1/01/2017

Bahrain shifts foreign policy with eye on Turkey

http://www.al-monitor.com/pulse/originals/2016/12/bahrain-turkey-boost-ties-islamic-state-iran.html


Gulf PULSE

نبض الخليج

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Bahrain's King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa attends the Gulf Cooperation
Council's 37th summit in Manama, Bahrain, Dec. 6, 2016. 

Author Giorgio CafieroPosted December 30, 2016


After the Islamic State (IS) released video footage on Dec. 22 of its
barbaric burning to death of two Turkish soldiers in northern Syria,
Bahraini officials immediately condemned the “terrorist brutal crime.”
Manama’s quick response was the latest sign of a growing
Bahraini-Turkish partnership aimed at fending off growing regional
security threats. Bahrain and other Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC)
members seek to deepen ties with Ankara, as the archipelago kingdom,
which is one of the Middle East’s brightest sectarian flashpoints,
sees itself as increasingly vulnerable to the rise of ultra-violent
Salafist jihadis as well as Iran’s ascendancy across the Arab world.

 Bahraini officials want to deepen their ties with
Turkey as regional politics become more unstable.


Since Turkey’s Justice and Development Party (AKP) came to power 14
years ago, Ankara’s bonds with GCC members have warmed significantly
with the Arab Gulf states welcoming Turkey’s shift from a “benign
neglect” policy vis-a-vis the GCC toward an “active engagement”
policy. This year, the GCC’s support for President Recep Tayyip
Erdogan’s government after the attempted coup and the council’s
subsequent decision to designate Fethullah Gulen’s movement (which
Ankara officials accuse of masterminding the failed coup) a terrorist
group underscore Bahrain's and other Arab Gulf states’ commitment to
deepening their ties with Turkey.

In October, Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu met with his GCC
counterparts in Saudi Arabia and released a joint Turkish-GCC
communique, which denounced “indiscriminate airstrikes on Syria’s
Aleppo” and expressed “deep regrets” in regard to the United Nations’
failure to bring peace to Aleppo. The communique emphasized “their
complete rejection of the use of Iraqi territory as a safe haven for
terrorist groups to carry out terror attacks, including smuggling of
weapons and explosives.”

Although Bahrain trades less with Turkey than the other five GCC
states, there are important security dimensions to the Manama-Ankara
relationship in which Bahrain is following the lead of Saudi Arabia
and Qatar by turning to Turkey for cooperation on regional crises. In
August, Bahrain’s King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa became the first Arab
leader to visit Turkey since the previous month’s failed coup. After
receiving a warm welcome from Erdogan, the two leaders signed numerous
agreements in the aviation, cultural, educational, legal and sports
sectors. Hamad and Erdogan also discussed their countries’ “strong
bilateral relations, regional and international issues and the latest
developments,” reported the Bahrain News Agency. Speaking before the
two delegations, Erdogan declared, “Turkey will never forget this
stance, which will remain engraved in our memory,” and Hamad hailed
the “importance of fraternal communication between” Bahrain and
Turkey.

For Manama, the possibility of Bahrain-born Turki al-Binali succeeding
Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the self-styled caliph of IS, is troublesome
given the millennial cleric’s potential to recruit more youthful Arab
Gulf citizens to his hateful cause. As IS fights to defend its control
of Mosul, Iraq, with 2017 set to be a decisive year for the future of
Raqqa, Syria, the caliphate may direct more violence toward new
targets in the region to demonstrate IS’ ability to remain a
substantial threat to regional security, even after losing its
strongholds in Iraq and Syria.

