Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan claimed to be confused by what he called Saudi Arabia’s “contradiction” in seeking to buy Turkish drones on the one hand while on the other joining in military air exercises with Greece in the eastern Mediterranean.
During a press conference this Tuesday in Ankara with President Milorad Dodik, the Serb chairman of Bosnia’s three-man inter-ethnic presidency, Erdogan criticised the recent joint drill between Saudi Arabia and Greece, which is locked in dispute with Ankara over maritime jurisdiction in the eastern Mediterranean.
“But on the other hand,” said Erdogan, “right now there is request from Saudi Arabia for armed UAVs from Turkey. Those are the latest developments”.
But Saudi political sources quickly denied that Riyadh had sought to purchase drones from Turkey.
Turkish political analyst Aydin Sezer confirmed to The Arab Weekly that it was the other way round; the offer was in fact made by President Erdogan to the Saudi monarch .
The Saudi sources said that it was Erdogan who, three months ago, sought to sell the armed unmanned aerial vehicles to Saudi Arabia during a phone call with King Salman bin Abdulaziz.
Former Turkish Foreign Minister Yasar Yakis, once an ambassador to Saudi Arabia, confirmed that Erdogan had always wanted to sell drones to the kingdom in a bid to improve relations with Riyadh.
Talking to The Arab Weekly, Yakis said, “Erdogan felt that his isolation intensified with the Biden administration’s arrival at the White House. This prompted him to review his calculations and open up to Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Israel.”
Erdogan had relied very much on the new US administration’s intention to put Saudi Arabia on the spot and had pinned high hopes on the release of the CIA report into the killing of the Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi.
The declassified report was based on Turkish information as well as video and audio files that were reportedly captured by Turkish wire-tapping devices planted inside the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul.
But the release of the CIA document, despite the great media fanfare that surrounded it, did not change much in the basic relationship between Saudi Arabia and the United States.
Turkish political analyst Aydin Sezer attributed Erdogan’s eagerness to woo Riyadh to Turkey’s deteriorating economic position and the pressure exerted by the Joe Biden administration. These factors, he said, have compelled Ankara to open up to other countries and work to lessen foreign animosities .
However, Sezer expressed his surprise at the Turkish rush for rapprochement with Saudi Arabia, at a time when Riyadh was closing Turkish schools and preventing the import of Turkish goods.
“We should not be surprised by the Saudi rejection of the impulsive statements coming from Turkish politicians, including the president and the foreign affairs and defence ministers, about rapprochement with Riyadh,” said Turkish political writer Ergun Babahan.
“Saudi Arabia is still turning back Turkish trucks from customs, so how can they request drones from Ankara?” Babahan added.
Veteran Turkish political analyst Ilhan Tanir considers that Erdogan’s attempts at mending fences with the Saudis and Egyptians to be meaningless without comprehensive diplomatic efforts that break Turkey’s wider isolation in the region.
“Despite Ankara’s efforts for rapprochement, Saudi Arabia and Egypt have not reciprocated,” Tanir told The Arab Weekly. “Instead, Turkey’s neighbours in the region continue their rapprochement with each other in the energy and military sectors.”
Saudi F-15C fighters, with full crews, have participated during the last few days in a training exercise with Greece on the eastern Mediterranean island of Crete.
Gulf affairs experts believe that Erdogan has underestimated Riyadh’s power and influence when in recent years he has tried to apply political and media pressure on the kingdom.
They stress that the Saudis, who avoid issuing statements and waging media battles, know when to strike a blow that delivers the necessary message to their opponents.
They add that Saudi public and official anger at Turkey was not limited to Ankara’s exploitation of the Khashoggi affair and its subsequent attempts at smearing the kingdom and its leaders. It actually began after Erdogan sought to undermine the position of Saudi Arabia as the main Sunni power in the Middle East through an alliance with the Iranian regime and Sunni groupings such as Hamas and the Muslim Brotherhood.
The Turkish president, whose party came to power in 2002, has sought to portray himself as a visionary who aims “to make Turkey great again” at home and abroad.
He has said in the past that the country would no longer wait for problems or opponents to “knock on our door,” but “will go instead and find them wherever they are and hit them hard.”