Iran and Turkey are two-bit players in a region prone to instability

Khaleej Times

After a brief diplomatic honeymoon mostly sustained by propaganda and wishful thinking, relations between Iran and Turkey appear to have hit a new low with Tehran and Ankara trading accusations and threats. Tehran claims that Ankara harbours neo-Ottoman imperial ambitions with dreams of dominating Iraq and Syria. For its part, Ankara accuses Tehran of harping on sectarian themes to create a mini-empire in the Levant with access to the Mediterranean.

It is too early to say how this new tension might unfold.

But one thing is certain: in opting for confrontation both sides are acting against a tradition of good neighbourliness that dates back to the early 20th century.

In the checkered history of Iran’s relations with neighbours in the past century, ties with Turkey always stood out as an exception. By the end of the 19th century the two nations, exhausted by endless wars against each other over the previous 200 years, were geriatric empires further wounded by decades of struggle against European colonialism and Russian imperialism – to which both had lost vast chunks of territory.

In the 1920s new Turkey under Ataturk and new Iran under Reza Shah Pahlavi decided to transform the enmity of the past into friendship for the future by forging the Saadabad Pact for non-aggression and mutual defense against outside enemies.

The two nations later forged the Baghdad Pact, which also included the newly independent Iraq, and after Iraq fell under a pro-Soviet military regime, CENTO was formed, another military pact which included Pakistan and Great Britain with the US as an associate member.

By the end of 1950s, Irano-Turkish relations were plain sailing. A Turkish ambassador in Tehran could easily feel he was on a prolonged holiday while his Iranian counterparty in Ankara was often a senior figure sent there for a comfortable retirement.

Even the seizure of power by the clerics in 1979 didn’t shake the solid foundations of decades’ old relations. While almost all nations quickly imposed or re-imposed visas for Iranians, Turkey kept its doors open to visitors and refugees from Iran.

Over the past four decades at least half of the estimated eight million Iranians fled the country since the clerics came to power.

More importantly, perhaps, Turkey has helped Iran beat the many sanctions imposed against the Islamic Republic by Western powers because of Iranian involvement in terrorism and the alleged development of nuclear weapons.

Iran has reciprocated by helping Turkey keep its turbulent Kurds in check and prevent Iraqi Kurds from full secession that could cause ripples in the rest of the region with Kurdish minorities.

Only a few a months ago, some Western observers were talking about a new Tehran-Ankara-Moscow axis to reshape an alliance that could fall apart even before it is fully put in place. This has now happened. With Obama administration gone, Turkey, it seems, has decided to re-tie the knot with its old American ally.

President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s administration has announced a set of new sanctions against Russia, including a ban on ships from Russian ports in the Sea of Azov, in effect turning Russia into a landlocked nation.

At the same time, the prospect of the US forging a new alliance with Tehran under the “moderate” faction of the clerics is no longer taken seriously. The new Trump administration may be all at sea regarding its foreign policy but is unlikely to pin any hope on Tehran changing behaviour under a “moderate” faction, which was largely been a figment of Obama’s imagination.

With the US likely to make a comeback as a nation-state pursuing its global interests rather than a vehicle for ideological illusions (like in the case of Obama), American power might, once again, become a major factor in stabilising a turbulent region.

Trump’s behaviour notwithstanding, Ankara seems to believe that the US is poised to return as a serious power in the Middle East. In this case, Turkey would have no need of dubious alliances with an old enemy like Russia or a fickle friend like Iran.

The current line of thinking in Turkey is pinned on hopes that once Erdogan achieves his goal of imposing a new Constitution through a referendum, he would have a free hand to seek an important place for Turkey in a new regional grouping that would include the US and its Middle Eastern allies.

With Pakistan also starting to come off the fence, prospects of a broad alliance spanning the “arc of crisis” from the Subcontinent to the Atlantic Ocean becomes more serious.

That could leave Iran more isolated than ever and more dependent on Russia’s goodwill. However, Iranian policymakers know that Russia would never accept Iran as an equal partner.

By assuming exclusive control of the Syrian dossier in support of President Bashar Al Assad’s faction, Russia hopes to deprive Iran of the cards it had to play with in the war-torn Arab nation.

If, as Ankara now seems to think, the US returns to the Middle East in a leading position, the most that Turkey could aspire for would be the position of a second or third fiddle. This means saying goodbye to any neo-Ottoman dreams that Erdogan might have nurtured.

And if Russia manages to secure a side chair at the putative banquet for reshaping the Middle East, the last thing that President Vladimir Putin might want is to have a devious Iranian cleric tagged at his tailcoat.

In other words Turkey and Iran might end up ruining their old relations in exchange for meagre rewards including playing Man Friday to either America or Russia. Dreams of empire can have tragic consequences, especially for two-bit players in a deadly game.
Amir Taheri was the executive editor-in-chief of the daily Kayhan in Iran from 1972 to 1979. He has worked at or written for innumerable publications, published eleven books, and has been a columnist for Asharq Al Awsat since 1987. Taheri has won several prizes for his journalism, and in 2012 was named International Journalist of the Year by the British Society of Editors and the Foreign Press Association in the annual British Media Awards.

April 4, 2017 | 6 Comments » | 399 views

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  1. “But one thing is certain: in opting for confrontation both sides are acting against a tradition of good neighbourliness that dates back to the early 20th century.”

