Turkish-Iranian Rivalry on the Rise
by Daniel Pipes
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Turkey and Iran are two of the largest, most central, advanced, and influential countries of the Middle East; and their governments have a history of rivalry going back to Ottoman-Safavid times and as recent as the 1990s. The past decade, however, has been a time of good relations as both countries experiment with Islamism.
I see, however, that tensions between these two regional heavyweights are increasing and predict they will continue to do so, with who-knows-what endpoint. This weblog entry notes in reverse chronological order some of the more interesting developments in their relationship.
Arab upheavals: H. Akın Ünver of Kadir Has University argues that the outbreak of revolts prompted the Syrian and Iranian regimes to behave in ways "determined by sectarian priorities," which then caused Turkey's Islamists to turn against the Assad and mullahs. (December 21, 2012)
Patriot missiles: Maj. Gen. Hassan Firouzabadi, the chief of staff of the Iranian Armed Forces, said Dec. 15 that deploying NATO Patriot missiles to Turkey could lead to world war: "Each of the Patriot missiles constitutes a black mark on the global map. They are planning a world war and that is very dangerous for the future of mankind and Europe in particular." (December 16, 2012)
Syria: Bülent Arınç, Turkey's deputy foreign minister, accused Tehran of betraying Islamic principles in keeping silent about the Assad regime's oppression: "Oh, the Islamic Republic of Iran! You carry the word 'Islamic' in your name, and I don't know how worthy you are [of that name], but did you utter a single sentence about the last two days' events in Syria?" Savas Genc, associate professor of international relations at Istanbul's Fatih University, predicts that "The competition between Iran and Turkey is going to be much harder than before." (February 12, 2012)
NATO missile system: Hossein Ebrahimi, the vice-chairman of the Iranian Parliament's National Security and Foreign Policy Commission, warned that an attack on Iran would lead to its taking out the NATO missile system based in Turkey. In an interview with Shark newspaper, the Iranian MP said that hitting the targets in Turkey is Iran's natural right, and that this will definitely be carried out: "In the case of an attack against us, defending is our natural right." (December 13, 2011)
NATO missile system: Amir Ali Hajizadeh, aerospace commander brigadier general of the Islamic Revolution Guards Corps, has warned that Iranian forces will target the NATO missile shield in Turkey in response to an attack:
(November 26, 2011)
PKK: Soner Cagaptay explains "Why Syria and Iran Are Becoming Turkey's Enemies, Again":
(October 29, 2011)
Power game: Soner Cagaptay, director of the Turkish Research Program at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, looks at "Turkish-Iranian Rivalry Redux":
(October 17, 2011)
Syria: Reviewing Turkish foreign policy, Ely Carmon notes that tensions over Syria have led to many changes in the relationship:
(September 4, 2011)
Installing NATO radar: Ankara agreed to install a U.S.-designed radar system as part of a NATO defensive shield against missiles, mainly from Iran. In reporting on this development, the New York Times notes that the Turkish decision "pleased American military officials but was greeted with conspicuous silence by Iran, one of the perceived threats. The decision by Turkey, a NATO member …, came against a backdrop of new Turkish frictions with Iran. The decision also suggested that Turkey may be shifting closer to the American view that Iran's military assertiveness, most notably its frequent boasts about its growing missile abilities, is a cause for concern." The coverage goes on:
(September 2, 2011)
Hezbollah: Süddeutsche Zeitung on April 30 quoted Western diplomats saying that Turkish authorities stopped a truck containing a large weapons shipment intended for Hezbollah at Kilis, near Turkey's border with Syria. (August 4, 2011)
Syria: On March 31, Ankara informed the U.N. Security Council about seizing a weapons shipment, listed as "auto spare parts," that Iranians were trying to export on a Syria-bound plane.
More broadly, the ex-CIA spy who goes by Reza Khalili notes how differently the two regimes have responded to the Syrian uprising against Bashar al-Assad: "the ongoing protests in Syria have the Iranian leadership worried. The survival of the Syrian dictator, Bashar al-Assad, is essential to the dictatorial Islamic regime in Tehran because Syria provides the very gateway to Iran's expansion of power in the Middle East and its extremist policies against Israel and the United States." In contrast, "Neighboring Turkey has denounced the Syrian slaughter. Thousands of fearful residents from the northern regions of Syria have taken refuge in Turkey."
Khalili reports that
(July 25, 2011)
Terrorism in Turkey: According to Abdullah Bozkurt, "Turkey fights Iran-backed al-Qaeda," Iranian intelligence services are using Al-Qaeda and other groups to engage in terrorism in Turkey as well as in Syria. Indeed, "Iran is the key suspect in providing funds, logistics and non-Iranian recruits to al-Qaeda terror cells targeting national interests of Turkey." More: Iranian intelligence has sent high-profile operatives to Turkey "to create an impression that [it is]associated with al-Qaeda terror." (October 25, 2013)
The counteragument: Jonathan Schanzer runs through the ways in which Ankara helps Tehran, and it's a long & important list, in "Is Turkey Abetting Iran?" at The National Interest (November 1, 2013)
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