US site: UAE to strengthen efforts against Turkey in Syria

On Jan. 30, the United Arab Emirates' minister of state for foreign affairs condemned Turkey’s plan to establish a buffer zone in northeastern Syria and said Ankara’s efforts to geographically isolate the Syrian Kurds worried both the UAE and the United States.


In an article published by the US Monitor website, writer Samuel Ramani points out that Anwar Gargash justified his criticisms of Turkish conduct in Syria by challenging Ankara’s conflation of Kurdish nationalism with terrorism and emphasizing the constructive role that Kurdish fighters played in defeating the Islamic State (IS) in Syria.

Gargash’s expressions of solidarity with Kurdish nationalist forces in Syria reflect the UAE’s desire to contain Turkish influence in Syria .

The UAE’s critical attitude towards Turkish belligerence in northeastern Syria is the product of a broader rivalry between Abu Dhabi and Ankara, which was triggered by Turkey’s alignment with Qatar, Ankara’s close ties with the Muslim Brotherhood and competing interests in the Horn of Africa.

The writer said, "tensions over these issues steadily intensified after Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan accused the UAE of supporting the 2016 coup against his government, but Syria was initially a secondary flashpoint for confrontation between Turkey and the UAE."

The extension of the UAE-Turkey geopolitical rivalry to Syria became apparent in January 2018, when Abu Dhabi stridently criticized Turkey’s decision to launch Operation Olive Branch and militarily intervene in the Kurdish majority region of Afrin. On Jan. 22, Gargash called for increased coordination between Arab countries on collective security matters. Throughout the offensive, UAE-based media outlets described the People’s Protection Units in Afrin as a resistance movement against Turkish occupation and stridently criticized the “looting” of Afrin by Turkish forces in March 2018.

The writer added, " Although the intensity of the conflict in northern Syria cooled after Turkey vanquished a pro-Syrian government insurgency in Afrin on March 21, the UAE continued to support Kurdish factions that resisted Turkey’s presence in northeastern Syria. In coordination with Saudi Arabia, UAE military advisers allegedly held a series of meetings with Kurdish Democratic Party and Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) officials at the US base in northeastern Syria and helped prepare Kurdish forces against an eventual Turkish military intervention.

While the scale of UAE cooperation with the Syrian Kurds has expanded due to the Turkish threat, the UAE is also seeking to establish itself as a mediator in the Syrian conflict. On Aug. 30, the UAE’s deputy permanent representative to the UN, Amira Al Hefeiti, emphasized the need for a political solution to the Syrian conflict.

The UAE’s decision to reopen its embassy in Damascus on Dec. 27 was described by Emirati media outlets as proof of Abu Dhabi’s desire to gain a seat at the table in the Syrian conflict resolution process. As the UAE is seeking to maintain its alliance with Saudi Arabia and showcase its foreign policy independence through signature diplomatic initiatives, staking out a more prominent diplomatic role in Syria is vital for Abu Dhabi’s power projection ambitions in the Arab world.

The writer noted "The UAE believes it can be an effective facilitator of dialogue between various Syrian factions because of its mediation experience during the early stages of the conflict."

The writer concluded, " Although the UAE’s alignment with the SDF has slipped under the radar of many analysts of the Syrian conflict, it signifies Abu Dhabi’s desire to step up its anti-Turkey containment efforts and ambitions of acting as a mediator in the Syrian conflict. As the UAE’s relations with Assad and the SDF continue to strengthen simultaneously, Abu Dhabi is well positioned to break out of Saudi Arabia’s shadow and establish itself as an important diplomatic stakeholder in Syria.


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