Tehran-Ankara Tensions Won’t Lead to Confrontation

Tehran-Ankara Tensions Won’t Lead to Confrontation Tehran-Ankara Tensions Won’t Lead to Confrontation

Diplomatic tensions between Iran and Turkey will not result in actual confrontation due to extensive economic ties between the regional rivals, Turkish analysts said.

As Turkey struggled to have greater influence in the region, the Syrian government's victory in Aleppo and the self-styled Islamic State terrorist group's diminishing presence in Iraq unhinged Turkey.

Not differentiating friend from foe, Turkey made wild allegations against a friendly Iran at the Munich Security Conference.

"The tensions between Turkey and Iran did not appear out of the blue," said Atilla Yesilada, a political analyst with Istanbul's Global Source Partners, Al Jazeera reported.

"This rivalry had been simmering beneath the surface for a very long time."

Over the past week, diplomatic tensions escalated after Ankara blamed Tehran of pursuing a sectarian agenda and destabilizing the Middle East.

Turkey's President Recep Tayyip Erdogan accused Iran of trying to split Iraq and Syria by resorting to "Persian nationalism", while Mevlut Cavusoglu, Turkey's foreign minister, criticized what he called Iran's "sectarian policy" aimed at undermining Bahrain and Saudi Arabia.

The Turkish statesmen have clearly forgotten Iran's all-out support for Erdogan's government after the failed coup.

In response to the recent hostile remarks, Iran summoned the Turkish ambassador over these remarks and warned Turkey that its patience "had limits", and if Turkish officials continue making such statements, "it will not remain silent. Turkey and Iran have been on opposite sides of the conflict in Syria, with Ankara seeking to overthrow President Bashar al-Assad and Tehran being, along with Russia, his key backer.

And in Iraq, Turkey claims that it has a "historical responsibility" to protect the country's Sunni and Turkmen minorities from Iran-backed Shia militias who are in the region to fight IS.

Iran, alongside Iraq's government, views Turkey's involvement in the conflict and military presence in the country as an "incursion".

"Turkey acts as the protector of Sunnis in the region, while Iran wants to build a Shia circle of influence all the way from Tehran to Lebanon, so it is inevitable for these two regional powers to clash," Yesilada claimed.

Yesilada believe that IS is steadily losing large swaths of territory in both Iraq and Syria, a significant power vacuum is forming along Turkey's southeastern border, causing Iran and Turkey to clash over consolidating their influence in the region. Iran is opposed to Turkey's ongoing military presence in Iraq and Syria without the consent of these countries.

Ali Akbar Velayati, a senior foreign affairs adviser to the Leader of Islamic Revolution, recently said Turkish troops should immediately retreat from Iraq and Syria or the people would "kick them out".

Iran experts in Turkey say Tehran is alarmed by Turkey's presence in Syria and Iraq.

"Iran is extremely disturbed by Turkey's Euphrates Shield Operation in Syria and its military presence in Iraq's Bashiqa," Erdem Aydin, an expert on Iran at Istanbul's Bogazici University, told Al Jazeera.

"Iran also wants to cut Turkey's efforts to create a safe zone in northern Syria."

  Other Players in the Game

Analysts explained US President Donald Trump's aggressive attitude toward Iran and the perception that he may be willing to support the creation of a Turkish-controlled safe zone in northern Syria also played a significant role in the escalation of tensions between Tehran and Ankara.

"It looks like Erdogan realized Trump is going to be a lot more aggressive toward Iran compared to his predecessor, so he decided to act up against Tehran to secure US support for the safe zone," Yesilada said.

Aydin pointed that Russia is also an important player in this game.

He explained that Russia's recent rapprochement with Turkey, as well as its alleged disagreements with Iran over Syria, may play a significant role in the future of Turkey's relations with Iran.

"Russia and Iran have differences of opinion regarding the future of Syria," he alleged.

"Russia is viewing Assad as an ally, but is not insistent about him staying in his role as Syria's president. Iran does not want Assad to go anywhere, but Russia, on the contrary, may easily sacrifice him."

While their conflicting interests on the ground and actions of other actors like the US and Russia may lead to further diplomatic tensions between Iran and Turkey, analysts said the vast economic ties between the regional rivals may prevent an actual confrontation.

"90% of Iran's natural gas exports go to Turkey and Turkey imports 20% of its natural gas from Iran," Aydin told Al Jazeera.

"Regional politics may cause tensions between the two countries, but in the light of their strong economic ties, I don't believe the recent escalation in diplomatic tensions is going to lead to a serious confrontation."


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