Bahrain, ruled by a pro-Western monarchy and known for its liberal
social norms (by Arab Gulf standards), is a target of IS propaganda.
Earlier this month, IS called on its followers to attack Bahrain in
the lead-up to US Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter’s visit to the
island kingdom. The video urged IS adherents to strike against the US
Navy’s Fifth Fleet and Bahrain’s Shiite citizens, delivering a message
to GCC officials about the IS interest in expanding operations to Arab
Gulf sheikdoms in 2017. As Turkey remains engaged in Operation
Euphrates Shield in Syria, and IS continues to escape the Turkish
security apparatus’ radar, having killed hundreds of Turks on Turkish
soil in acts of terrorism throughout this year, Manama and Ankara will
be keen on enhancing bilateral cooperation, including intelligence
sharing, to deal with the common threat of IS.

Iran’s activities across the region, particularly in the Gulf, loom
large in the minds of Bahraini authorities. Officials in Manama, like
their counterparts in Riyadh, see the Islamic Republic’s foreign
policy as an existential threat. Leaders in Tehran often use sharp
rhetoric to denounce the Khalifa family's legitimacy and revive older
territorial claims to the Persian Gulf archipelago country, announcing
that they still view Bahrain as Iran’s “14th province” despite the
shah relinquishing these claims in 1970. Since the Iranian Revolution
of 1979, the Bahrainis have regularly accused Tehran of sponsoring
subservice Shiite groups in the archipelago kingdom — the GCC’s only
Shiite-majority country — allegedly with the aim of toppling the
island kingdom’s Sunni rulers and creating a pro-Iranian Shiite
political order in Manama.

Turkey does not view the "Iranian threat" through a Bahraini or Saudi
lens. To the contrary, Turkey and Iran have deepened their economic
bonds since the AKP’s rise to power in 2002. Ankara strongly supported
the Iranian nuclear deal’s passage last year, and in July, officials
in Tehran quickly came to Erdogan’s side in the immediate aftermath of
the failed coup. As Ankara makes a geopolitical pivot to the East amid
heightened tension with Washington, Iran heavily factors into Turkey’s
foreign policy thinking. Furthermore, the question of Kurdistan is
likely to create more common ground between the two governments moving
forward.

Relations between Turkey and Iran, however, are no bed of roses.
Erdogan’s government sees Iran and the Shiite militias it backs in
Iraq as encroaching on land situated in Turkey’s historical sphere of
influence. Last year, Erdogan stated that Tehran’s efforts to combat
IS and “dominate the region” were “annoying Ankara.” As the battle for
Mosul continues to rage, the Iranian-backed government in Baghdad will
likely remain at loggerheads with Ankara. Turkey’s fundamental
interests in Mosul and the surrounding area include: weakening the
Kurdistan Workers Party and the influence of its Syrian offshoot, the
Democratic Union Party; defeating IS; safeguarding Iraq’s Turkmen
minority; regulating the flow of refugees into Turkey; and creating a
stable, pro-Turkish, Sunni-led order in Mosul after IS loses its grip.
Unquestionably, Ankara and Baghdad’s conflicting interests in the
future of Mosul will create issues for relations between Turkey and
Iran. Certainly, the rising influence of Iranian-backed militias in
Iraq is a common source of concern for both Bahraini and Turkish
officials who do not welcome the expansion and consolidation of
Iranian influence in Sunni Arab land.

Looking ahead to 2017, Turkey is set to play an important role in
Bahrain’s strategy for enhancing its peripheral balancing, as the
Middle East’s geopolitical order remains highly unstable and fluid.
Bahrain will continue working closely with its traditional alliances
in the GCC as well as the island kingdom’s traditional Western allies,
chiefly the United States and the United Kingdom. Yet primarily due to
Manama’s friction with the Barack Obama administration and grave
concerns about Donald Trump’s presidency, the Bahrainis are
increasingly nervous about remaining highly dependent on Washington
for their defense policy. Within this context, Bahrain is redefining
its foreign policy agenda, hedging its bets and turning to non-Western
and non-Arab Gulf states such as Turkey, as well as India and Russia,
as peripheral allies who share some of Manama’s key interests and
perceptions of various transnational threats.



Read more: http://www.al-monitor.com/pulse/originals/2016/12/bahrain-turkey-boost-ties-islamic-state-iran.html#ixzz4UXr1kYMT