In Abu Dhabi, on the last day of May, UAE’s President, Mohammed Bin Zayed, and Turkey’s Minister of Defense, Hulusi Akar, sat to talk head-to-head for the first time. Both are political leaders, with a military background. Their countries are politically and militarily active, on opposite sides though, in all the diplomatic and armed conflicts of the ever-boiling region of the Middle East, extending from Libya in North Africa to Syria and Iraq in the Levant region, and even in Afghanistan.
This important meeting may not add new benefits to the bilateral relationship between Turkey and the UAE, which was recently given a second chance through a haste reconciliation process pushed by the compounding security and economic challenges facing the region. However, the influence of the meeting, between these two shrewd military strategists, will mark a milestone in the formation of the new Middle East, by instigating a cluster of changes in areas of armed conflict, where the two countries are active against each other. Most likely, northern Syria will be the first spot where this change in attitude, at least from the UAE side, is going to manifest.
According to the statements of the Turkish Minister of Defense, the UAE Chief of Staff will visit the Turkish Chief of Staff in Ankara, in the near future, to discuss the technical aspects of starting military cooperation and training programs between the two countries. Since the reconciliation between the two countries was announced, in November 2021, the UAE has shown eagerness to make defense deals with the Turkish side, similar to the strong military ties between Turkey and Qatar.
On the 7th of December 2021, while Turkey's President Erdogan and his top ministers were in Qatar for strategic talks, a UAE delegation visited Ankara to negotiate defense deals, that included offers to buy shares in ASELSAN, Turkey's leading electronic defense manufacturer. ASELSAN opened a branch in Doha, in January 2021, as part of the military agreement between Qatar and Turkey. But in the end, the Emirati delegation returned empty-handed, as the negotiations did not lead to any positive results. The main reason was that despite the improvement of relations between the two countries, on the political and economic level, the rivalry between Abu Dhabi and Ankara, on the military and strategic level, still existed.
Therefore, it was not surprising to know that one of the most important goals behind the UAE's invitation to the Turkish Defense Minister to visit the UAE and meet with President Mohammed Bin Zayed, is to resolve this tension with Hulusi Akar. In the briefing that Hulusi Akar gave at the headquarters of the Turkish Embassy in Abu Dhabi before his return to Ankara, the Turkish Defense Minister hinted that President Mohammed bin Zayed would not oppose the military operation that Turkey plans to launch in northern Syria in the coming period, even though the UAE has always been one of the strongest regional backers of the Kurdish organizations in northern Syria and Iraq, and has often supported their positions and activities against Turkey.
“We had the opportunity to present our work to the UAE President, who welcomed us with great kindness and sincerity. We were pleased to see that [Sheikh Mohammed Bin Zayed] agreed with the information and the assessment that we provided;” Hulusi Akar noted in a video briefing from Abu Dhabi. “The UAE President, also, expressed that he supports the work we have done and the progress made in this area.”
The goal of the military operation, which the Turkish President, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, announced, in early May, is to establish a “safe corridor” of 30 kilometers in depth, on the southern borders of Turkey and the northern borders of Syria and Iraq. The operation is part of the “Pence Kilit” operations that the Turkish military has been leading in northern Syria and Iraq, for a while, to hunt terrorists from the YPG and the PKK organizations, who are hiding in the Kurdish-dominated area, there. Several regional and international policymakers expressed concern that this is not an acceptable offensive on the sovereignty of Syria and Iraq that will hurt the innocent civilians living there.
However, according to Minister Hulusi Akar, the establishment of the ‘safe corridor’ is the only means to prevent the terrorists, in this region, from establishing a ‘terror corridor’ that threatens the security of Turkey. "Our only target is terrorists. Kurds and Arabs are our brothers. Some people still confuse the issue, either out of ignorance or with ulterior motives. Our only target is terrorists. PKK and YPG are terrorists;” Hulusi Akar said. “Our sole purpose from these activities is to guarantee the security of Turkey’s borders. We will not allow a terror corridor to be built there… I want everyone to know that our military is determined and capable of making this happen.”
The UAE’s changing position towards the activities of the Turkish military in the Kurdish-dominated areas in northern Syria and Iraq is part of the new policy that the UAE is adopting towards the region. It is in the best interest of the UAE to build strong relationships with the non-Arab countries of the Middle East, Turkey, Israel, and Iran, rather than to continue with fighting against them on behalf of the Arab countries affected by their interventions. That is not only limited to the Levant region. Most Likely, the UAE may withdraw itself from the Libya conflict, soon, in order to avoid renewing the confrontation with Turkey’s military leadership, which will move the troops to Libya as soon as it is done with the safe corridor operation in Syria.
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