At a time when relations between the traditional rivals of the US and Russia do not seem well with so many complicated files including the Syrian cause, Turkish President Recep Teyyip Erdogan has been trying to walk on the Russian and American tight ropes, in an attempt to achieve Ankara’s interests.
Washington supports Ankara in its opposition to the Syrian regime, bringing Turkey closer to the Gulf capitals and Tel Aviv, while Moscow provides Ankara with support against the Kurds. However, the question that arises is the following – the current Iranian-Turkish rapprochement tactical or strategic?
At present, following the 14th of April tripartite missile strike against Syria, it seems that Erdogan’s dance on Russian music may not be beneficial, especially after Turkey hailed the strikes against Damascus, which is rejected by Moscow and Tehran.
Erdogan has tried to play with the two superpowers in the absence of a consensus and full understanding between Ankara and Moscow regarding Afrin, Manbij and Idlib as well as some other Syrian opposition fighters.
Between Washington and Moscow
Today, Turkey is reaping from the conflicting interests of Moscow and Washington. In 2013 and early 2014, Turkish border cities became a chief logistical hub for foreign fighters seeking to enter Syria and Iraq to join ISIS and other rebel groups. By August 2015, Turkey did eventually tighten up security on its borders.
Though the Russians are dealing with the Turkish government at the top levels; yet, Moscow is not fully satisfied with Erdogan’s attitude and his perspective toward the Syrian conflict. Erdogan described as “very wrong” the approach of Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov to the future of Syria’s Afrin, where Turkey carried out an offensive to drive out the Kurdish YPG militia.
The lack of Arab presence and its inability to formulate new parameters for national and regional security have allowed Turkey and Iran to balance their regional roles within the Arab world. The following are the most important regional determinants.
It seems rapprochement between Ankara and Tehran is just a tactical move driven by regional and global developments and circumstancesShehab Al-Makahleh
Politically and strategically
Turkey moves according to an ideology based on exporting itself as a democratic state that sponsors its principles and supports them as an excuse to intervene in the internal affairs of Arab countries under the guise of supporting democracy.
The opportunity of the Arab Spring was the elixir of life for the Turkish project in passing its expansionist policy aimed at returning to the region by supporting demonstrations in some Arab countries including Syria and Egypt.
Turkey has been surrounded by enemies, and this has forced the Turkish government to play a role through intervention in internal affairs of the Arab countries on the basis that Arab countries’ instability is of interest to Turkey. Therefore, Turkey considered Arab revolutions or Arab Spring as a way to play an important role in shaping the security of the Arab region to suit its aspirations.
Economic and military
Turkey and Iran have given the military dimension an important role in shaping their regional role. Turkey used pre-emptive military intervention in its movements in the Arab region after adopting a defensive military approach based on protecting the borders. Turkey is also using its economic growth by branding itself as a country with Islamic economy to serve the Arab and Muslim countries.
In addition, Turkey does not cease to declare its right to the Ottoman historical heritage in the city of Mosul, which was part of Turkey for four centuries until WWI, which Turkey lost after the signing of the Treaty of Lausanne in 1923 and the Ankara Agreement of 1926 between Turkey, the UK and Iraq. Turkey has always declared its historical and international rights to be the area extending from Aleppo to Mosul.
Rapprochement with Tehran
The main idea with regard to the external political motives behind the Turkish-Iranian rapprochement is Turkey’s difficulty in achieving the goal it sought to bring about, driving Ankara to strive to lead the region by supporting Islamic groups, especially the Muslim Brotherhood, in Egypt and in some other Arab countries.
However, the fall of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt has been deemed a blow to Turkey’s regional ambitions. In this regard, it is possible to refer to Ankara’s efforts during the entire year of the rule of Mohammad Morsi to support Egypt politically and economically in order to overcome the difficulties it has faced and ultimately to consolidate the Muslim Brotherhood’s rule in Egypt.
Since the situation seems more complicated for Syria, Ankara was quick to support the Syrian revolution and worked in many positions to overthrow Bashar al-Assad’s regime. However, the recent developments in Syria were tectonic, especially in light of the Russian-US misunderstanding and the launch of a massive “military strike” on Syria.
The Syrian crisis showed the overlap of issues in the region and that no file can be resolved without resolving the other and that the regional players should be involved with super powers to bring solutions to these questions politically. Thus, the Syrian dilemma is looking more and more difficult to solve and radical Islamists have become the common enemy of all.
Economic motives have played an important role in stimulating Turkey’s rapprochement with Iran, especially in light of the problems that the Turkish economy. It seems that the rapprochement between Ankara and Tehran is just a tactical move driven by regional and global developments and circumstances. In general, there is a state of division between the observers and analysts on characterizing the nature of the Turkish move towards Iran.
The Turkish move came as a tactical step by which Ankara is trying to absorb the negative repercussions it has suffered as a result of developments in the region, whether in Egypt or Syria. Turkey, which was presenting itself as the spearhead of the project to topple President Bashar al-Assad’s regime, is suffering internal crises and the backlash of terrorist groups in Syria.
Shehab Al-Makahleh is Director of Geostrategic Media Center, senior media and political analyst in the Middle East, adviser to many international consultancies. He can be reached at: @shehabmakahleh and @Geostrat_ME.