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Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 12 December 2018

In the Middle East, new threats and challenges emerge as old problems persist 

Turkey has joined Iran and Israel as a threat to the interests of the Arab world

Turkey, in Sheikh Abdullah’s words, has joined the ranks of Iran and Israel by “attacking Arab lands, Arab interests and interfering in Arab affairs”. Khalil Ashawi / Reuters
Turkey, in Sheikh Abdullah’s words, has joined the ranks of Iran and Israel by “attacking Arab lands, Arab interests and interfering in Arab affairs”. Khalil Ashawi / Reuters

On Sunday, Turkey’s flag was hoisted in Afrin after its troops, aided by Ankara-sponsored rebels, seized full control of the city. Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who authorised the cross-border operations into Syria in February, exulted in the news of the defeat of “terrorists”. Such is the complexity of the Syrian civil war that the “terrorists” in question – the Kurdish People’s Defence Units – happen to be allied with the United States. That two Nato allies find themselves on opposing sides in Syria is a measure of the gradual but profound ways in which the civil war there is reconfiguring the post-cold war security framework. The victory in Afrin will embolden Mr Erdogan, whose objective appears not merely to be to disrupt those he perceives to be adversaries of the Turkish state but to establish a firm hold over the region. As the Turkish government’s spokesman Bekir Bozdag said on Sunday, “Our work is not finished”.

Afrin is the first stop in what is likely to be a long campaign by Turkey. No one can fault the Arab states for looking askance at Turkey's unwise intervention in Syria. As Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed, the UAE’s Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation, said during a visit to Egypt on Sunday, there can be “no solution in Syria for any party that wants to resolve the matter militarily”. The Syrian people, though crushed, remain sovereign over their land. Turkey, in Sheikh Abdullah’s words, has joined the ranks of Iran and Israel by “attacking Arab lands, Arab interests and interfering in Arab affairs”.

Ankara has already undermined the security interests of Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Egypt and Bahrain by helping Qatar circumvent the boycott imposed on it by this quartet of nations in response to Doha’s longstanding support for terrorist groups. Beyond this, the arms supplies to extremist factions in Libya facilitated by Turkey and Qatar have wreaked havoc in a country seeking desperately to attain stability after years of conflict. As new challenges surface, old problems persist. The plight of the Palestinians, who continue to be harassed and persecuted by Israel, has been made worse by the setbacks to the Egypt-brokered deal between Fatah and Hamas following last week’s attack on the Palestinian Authority’s prime minister’s convoy during a visit to Gaza. But as Sheikh Abdullah stated as he reaffirmed the UAE’s support for the people of Gaza and condemned the attack on the PA leadership, reconciliation should not be derailed. The only beneficiaries of such an outcome will be the enemies of the Palestinian quest for statehood. The upshot of the emerging threats and challenges in the region is the deepening cooperation between Riyadh, Abu Dhabi and Cairo. Their resolve to defend the interests of the Arab world is a source of reassurance.