with Asad under Russian and Iranian auspices. Failure to resolve the Syrian refugee crisis which his opponents are successfully using against him, or another Syria-related outrage like the recent Taksim Square bombing, could cause his and his government’s downfall, and the opening of corruption charges against some of his associates and relatives.

Erdogan won’t bother too much about his allies in the Syrian opposition, whose US-sponsored scheme to topple the regime he has backed for the past ten years. He won’t be swayed by the demonstrations staged by some opposition factions in Turkish-controlled northern Syria against his rapprochement with Asad, or by Ahrar al-Sham chief Abu-Muhammad al-Golani’s denunciation of the Moscow meeting. Objections like these won’t make him change course. They might even have the reverse effect and anger him further. He has always said that his policies are driven solely by Turkish interests.

Erdogan repaired relations with Saudi Arabia, surrendered it the Khashoggi file, and received Muhammad Bin-Salman in Ankara with a red-carpet rollout. He embraced Egypt’s Abdelfattah al-Sisi during the World Cup in Doha and shut down the Egyptian opposition’s TV stations in Istanbul. He restored relations with the UAE., and kicked out Hamas leaders and curbed their activities to appease Israel. So it would come as no surprise if he were to sacrifice the Syrian opposition — be it armed or political — and force Syrian refugees to return to their country as soon as possible by all ways and means if that would help him to retain power.

It is still unclear whether the UAE’s latest moves mark the beginning of a reversal of its recent embrace of Israel. But they seem to reflect an adaptation to changes in global politics, including the rise of a new global order led by China and Russia, the resurgence of the Palestinian cause, the erosion of Israeli military dominance with the growing power of the Resistance Axis, and the demise of the Oslo Accords that set the stage for the Abraham Accords which the US imposed and the Arab public rejects.

Reconciliation between Syria and Turkey could usher in a new era in the region, with Syria regaining its role and the conspiracy it has been facing rolling back. That must start with the recovery of all its territory, the safe return of all its refugees, the enabling of its reconstruction, and the closure of the latest chapter of the US-led conspiracy against it.

Turkey reaches out to Syria

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