The new and seemingly prolonged row between Saudi Arabia and Qatar is having some curious and almost shocking knock-on effects.
The most interesting is that Syrian media has been reporting that attacks and even mobilisations from many Gulfi funded terrorists in Syria have declined.
Likewise, state-run Qatari broadcaster Al Jazeera has suddenly discovered the extent of Saudi war crimes in Yemen after ignoring the story until last week when Qatar’s exit from the Saudi coalition was formalised.
But by far the most strange development thus far is the newfound Saudi love for the cause of Kurdish nationalism.
Like most things coming from Saudi, this is a totally disingenuous move, designed to punish Turkey for its support of Qatar. Tightly monitored and in effect state-run Saudi social media has been filling up with words of support for Kurds in Syria and Iraq. These Kurds are of course the sworn enemy of Turkey. The Turkish based Kurdish Workers Party (PKK) has long been a thorn in the side of successive Turkish governments. Now it seems they have a new and highly wealthy ally in Saudi Arabia, at least for the time being.
Under Donald Trump, the United States has thrown its weight behind Kurds in Syria with many suspecting that the US will attempt to shape what little of the Syrian peace that it can, by agitating for Kurdish autonomy or even Kurdish independence. Such calls have been amplified due to Kurdish Iraqis who are set to hold a referendum on independence in September of 2017. Such moves have been widely condemned by the Iraqi government as well as the Turkish government, although America has remained largely silent on the issue.
Turkey’s continued isolation from the United States will be magnified by this latest development. Not only has Turkey taken a staunchly pro-Qatari line while Donald Trump’s apparent sympathies are with Saudi, but now that the American ally in Riyadh is aligning itself with the US supported Kurds, Turkey’s anger will be all the more apparent, not least because some Kurds have spoken positively about the new Saudi position.
Furthermore, this could help solidify the creeping alliance between Israel and Saudi that Donald Trump is desirous to create. Israel has been a long time regional ally of Kurds, something which has been a long time strain on the usually good relations between Ankara and Tel Aviv, although one that has at times been strained under Erdogan.
While Saudi’s sudden attempt to isolate Qatar appeared to be the product of short-term thinking, its repercussions could be sustained for a considerable period.
First of all, Turkey is moving far from the American orbit in spite of still being in NATO. Turkey is participating in the Russian led Astana Peace Process along with Iran and furthermore, Turkey and Iran are now both standing against Saudi in respect of the Qatar crisis.
If Turkey continues to move further towards Russia and finds itself as part of similar alliances as Iran, Turkey’s journey from willing western aggressor to tentative eastern partner could be compete. That being said, there is still a great distrust for Turkey not only in the Arab world but also in Iran. Privately, many in Russia remain anti-Turkish although under Vladimir Putin the Russian government has been able to draw Turkey closer into an economic partnership that benefits Turkey immensely. This is all the more reason for Turkey not to upset this new alignment.
If both Saudi and the US are now pro-Kurdish, it could see the main conflict in Syria become one fought between a Syrian Arab Republic on the verge of winning the war against Salafist terrorists and pro-Kurdish actors including the US, Israel and now possibly also Saudi.
One of the reasons that Syria opposes Kurdish Independence is because it doesn’t want a state friendly to Israel and the US growing out of its legal territory. If Saudi joins the anti-Ba’athist alliance on the side of the Kurds (where before they were only on the side of jihadists like ISIS), this will make Syria all the more determined to fight against such moves.
As for Iraq, relations with Saudi, a country all ready suspicious of the pro-Iranian Shi’a leadership of Iraq, will deteriorate even further if Saudi backs an Iraqi Kurdistan.
It is still far too early to say that a new alignment has emerged but as the United States continues to lose control over its allies, it is increasingly likely that events could take charge of themselves. If this is the case, Russia which is the only major power to maintain good relations with all states in the Middle East, could come out as the clear winner.