Turkey emerging as leader of a new Middle East bloc - analyst

In addition to existing pro and anti-Iranian camps in the Middle East, a third bloc with a Sunni Islamist orientation is also emerging, turning Turkey into a regional player, Hussein Ibish, a senior resident scholar at the Arab Gulf States Institute in Washington, wrote for Bloomberg on Thursday. 

Ibish said the United States failed to grasp the rapid changes occurring in the Middle East, and therefore cannot formulate effective policies to respond. 

Turkey was in the pro-American group, along with Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Egypt, Jordan and Israel, when a civil war erupted in Syria in 2011. 

But Washington’s support for the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) in the fight against Islamic State (ISIS) in Syria led to Turkey drifting away from the pro-American bloc. Turkey sees the YPG as an extension of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) and intends to limit its territorial gains in northern Syria. 

The divergence of interests between two NATO allies, pushed Turkey to forging a partnership with Russia and Iran in Syria, while Turkey’s support for Qatar in 2017 against a boycott led by Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Bahrain and Egypt, also consolidated its role in the region, Ibish said. 

Qatar and Turkey both back the Sunni Islamist Muslim Brotherhood movement, and Qatar's support for those organisations, including Hamas, was a major cause of the boycott, according to Ibish. As Turkey and Qatar are growing closer to Iran, Israel and most pro-American Arab states are alarmed that this Turkish-led coalition might weaken the anti-anti-Iranian camp, the analyst said. 

“Now that Turkey is no longer a U.S. partner in the Middle East and has an agenda that clashes with the interests of the U.S. and its Israeli and Arab allies, changes in U.S. attitudes are required,” Ibish said.

According to the analyst, Washington should consider developing alternatives to Incirlik Air Base in southern Turkey and cutting back military cooperation with Ankara.