Is there really a Turkey-Iran rapprochement?
Can common concerns about US policies in the Middle East and Kurdish statehood ambitions bring Turkey and Iran together? Turkish-Iranian relations have always defied any general characterisation. The two neighbours have never had a straightforward alliance, feud, cooperation or rivalry. Instead, their relationship always carried all these elements simultaneously. There have been times in which the relationship has seemed to be tilting one way or another, and this has generated more debate, controversy and confusion about the nature and future course of the relations between the two countries. We are now passing through such a period. Turkish-Iranian relations are now being seen as moving towards cooperation, if not alliance-building. Such a characterisation, however, is premature and is reading too much into diplomatic niceties. In recent times, the diplomatic traffic between Ankara and Tehran seems to have intensified. As recently as August, a large Iranian military delegation headed by military chief of staff Mohammad Hossein Bagheri visited Ankara, meeting their military counterparts as well as President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. The latter is also expected to pay a visit to Tehran soon. This recent uptick in diplomatic activity should be seen in the context of a recent convergence of concerns and threat perceptions in the Middle East. However, it should not be interpreted as anything more than that, as Turkey and Iran continue to have diverging, if not conflicting, interests, especially in Iraq and Syria. Common concerns A number of common concerns have recent- ly emerged between Turkey and Iran, which has facilitated the recent thaw in relations. Two factors have been particularly important. First of all, the struggle to establish a postArab Spring regional order has generated anxiety in both Ankara and Tehran. The most obvious manifestation of this struggle was on full display during the latest Gulf crisis. Neither Iran nor Turkey regarded this crisis as an isolated confrontation between 4atar and the Gulf-Arab coalition. The Saudi-Emirati-Egyptian axis is trying to establish a new regional order supported by the Trump administration and Israel, and condoned by countries like Jordan. The logical other of this alliance is political Islam, and by extension Turkey, and the publicly announced enemy is Iran. Therefore, this new regional order, if imposed, would be detrimental to the interests of both regional powers. Turkey and Iran both opposed the Saudi-led block’s moves against 4atar. In fact, during the initial phase of the crisis, Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif paid a rare visit to Turkey to discuss, among other issues, what was happening in the Gulf.