Turkey – Iran: Approach And Rivalry? (I)

Erdoğan fights Ahmadinejad for sympathies of Arabs

Middle East has once again become the ball game that drawn the attention of entire world. Former empires — Turkey and Iran — approach each other, although desperately competing with each other at the same time. Arabian world is at stake in this struggle of no joke. And that’s quite a lot in any sense — 35 million hearts, minds and wallets.

Turkey resembles Russia to a considerable degree. Just like the Russian Federation, this country brands itself as a Eurasian power. Yet, while Russia is in fact a European country and its outward Asian appearance is merely a way of influencing the Asian-Muslim regions, in case of Turkey it is vice versa. An undoubtedly Asian country is using its virtual European identity as a tool to infiltrate the European Union and use all the benefits of the “golden billion”. Simultaneously with that Turkey is constantly demonstrating its influence in the Muslim world to Europe and the USA, thus increasing its ratings in the West. Therefore, in the ideological sense, Turkey is vitally important for the Western world as a living proof of the Western democracy in the Muslim environment, “disproving” the point that Eastern democracy cannot have even a slightest resemblance with the Western one due to insurmountable religious, historical and mental differences. Western apprehends of the possible Turkish “drift” towards is Iran are likely groundless, in fact. Turkey is a natural Iranian rival and in this regard it may be considered a potential bearer of the European influence in the Middle East.

Iran and Turkey are both heirs to the greater empires — to Persian and Ottoman ones. Their approach is the worst nightmare of both Western and Arabian countries along with Israel. These two major countries — each of them having approximately 74 million citizens — have different outlook, yet the same and mutually-excluding claims for the regional leadership. Their interests vary as well. Being a member of NATO and G20 group, democratic, Sunni, yet mostly secular, Turkey is much better integrated into the Western world than other Muslim country. Theocratic, Shiite and rich with hydrocarbons Iran at that, urges to export its political model to the neighboring countries and is destined to confront the West.

As far back as 20 years ago the term “Middle East” defined the Arabian world and Israel. Union of Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Syria guaranteed regional stability. Palestinian issue and the peace process were the extra elements, cementing the Arabian unity furthermore. With time being though, internal discords, authoritarianism of certain state members, neglect of the law, deepening abyss between the welfare of citizens and their leaders and the dependence from American policy have weakened the Arabian world. In this complicated game Syria is searching for allies, Egypt — for its new international image and these changes have given the rising Turkey a perfect chance to make itself known.

Paradoxical as it may seem, it is the United States that Iran owes its growth of regional influence to. Having taken Iraq off the Middle Eastern chessboard in 2003, they’ve created a vacuum that Iran persistently tries to fill. Development of the nuclear program and skilful use of growing anti-American sentiments turns Iran into the main champion of Palestinians and the only regional power that dares to oppose Americans. That causes the panic terror of Iran that the Arabian states are obsessed with. U.S. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates has sarcastically noted that Saudis are ready to fight Iran until the last of American falls. Arabian monarchies fear not only the Iranian nuclear bomb, but rather the opportunity of spreading Shiite propaganda among the Shiite minorities of the following countries: Iraq, Saudi Arabia, Yemen and Kuwait. We have to admit that they have all the grounds for that. According to Iranian information agency Jahan News, several Iranian parliamentarians believe that their national diplomats have taken a passive stand towards the unfolding situation in the region. Ruhollah Hosseinian — chair of Ahmadinejad’s parliament group “Enghelab-e Eslami” and a deputy of Iranian parliament — has raised this issue:

“Anxiousness of deputies, caused by our passiveness is well justified. Iran should have demonstrated the serious stance towards the invasion of Saudi Arabian troops into Bahrain. I even tend to believe that as long as Saudi Arabia invades Bahrain, we have to prepare our own military to fight against Saudi Arabia and leave the army of this country no chances to approach our borders”.

Responding to the notion that army of Islamic Republic has never served such purpose, Hosseinian specified:

“Right now an extraordinary opportunity has emerged. We shouldn’t use our passiveness as a pretext to miss this chance and allow our adversaries to bring their aggressive regional agenda into life”.

Several Iranian organization have already started enlisting suicide attackers, willing to fight the Armed Forces of Saudi Arabia in order to save Shiites in Bahrain. Fear also contributes to the traditional Arabian mistrust of Iran. New Egypt is every bit as cautious of Tehran as the one of Mubarak’s era. Quatari emir has even warned Americans to believe a single Iranian word out of hundred.

In these times of troubles Turkish elephant comes into play. Numerous analysts believe it to be personified by Turkish Minister of Foreign Affairs Ahmet Davutoglu. He is believed to be Turkish Henry Kissinger, who invented and successfully implied the genius foreign-policy principles “No conflicts with neighbors”. This very doctrine of Davutoglu authorship is becoming an ideology of Turkish approach to Iran that bothers the USA, the EU and Israel so much — they perceive it as a possible “drift” of Turkey from the West.
Wiki Leaks published a certain diplomatic cable that James Jeffrey, American Ambassador to Turkey, sent to the State Department:

“Is it true that Turkish foreign policy concentrates more and more efforts on the Muslim world? Without doubt, it is. Does that mean that Turks are going to give up their traditional Western orientation and the willingness to cooperate with us? Without doubt, it doesn’t.”

Expanding cultural and political contacts of Turkey and Iran create the outward semblance of approach. Western analysts, frightened by the prospect of Iranian-Turkish union, resemble the blind men from the ancient Sufi parable about an elephant and bounds of cognition[1]. Authorship of this parable is ascribed to various Arabian pundits, but the most popular version states that its author was Persian Sufi poet Rumi from the 13th century, although in a slightly altered interpretation it ascends to the times of Buddha. Turks believe Rumi to be one of the founders of Turkish poetry and that makes a certain poetical allusion at cooperation and rivalry of Turkey and Iran. Turkish-speaking Azerbaijanis make up a quarter of Iranian population, which is why Turkish TV-shows are extremely popular in Iran. Iranian-Turkish exchange of goods has increased ten times during the recent years. Turkey puts a great deal of efforts to solve the issue of Iranian nuclear program by means of diplomacy. They don’t need a war right by their eastern border. In May of 2010 Turkey along with Brazil has come to an agreement with Iran regarding the utilization of nuclear wastes outside of Iran. Turkey voted against sanctions for Iran, because they would’ve ricocheted to the Turkish economy. Iran is fine with the Turkish policy that limits the international isolation of Iran. Yet, the profound difference of interests and potential of two countries is still there.

Turkey is stealing the wind from Iranian sails. Internal discords within the conservative Iranian political camp are on the rise and President Makhmoud Ahmadinejad along with his team is gradually losing the public support. There are plenty of claimants to his throne. Mass protests that accompanied the elections of 2009 have made the concrete foundation of Iranian statehood to crack, exposing the hardly democratic character of Iranian state system.

Despite the tremendous deposits of energy carriers, Iran is constantly fighting against the internal economic crisis. UN sanctions, imposed by the resolution #1929 have paralyzed the activity of major petrochemical foreign companies, operating at the Iranian territory. Hydrocarbon-producing sector of Iranian industry that that once used to bring 80% of budget incomes suffers a critical lack of investments. In 2011 Iranian GDP growth is predicted to be around 3%, while inflation is to make about 15%.

Given that background, Turkish economy looks quite well in fact. This is the 16th largest world economy that makes its way out of crisis at an impressive pace. Real GDP growth in 2010 has reached 7%. Turkey imports considerable amount of Iranian oil and gas, yet it is still Russia that remains the major energy resources supplier of Turkey.

To be continued…

Source: Russian Interests

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