Turk­ish-Ira­nian emerg­ing al­liance

Tehran Times - - ANALYSIS - By Man­ish Rai

Iran and Turkey, the two non-Arab Mid­dle Eastern states, are among the largest and most pop­u­lous in the re­gion. The for­mer oc­cu­pies a strate­gic lo­ca­tion on the Per­sian Gulf and the Strait of Hor­muz, while the lat­ter con­trols the Straits the Bosporus, the Sea of Mar­mara, the Dar­danelles that link the Black and Aegean Seas. The two na­tions de­scend from the most an­cient civ­i­liza­tions in the world and have strong na­tional iden­ti­ties. Turkey and Iran have been mir­ror images of one an­other, rarely see­ing eye to eye but un­able to part ways due to their ge­o­graph­i­cal prox­im­ity. Turks were ex­posed to Per­sian cul­ture on their move west­ward and in­her­ited in­deli­ble po­lit­i­cal and reli­gious lega­cies. Iran is home to a large Tur­kic mi­nor­ity, and his­tor­i­cally, Per­sia was ruled by Turk­ish royal fam­i­lies such as the Safavids and the Qa­jars. In the mod­ern times, as well there was al­ways a co­op­er­a­tion be­tween th­ese two neigh­bour­ing na­tions. In the 1920s, a new Turkey un­der Mustafa Ke­mal Ataturk and a new Iran un­der Shah Reza Pahlavi signed the Saad­abad Pact for non-ag­gres­sion and mu­tual de­fence against out­side en­e­mies. The two na­tions later forged the Bagh­dad Pact, which in­cluded the newly in­de­pen­dent Iraq. Even the Is­lamic Rev­o­lu­tion of Iran in 1979 did not shake the solid foun­da­tions of mu­tual re­la­tions. While al­most all na­tions quickly im­posed or re-im­posed visas for Ira­ni­ans, Turkey kept its doors open to visi­tors and refugees from Iran.

But be­cause of Syr­ian con­flict the re­la­tions be­tween two coun­tries were at all­time low as Turkey and Iran have been on op­po­site sides of the con­flict in Syria. But the uni­lat­eral strate­gic choices of both have not suc­ceeded on the ground. Nei­ther Turkey’s choice to seek the top­pling of Syr­ian President Bashar al-As­sad nor Iran’s pol­icy of restor­ing sta­bil­ity in a uni­fied Syria has ma­te­ri­al­ized. More­over, Iran and Turkey have been tar­geted by ISIS hence both re­alised that they have com­mon threat. The prob­lem of Kurds also seems to bring Ankara and Tehran closer to­gether. The Turk­ish gov­ern­ment is cur­rently wag­ing an open and bloody war against Kur­dish op­po­si­tion led by PKK and Syr­ian Kur­dish or­gan­i­sa­tions are ac­cused of co­op­er­a­tion with the United States and Is­rael which con­cern Iran. There­fore, Kurds are be­com­ing a com­mon prob­lem for Ankara and Tehran hence both the na­tions are ex­plor­ing av­enues to for­mu­late joint anti Kur­dish strategy. Most re­cently Saudi-Qatar cri­sis brought Turkey and Iran even closer. As both the na­tions are sup­port­ing Qatar. Turkey’s par­lia­ment passed the bill for in­creased de­ploy­ment of Turk­ish troops in Qatar for pro­tec­tion of Qatari Royal fam­ily and Iran had of­fered to send food to Qatar by sea.

Let’s have a look on how the two na­tions are co­op­er­at­ing with each other on mul­ti­ple fronts. Both sides have been ex­plor­ing to­gether diplo­matic so­lu­tions to the Syria war. As Ankara and Tehran have agreed to speed up the As­tana talks aimed at fa­cil­i­tat­ing a po­lit­i­cal so­lu­tion to the Syr­ian cri­sis. There is grow­ing en­ergy and com­mer­cial re­la­tions be­tween Turkey and Iran. Turk­ish President on his re­cent visit to Iran reaf­firmed Turkey’s de­ter­mi­na­tion to in­crease trade with Iran to $30 bil­lion an­nu­ally, say­ing Ankara saw no ob­sta­cle to the de­vel­op­ment of its co­op­er­a­tion with Tehran. An­other im­por­tant area of co­op­er­a­tion is Iraq as Iraq will like to set­tle on a po­lit­i­cal con­do­minium over the Kurds. Ankara wields in­flu­ence over one of the KRG’s two main ri­val fac­tions (the Kur­dis­tan Demo­cratic Party) and Tehran main­tains hege­mony over the other (the Pa­tri­otic Union of Kur­dis­tan). This sug­gests that Ankara and Tehran will also be the non-IS op­po­si­tion’s main spon­sor in the north go­ing for­ward.

Turkey and Iran have some ar­eas of dis­agree­ment but still they have agreed to com­part­men­tal­ize their re­la­tions on dif­fer­ent fronts. For in­stance, while the two na­tions will con­tinue to dis­agree on some as­pects like there in­di­vid­ual Syria pol­icy (e.g., As­sad’s fu­ture), they would both co­op­er­ate on other ar­eas like- eco­nomic, Kur­dish pol­icy and anti IS strategy. In the longer-term Tehran knows that Turkey will play a key role in build­ing po­ten­tial bridges be­tween Iran and the West. Ankara knows that if it seeks greater in­flu­ence within all cor­ners of the Arab world, in­clud­ing Shia pop­u­la­tions, a cor­dial re­la­tion­ship with Iran is im­por­tant. Thus, while the re­gional land­scape re­mains com­plex and in mo­tion, Turkey and Iran have more to gain than lose by con­tin­u­ing to build stronger ties. But one thing is very much clear that the close­ness of th­ese two play­ers will cre­ate a strong po­lit­i­cal, se­cu­rity and eco­nomic bloc in the Mid­dle East in com­ing times. Th­ese two im­por­tant na­tions of the re­gion should also re­alise that by forg­ing a re­newed al­liance among them­selves they also shared a greater re­spon­si­bil­ity to con­trib­ute for se­cure and sta­ble re­gional or­der in which there is no place for ex­trem­ism and sec­tar­i­an­ism.

While the re­gional land­scape re­mains com­plex and in mo­tion, Turkey and Iran have more to gain than lose by con­tin­u­ing to build stronger ties, and the close­ness of th­ese two play­ers will cre­ate a strong po­lit­i­cal, se­cu­rity and eco­nomic bloc in the Mid­dle East in com­ing times.

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