Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Rivalry over Iraq, Syria widens rift between Iran and Turkey

Perhaps the biggest story in the Middle East's never-ending power play this week is brewing and increasingly widening rift between Turkey and Iran. Despite centuries of confrontation between Turks and Persians, the two found non-intrinsic relationship last year as Turkey’s ties with Israel and the U.S. literally collapsed.

Turkey’s efforts last year to keep Western nations at bay in the case of Iran could be explained by Turkey’s legitimate desire to keep the U.S. and the E.U. out of its backyard. Turkish diplomats speculated behind closed doors even during heyday of Turkish-Iranian ties that Turkey’s love toward Iran is more pragmatic than sentimental.

However, Turkey has realized today that keeping the U.S. away from the region is only helping Iran enhance its influence and outreach in the region. It also facilitated Turkey to recognize its boundaries and its limited capacity to put a fence to Iran’s never-ceasing lust to expand. Iranian officials have started bashing Turkey almost every week now although Iranian foreign minister insists that these threatening remarks are not Iran’s official position.

Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu has already conveyed Turkey’s concern and uneasiness over similar remarks twice in the past two weeks.

It is clear that Turkey has suddenly realized that Iran has more say in Syria and Iraq and the Islamic republic understands that Turkey is its chief rival in exporting models for post-revolution Arab nations. Last week, in an interview with the Wall Street Journal, Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki basically said Iran has good positions and influence at certain junctures in Iraq but in political matters, he said Turkey has an unacceptable interference.

It is easier for Turkey to wean Syria and Iraq out of Iran’s orbit of influence and democratic governance in both states will automatically reduce Iran’s power which in anyway rapidly loses its appeal. For this, Turkey must continue supporting Sunni political groups and cross-sectarian alliances in Iraq. Saudis will take care the funding part.

In Syria, the clock is ticking against Turkey as long as Assad stays in power. In this vein, Turkey must do whatever is necessary and required to get rid of him, including alliance with Israel if necessary. It seems that only military intervention will solve the Syrian crisis but Turkey must make sure that military intervention does not fundamentally destroys Syria’s military capability – one of the strongest military force facing against Israel in the Middle East.

Being a regional leader requires fierce competition with nations aspiring to advance in their influence and every nation that is claiming to be a regional leader should be prepared to face off similar challenges. Turkey is largely unprepared for such steps, but it is not a challenge that Turkey did not tackle before.

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