Whisper of involvement in Yemen
Recently and after the end of the conflict in Karabakh region in which Turkey was trying to have a serious military, field operation and political involvement, there are whispers of the Turkish involvement in the Yemen case. This is while Yasin Aktay, Erdogan’s chief advisor and one of his main aids, published an article in Yeni Safak newspaper affiliated with the ruling AK Party in Turkey in which he raised the issue of possible Turkish engagement in the Yemen war. “As Turkey saved Libya and Azerbaijan, will it also be engaged in the Operation Decisive Storm to save Yemen?” he asked. This is a dangerous and threatening message for the Saudis to alarm them that they should prepare for the Turkish involvement in Yemen.
The objective of Turkey in Yemen involvement
At the first glance, there is a slight relevance in geopolitical, field operational and economic terms between Turkey and Yemen in order to analyze and justify the Ankara’s engagement in the Yemen case. Given the specific conditions of Yemen particularly in terms of t role of foreign players as well as the arrangement of foreign and domestic elements engaged in the Yemen war and the level and domain of their role-playing, which were determined from the beginning of the war and conflict, Yemen may not have been a main target of the Turkish foreign policy. However, in spite of all such considerations, Turkey is entering Yemen. The main objectives of Turkey are as following:
- The necessity of advancing the neo-Ottoman policy
The first objective could be traced in the neo-Ottoman policy of the incumbent Turkish government in West Asia. Within the framework of such a policy, Turkey is trying to expand its sphere of influence with the goal of reviving the political (and not territorial) influence and dignity of the former Ottoman Empire which also encompassed Yemen as its territory but lost it in 1918. The revival of the greatness and dignity of the former Ottoman Empire is one of the main foreign policy goals of the Erdogan government which has been trying hard to realize it. In the belief of Erdogan who plays a distinguished role in the main foreign policy issues of Turkey, this country is suffering from a historical oppression which he believes was imposed on Turkey after the First World War by the allied forces which ultimately led to the collapse of the Ottoman Empire. Erdogan still feels strong bonds with the Ottoman Empire and is trying hard to revive it in the today’s world. And Erdogan is ready to pay its price. The belief in historical oppression and liberation from such oppression which has resulted in new ambitions originating from the Ottoman traditions is the main driving force and source of many behaviours and regional and trans-regional policies of Turkey under the leadership of Erdogan during the past several years. Even though Yemen was located far from the capital of the Ottoman Empire, it was of special significance for Istanbul. On one hand, control over Yemen could have provided the necessary legitimacy for the Ottoman Empire given the proximity and governance through Yemen over Mecca and Medina as the heart of the Muslim world. On the other hand, Yemen’s location and ports at the crossroad of regional commerce in the Red Sea were considered to be one of the main ports of trade of the east and west with India. Therefore, Yemen is located in one of the world’s most important marine corridors and a neighbouring state for Saudi Arabia. This is of great significance for Turkey.
- The necessity arising from the Muslim Brotherhood in foreign policy
The second reason behind Ankara’s efforts to be engaged in the case of Yemen is hidden in the Turkey foreign policy based on the approaches close to the Muslim Brotherhood. Experience indicates that Turkey has rendered serious support for Muslim Brotherhood groups anywhere capable of playing a significant role in the domestic equations of a country or region. Even though such a serious support required presence in regional trouble spots, Turkey has put it high on its agenda. Libya and Turkey’s support provided to the National Unity government which is aligned with Muslim Brotherhood ideology could be interpreted in this angel. From this viewpoint, Turkey’s efforts to be engaged in the case of Yemen are related to Ankara’s support for a Muslim Brotherhood group called al-Islah (Yemeni Congregation for Reform) Party which was an important part of the resigned government of al-Hadi. The al-Islah party, whose members are in the Marib Province–a traditional base of influence and social birthplace of Muslim Brotherhood–has faced differences and gaps in recent months with the Saudis and al-Hadi as the operational events on the ground in Yemen have reached a deadlock. Turkey in recent months has been trying to use al-Islah with tendency to Muslim Brotherhood ideology and requires foreign support to maintain its political status to create tension with Saudi Arabia. Al-Islah can pave the way for the Turkish engagement in the war in Yemen. From this viewpoint, al-Islah would determine the quality and quantity of the role Turkey can play in Yemen. Involvement and presence in Yemen by Turkey is compatible with the Islamist ideology of the Muslim Brotherhood.
- Accomplishing a regional supremacy through weakening Saudi Arabia
The rivalry between Ankara and Riyadh could form another solid ground for Turkey—which benefits from the potential created by the Muslim Brotherhood in Yemen— to engage in the Yemen case. The Turkish government is well aware that the Saudis feel vulnerable in Yemen more than any other place defined by Saudi Arabia as its strategic depth. Turkey is trying to gain a high political status in the Muslim world and brand itself as the superpower of the region of West Asia. Efforts to attain regional supremacy have placed Turkey in more confrontation with Saudi Arabia compared to other countries. From the viewpoint of Saudis, Turkey’s efforts to gain supremacy in the Muslim world means nothing but the undermining status of Wahhabism (and the financial benefits and economic, political and social capitals arising from Wahhabism) which has been theorized in the Saudi royal court against the Muslim Brotherhood. For this reason, the board of senior Ulemas of the Saudi royal court recently issued a fatwa (religious edict) and declared Muslim Brotherhood a terrorist organization and a deviated and dispersive group which does not represent Islam—something which raised the agony of Ankara alongside the sanctions imposed on the purchase of Turkish goods in Saudi Arabia and the prohibition of the travel of Saudi citizens as tourists to Turkey. All these have made the Erdogan government more determined and insistent on entering the case of Yemen with the goal of weakening Saudi Arabia in political and field operational equations.
The study of recent developments demonstrates signs of Turkish involvement in the Yemen case with the objectives outlined above. This is while some informed military and security sources in the region claim to have spotted Turkish drones getting close to the line of fire in South Yemen to combat forces commanded by the United Arab Emirates. Turkish involvement as a new player with its objectives and special interests in Yemen would add to the complexities of the situation in Yemen while ultimately resulting in the weakening of the Saudi front in the political, security and field operational equations in Yemen.