Arab League Summit: The empty leadership chair in Doha
After patching up the feud between Israel and Turkey, US President Barack Obama faces a much tougher ordeal: brokering ties between Turkey and Saudi Arabia, debkafile’s Middle East sources report. To address the looming Syrian chemical arms crisis, President Obama needs a unified Arab-Islamic front to join the campaign against Bashar Assad. He must therefore confer the seal of leadership on either of the two rival blocs: Saudi Arabia, Jordan and Abu Dhabi, or Turkey and Qatar.
The rivalry between the two camps is unresolved for lack of an acknowledged leader.
Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu made the gesture of apologizing to Ankara for the 2010 flotilla incident on the assumption that Obama had put in place an anti-Assad front consisting of Israel, Turkey, Qatar and Egypt for grappling with the escalating Syrian menace.
Pushed by the US president, Netanyahu followed the Turkish-Qatari-Egyptian track established in Cairo last November through which the US ended Israel's Gaza Strip operation against Hamas.
But this track has since been superceded by subsequent events and innate cross-divisions.
In the first place, most Arab rulers, especially the Saudi and Jordanian kings and the United Arab Emirates, look askance on what they regard as Qatar’s outlandish connection with non-Arab Turkey and want no truck with its prime minister, Tayyip Erdogan. This has led him to vent his frustration on Israel in search of an Arab consensus for his leadership role.
Because the US president needs Jordan’s cooperation, which is subject to Saudi approval, he must approach the uphill task of establishing a working relationship between Riyadh and Ankara, which is just as necessary as the Israeli-Turkish reconciliation.
The Arab summit in Doha, Qatar (Tuesday-Wednesday, March 26-27), while divided on a whole gamut of issues, has agreed that rapprochement with Turkey is a non-starter.
Saudi King Abdullah and his strategic advisers will on no account follow the course Prime Minister Netanyahu accepted at the end of Obama's visit Friday, March 22, which placed the Syrian issue in the hands of Turkey and Qatar, any more than he tolerated the US-brokered deal for assigning the Gaza Strip to Turkish-Qatari patronage.
On top of his antipathy for the Turkish leader, the Saudi monarch still harbors a deep grudge for the way in the 2011 Libyan war that Qatar’s secret service and special forces took charge with Obama’s blessing of running the Arab support-and-arms pipeline to the various Libyan opposition militias.
The fallout of this policy is manifest from Tripoli to Benghazi to this day. It accounts for the failure of central government to take hold in the face of the vigorous radical Islamic militias rampant in the country – some of which are tied to the Muslim Brotherhood, others to al Qaeda.
The Saudi and Jordanian monarchs are resolved at all costs to prevent a repeat of the Libyan debacle in Syria. In no circumstances will they put up with Muslim Brotherhood and/or al Qaeda rule succeeding Bashar Assad in Damascus.
The deep divisions among the Arab rulers in Doha found absurd expression in their steps on Syria: One was to seat the Syrian opposition leader Mouaz al-Khatib against his will in Bashar Assad’s old chair at the round table. A week earlier, al Khatib resigned as president of the Syrian National Coalition.
The other was summit endorsement for Arab arms supplies to the Syrian rebels, more than a year after those supplies came on tap – without, however, achieving their purpose of toppling Assad.
These exercises in futility were dictated by two facts:
1. The rift between the Saudi-UAE-Jordan bloc and the Qatar-Turkey bloc persists.
2. This rift is reflected in the deepening frictions among the disparate Syrian rebel groups and serves to aggravate their already towering difficulty in choosing a consensual leader for their cause.
The leadership failure malaise not only afflicts Tripoli, Tunis, Cairo, Sana and Damascus, but the Arab League itself as would-be spokesman for a world region.
debkafile's Middle East sources report that Turkey’s Erdogan eyes the empty chair at the head of the Arab summit table when he touts Israel’s apology as a “huge victory” for his foreign policy.
In truth, this “huge victory” exists only in Erdogan’s mind. The apology formula finalized in the three-way phone call between himself, Netanyahu and Obama on Friday, March 22, was put before him three months ago. It wasn’t Israel who had to be persuaded to make this gesture for shelving their quarrel, as he claims, but Erdogan who refused to accept it.
In fact, his hand was forced into reconciliation by the US president, just as Netanyahu’s was. The Turkish premier’s claims that he is holding Israel on trial for making good on the conditions he laid down are so much swagger. In fact, Ankara is on trial in Washington: The next steps on Syria will be determined by President Obama and his choice between the Saudi-Jordanian-Abu Dhabi bloc and the Qatar-Turkish partnership for leading the Muslim-Arab front against Bashar Assad.
But Erdogan prefers to keep his awkward position from becoming known to the Turkish public as well as Israel's response to Ankara's need for cooperation in essential fields as debkafile revealed on March 23.