    There you have it. In the early 20th century, Britain and France divided the Ottoman Empire between them, and Iran was divided between Russian and British spheres of influence. After WWII ended, the US and the USSR took over as the main foreign “policemen” of the area. They both largely quit the area in recent years; and after ISIS is defeated, they may leave the field completely open to local players. Turkey, Iran and Israel are the most powerful local players; and they will certainly come up to the plate.

  2. He seems to minimize the Iranian threat as mere jockeying for position though he has a reputation as an anti-Islamist, In fact, he was the editor of the largest pro-Shah newspaper in Iran before 1979.

    I looked him up. He is the chairman of Gatestone Institute, which I respect. But, he is also a commentator for CNN, which I do not and he has been accused of fake news by Iranian Jewish author Shaul Bakhash and others. See Wikipedia article below. Not sure what to think. Absent further information, I am not inclined to rely on him or on Gatestone for information or analysis.

    Among the allegations of just making things up these two can be checked by anyone:

    “Nest of Spies[edit]
    Shaul Bakhash, a specialist in mideast history at George Mason University,[3] wrote in a review of Taheri’s 1989 book Nest of Spies in The New Republic that Taheri concocts conspiracies in his writings, and noted that he “repeatedly refers us to books where the information he cites simply does not exist. Often the documents cannot be found in the volumes to which he attributes them…. [He] repeatedly reads things into the documents that are simply not there.”[5] Bakhash stated that Taheri’s 1988 Nest of Spies is “the sort of book that gives contemporary history a bad name.”[5][6]
    Claims of Osama bin Laden’s death in 2002[edit]
    Taheri’s byline was attached to an op-ed in The New York Times of July 11, 2002 under the title “The Death of bin Ladenism”. His clip claimed “Osama bin Laden is dead. The news first came from sources in Afghanistan and Pakistan almost six months ago”.[7]”

    Bin Laden was taken out in 2011.

    He has published a lot. His specialty is Iran.

    “My wife, a prisoner in Iran
    Shaul Bakhash
    SHAUL BAKHASH teaches Middle Eastern history at George Mason University in Virginia.”

    The Long Career of Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani
    From revolutionary to establishment power-broker

    Iran’s former president Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani arrives to vote in the Iranian presidential election, north of Tehran June 12, 2009.STR New


    The Atlantic is a liberal magazine. I don’t know if there are political differences between the two. It’s a big question mark though. The bibliographical allegations can be checked. The Bin Laden false info might be a one-on but there are so many allegations.

  3. Abolish_public_education Said:

    WWI was such a total disaster.

    Should America have allowed Germany to occupy France and blow up our ships? Would there have been a Balfour Declaration and a League of Nations Mandate without it?

    They didn’t just recognize Jewish historical rights as a matter of principle. The owed us for winning the war. Not just the Jewish brigades which did considerably more than Lawrence of Arabia and for which we got considerably less than the Arabs.

    “Chaim Azriel Weizmann (Hebrew: ???? ?????? ??????? Hayyim Azri’el Vaytsman, Russian: ???? ??????? Khaim Veytsman; 27 November 1874 – 9 November 1952) D.Sc, Sc.D, LL.D was a Zionist leader and Israeli statesman who served as President of the Zionist Organization and later as the first President of Israel. He was elected on 16 February 1949, and served until his death in 1952. Weizmann convinced the United States government to recognize the newly formed state of Israel.
    Weizmann was also a biochemist who developed the acetone–butanol–ethanol fermentation process, which produces acetone through bacterial fermentation. His acetone production method was of great importance for the British war industry during World War I. He founded the Weizmann Institute of Science in Rehovot, Israel and was instrumental in the establishment of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem…’

    ‘…Weizmann lectured in chemistry at the University of Geneva between 1901 and 1903, and later taught at the University of Manchester. He became a British subject in 1910, and while a lecturer in Manchester he became known for discovering how to use bacterial fermentation to produce large quantities of desired substances. He is considered to be the father of industrial fermentation. He used the bacterium Clostridium acetobutylicum (the Weizmann organism) to produce acetone. Acetone was used in the manufacture of cordite explosive propellants critical to the Allied war effort (see Royal Navy Cordite Factory, Holton Heath). Weizmann transferred the rights to the manufacture of acetone to the Commercial Solvents Corporation in exchange for royalties.[70]
    See also: Acetone–butanol–ethanol fermentation
    First Lord of the Admiralty Winston Churchill became aware of the possible use of Weizmann’s discovery in early 1915, and Minister of Munitions David Lloyd George joined Churchill in encouraging Weizmann’s development of the process. Pilot plant development of laboratory procedures was completed in 1915 at the J&W Nicholson & Co gin factory in Bow, London, so industrial scale production of acetone could begin in six British distilleries requisitioned for the purpose in early 1916. The effort produced 30,000 tonnes of acetone during the war, although a national collection of horse-chestnuts was required when supplies of maize were inadequate for the quantity of starch needed for fermentation. The importance of Weizmann’s work gave him favour in the eyes of the British Government, this allowed Weizmann to have access to senior Cabinet members and utilise this time to represent Zionist aspirations….”

    “The Scientific Context of the Balfour Declaration”

  4. The new Trump administration may be all at sea regarding its foreign policy

    is so wrong, that this delegitimizes anything else from Taheri.

    At least Taheri is not whining about human rights being ignored, the current favorite attack against POTUS.

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