In recent years, Turkey and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) have always been at loggerheads over regional issues. The case of Syria, Qatar’s problem, and the Libyan file are among the issues on which the two countries disagree. Recently, the United Arab Emirates accused Turkey of interfering in its internal affairs regarding Libya’s developments, calling it a sponsor of terrorism. The fact is that the regional rivalries between Ankara and Abu Dhabi, on the one hand, and the thorny issue of Libya, on the other, have cast a shadow over the two countries’ political relations. Therefore, we are witnessing a decline in trade between the two countries, especially from 2018 onwards. In the aftermath of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) meeting in Saudi Arabia’s Al-Ala and the offer of reconciliation with Qatar, the UAE is seeking to change its position on Turkey. As UAE Foreign Minister Anwar Gargash said in a speech on January 7 expressing hope for improved relations between Ankara and Abu Dhabi, his country wants to normalize relations with Turkey. In another recent interview, Gargash defended the establishment of ties between his government and Turkey, saying that the UAE is Turkey’s first trading partner.
Less than a day after the UAE unofficially announced its independence from Saudi Arabia in OPEC, news of Saudi moves to reconcile with Qatar was released. No matter how fruitful Saudi Arabia’s reconciliation with Qatar is, it is noteworthy that the Saudis did so without consulting the UAE. Meanwhile, following Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates joined Qatar’s besieging countries in 2017 and registered its name in the list of the creators of the Persian Gulf crisis. At the GCC meeting, the 13 countries that imposed sanctions on Qatar announced 13 conditions for the resumption of relations with this country. The severance of ties with Turkey and its military base on Qatari territory is one of these conditions, but the Doha government fulfilled these conditions. He considered it a violation of his sovereignty and refused to submit to it. Thus, Riyadh’s leaders demanded a settlement of Qatar’s dispute, which Doha also agreed to unilateral reconciliation with Riyadh. Still, the UAE leaders did not consider the current time of reconciliation with Qatar appropriate, and this was an issue that added to the Abu Dhabi-Riyadh dispute.
The interests of Israel
Turkey was one of the countries that took a strong stand against the UAE agreement to normalize relations with Israel on September 13, 2020. Positions that sometimes even gave the color and smell of severing diplomatic relations between Ankara and Abu Dhabi. Turkey, meanwhile, has significant trade, political, and security ties with Israel. Israel supplies most of its oil through Turkey, and if Ankara wants, it can stop the flow of oil to Tel Aviv. Therefore, Israel wants the UAE to be a substitute for its oil supply, and if there is a problem with Turkish oil imports, it can act through Abu Dhabi.
The UAE is trying to move in the interests of the Israeli regime by establishing relations with Turkey. Since the 2008 war in Gaza, relations between Turkey and Israel, especially after the 2010 Marmara incident (in which Israeli forces attacked Turkish activists trying to break the siege to reach the Gaza Strip) have deteriorated, and the UAE is seeking to establish Ankara’s relations with Tel Aviv at a better level.
The failure of the UAE’s policies to influence the region
The UAE’s policies to infiltrate the region, as we witness in Libya, have failed, and the same is expected to happen in Yemen. The Libyan case has been one of the most dangerous stages of the dispute between Turkey and the UAE in recent years, and now that the UAE’s interventions in Libya have diminished and Abu Dhabi’s support for retired General Khalifa Haftar has waned, the two countries are one step closer to converging. The UAE’s unilateral advancement of the Libyan case without Egypt’s support could lead to the UAE’s regional isolation. With the increase of Turkish movements in the area, Abu Dhabi is deeply concerned about Ankara’s role and wants to expand its influence in the region through de-escalation.
In conclusion, the differences and tensions between the UAE and Turkey over the past decade began with the formation of new developments in the region, including the overthrow of the traditional political systems in Libya and Egypt and the rivalry for regional influence, and continue to do so over the years. There are strategic differences that have political and ideological roots, so even if the two sides have the will to resolve tensions, relations between the two countries do not seem to enter the normal cycle as quickly as in the years prior to the rise of tensions and differences.
Disclaimer. The views and opinions expressed in this op-ed are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of MEPEI. Any contents provided by our author are of his opinion and are not intended to malign any religion, ethnic group, club, organization, company, individual, or anyone or anything.
About the author:
Amin BAGHERI is an Iranian research fellow at the International Studies Association in Tehran, Iran. His primary research interest lies in international relations, political science, and conflicts in the Middle East. You can see more of his work on Twitter @bghr_amin.