Translations of this item:

  • Iran will have a stronger hand in supporting the Shiite war against the Sunnis in the Middle East, financially, militarily and politically.

  • Once again, Turkey is pursuing an unattainable goal: That Iran will give up its sectarian warfare but let Turkey continue to wage its own sectarian warfare.

  • After the nuclear deal, the Turks see that their sectarian war against Shiite dominance in the region will be harder to fight.

Officially, Turkey has welcomed the nuclear deal that the P5+1 bloc (the five permanent members of the UN Security Council plus Germany) reached with Iran, and the lifting of sanctions on its eastern neighbor.

Ankara said that the deal 1) will contribute to the regional stability and economy; 2) will have a direct positive impact on Turkey; and 3) must be put into practice with full transparency.

Ironically, such warm welcome from Ankara put Turkey into the same line as its worst regional nemesis, the Syrian regime of President Bashar al-Assad, who also welcomed the deal. "We are confident that the Islamic Republic of Iran will support, with greater drive, the just causes of nations, and work for peace and stability in the region and the world," Assad said in a message to Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

As always, it is safer to understand the Turkish thinking on anything involving Iran from the "cautious" words in any official statement, not from the "cheerful" words.

After welcoming the nuclear deal with Iran, Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu called on Iran to revise its regional policies and "abandon sectarian politics." More specifically, Cavusoglu called on Iran to revise its role in Syria, Iraq and Yemen. Iran "should play a positive and constructive role. It should abandon sectarian politics and give importance to political dialogue for solutions. This is our expectation from our brother Iran," the Turkish minister said.

Where does the Iran deal leave Turkey? The short answer is: In purgatory. That is because, for the Turks, Iran is a "brotherly Muslim state" but at the same time it is, privately, "a rival and potential enemy that worships a heretical sect of Islam."

Ankara would privately welcome Tehran's developing a nuclear bomb and threatening exclusively Israel. But it knows that an Iran equipped with nuclear warheads would pose an existential security threat not only to Israel: Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Egypt would have to line up in the queue as well, or develop their own nuclear weapons in response.

Iran is not a new regional rival to Turkey. Ostensibly, the 550 km (nearly 350 mile) border between Turkey and Iran has been one of the most stable and peaceful in the volatile Middle East. The last "official" war fought between the Ottoman Empire and Persia (under the Safavid dynasty) was in 1623-1639. That war, for the control of Mesopotamia, ended with the signing of the Treaty of Zuhab, leaving Mesopotamia in Ottoman hands, until the empire was lost in the aftermath of World War I.

The Sunni and Shiite regional powers, however, did fight a full-scale war in 1733, when the Persians wanted to take Baghdad from the Ottomans.

In 1775, Persia (under the Zand dynasty) attacked Ottoman-ruled Basra, an invasion that lasted until 1821, when another war broke out which lasted until 1823. In 1840, the Ottomans and Persians also had a major conflict over the control of what is today Iran's Khorramshar.

In more modern times, Iran, in 1930, supported Kurdish uprisings against the Republic of Turkey; they were followed by a dispute over the Turkish-Iranian border.

More recently, in the 1980s and 1990s, Turkey accused Iran of killing secular and leftist Turkish intellectuals, of trying to export its Islamist regime to Turkey (when Turkey itself was a secular country), and of supporting Kurdish militants fighting for independence from Turkey.

The nuclear deal, if successfully and honestly implemented -- that is, if it stops Iran's ambitions for nuclear weapons -- will relieve Turkey: a nuclear Iran would be too dangerous a regional rival for Turkey to deal with.

Turkey's President (then prime minister) Recep Tayyip Erdogan greets Iran's President Hassan Rouhani in Ankara, June 9, 2014. (Image source: AKP)

Possessing a nuclear arsenal would also significantly boost Iran's regional political clout and military influence. Therefore, the "official" Turkish welcome for the deal reflects Ankara's cheerful mood over the idea that a nightmarish Iran scenario may have been averted.

But the same deal also rings alarm bells in the Turkish capital -- hence the cautious words accompanying the official Turkish statement.

The lifting of sanctions will gradually open up Iran to the international community and boost Iran's economy, possibly with billions of petro-dollars flowing in, and trade with the rest of the world flourishing -- all strengthening the "Shiite heretics." What would that mean for Turkey? Iran will have a stronger hand in supporting the Shiite war against the Sunnis in the Middle East, financially, militarily and politically. Now re-read the Turkish foreign minister's caution:

"Iran should revise its regional policies and abandon sectarian politics ... It should revise its role in Syria, Iraq and Yemen ... It should play a positive and constructive role. It should abandon sectarian politics and give importance to political dialogue for solutions. This is our expectation from our brother Iran."

Take out the diplomatic courtesy part, "our brother Iran." The statement is a clear but discreet expression of concern and childish hypocrisy. Once again, Turkey is asking for too much, and unfairly. It asks Iran to "revise its sectarian policies." Which means that "the Iranians should stop supporting the Shiite jihadists but the Turks should continue supporting the Sunni jihadists."

And once again, Turkey is pursuing an unattainable goal: That Iran will give up its sectarian warfare but let Turkey continue to wage its own sectarian warfare.

After the nuclear deal, the Turks see that their sectarian war against Shiite dominance in the region will be harder to fight.

Burak Bekdil, based in Ankara, is a Turkish columnist for the Hürriyet Daily and a Fellow at the Middle East Forum.

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Related Topics:  Iran, Iranian Nuclear Program, Turkey
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