Rivalry between Turkey and Iran for dominance in the Middle East

Mohammed Bokreta

Abstract


History not only  tells us about the past, it does influence our present, and surely it will shape our future, on the basis of this very vivid and worthy definition of History  and seeking help from Almighty God we are to deal with a very pertinent topic related to the ongoing rivalry between two great Powers within the Muslim world , Iran and Turkey and their eventual dominance in the already disrupted and very tense Middle east!!!!!

 

At first it would be so important to admit that for nearly two centuries and despite their fierce geopolitical competition in the Middle east and especially from the Levant to Iraq and the Caucasus, Turkey and Iran have kept the peace between them, compartmentalized growing energy and commercial relations and even cooperated regionally when their interests converged but today, while their economies are increasingly intertwined, a profound disagreement over core interests in Iraq and Syria is putting unfortunate as it may be  these two former Empires on a collision course. 

No wonder and true to say that the present rivalry between Iran and Turkey is not new. It is in fact the legacy of the historical conflict between two empires, the Ottomans and the Safavids , as both of these empires had been struggling for the hegemony of the region and their inheritors are obviously carrying out the mission of their forefathers to dominate the Middle East, Central Asia and of course the Islamic world not in direct  warfare but through proxies belonging to the decadent Arab world !!!!

It goes without saying that if the nowadays rivalry is to be seen from a sectarian angle (Sunni versus Shia) surely it is also a fight between a predominantly Shia state and the one which, despite its secular moorings is representative of the Sunni one and at the philosophical plane it is a battle between two philosophies of life, Iran espouses Islam with a modern tinge while Turkey stands for secularism with an Islamic hue.

Moreover if we add the geopolitical compulsions aside, there are another reason for their mutual acrimony, Iran considers Turkey as an outpost of USA, which Iran perceives as its mortal enemy while Turkey thinks of Iran as a state destabilizing the region and it is the start of the new cold war, whose first major battle is being fought in Syria, where their traditional rivalry can be seen in full force , overlapping ethnicities and cultures can at times make the two countries seem like two sides of the same coin, but Iran is a leading regional proponent of both Shiite Islam and theocratic governance, while Turkey’s secular constitution is built on a bedrock of Sunni Islamic practice. 

It is widely known that both states  have empowered local partners and proxies on the battlefields of Mosul, Tel Afar, Aleppo and Raqqa that are forcefully positioning themselves to control whatever emerges from the debris of today’s wars , though both have attempted to build on shared interests – defeating or at least marginalizing “Daesh”  and curbing the rise of autonomy-minded Syrian Kurds – deep suspicions about the other’s ambitions to benefit from the chaos have stopped them from reaching an arrangement that could lower the flames.

Paradoxically as it may seem, the U.S. and Russia, which have strong military ties with Turkey and Iran respectively, as well as in each case disagreements and conflicting interests, should support such steps, for now, Turkey and Iran remain caught in the web of Russia-U.S. relations, maneuvering to create space for autonomous decisions; they will be able to succeed only to the extent they find a way to work together.

Furthermore, Tehran interprets Turkey’s Syria policy as primarily a product of a neo-Ottoman ambition to regain clout and empower pro-Turkey Sunnis in territories ruled by its progenitor. “What changed in Syria [after 2011] was neither the government’s nature nor Iran’s ties with it”, an Iranian national security official said, “but Turkish ambitions”. Moreover, Iran blames Ankara for not stemming the flow of Salafi jihadists through Turkish territory into Syria and for giving them logistical and financial support , at the same vein, officials in Ankara contend that Iran seeks to resuscitate the Persian Empire, this time with a Shiite streak – and to do so in formerly Ottoman territories. In March 2015, President Erdoğan accused Iran of fighting IS in Iraq “only to take its place”.

Turkey also says that Iran’s mobilisation of Shiite militias from across the region to protect the rule of a minority sect, the Alawites; over a majority-Sunni population in Syria has deepened sectarian tensions, providing Sunni jihadists with a potent recruitment tool.

Much to all Muslims’ chagrin and as  the region’s conflicts worsen, the future becomes more unpredictable, with no actor insulated from potential harm , while today’s seductive opportunities may become tomorrow’s smothering traps, it should be an interest of those that have the ability, maturity and long history of peaceful relations not to allow themselves to be sucked further into an uncertain future but to agree to a critical course correction that, while not settling all conflicts, could at least lessen overall tensions.


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