Competing for influence over the Middle East, Ankara and Tehran will inevitably clash in Syria
If Iran manages to restore the pre-war state of oil production in the nearest years, Turkey will have all the chances to gain independence from Iranian supplies. According to Davutoglu doctrine, Turkey develops its economic partnership with all the countries, yet it inevitably acts as the political counter-balance to Iran. In Iraq Ankara tries to flirt with the Kurdish Autonomy that borders Turkey, while Iran supports Shiites. In Afghanistan Turkey assists NATO forces — mind that it is the member of NATO as well — rendering them the İncirlik military base and its own air space. Iran, though, opposes the interests of the USA and NATO, thus it definitely wouldn’t like the deployment of American BMD systems at the Turkish territory[i].
Turkey is playing its counter-game in the Middle East. Sending Freedom Flotilla to the Gaza sector coast has opposed Turkey to Israel and the USA in the eyes of the Arab world, which brought it even more supporters among the Muslims. Public opinion poll that Maryland University carried this year in the Middle East has revealed a surprising (at first glance) fact: Turkish Prime Minister Erdoğan has the sympathies of 20% of responders (thus having placed the 1st), while Ahmadinejad got only 13% of the votes. Answering the question, which two states play the most constructive role in the Middle East, responders named France and Turkey. Questioned Palestinians have claimed Turkey their main champion (43%). And only 6% of responders regard Iran as one. Feeling the loss of authority, Ahmadinejad has sent his ships to Gaza right after the Freedom Flotilla incident, but no one had paid attention to that.
Understanding the regional importance of Syria, Turkey tries to stay in touch with Syrian troubles. Prime Minister Erdoğan has personally visited Damascus in order to give some important advice to the Syrian President. Apart from banal recommendations to reform the state system in accordance with the protesters’ demands, Erdoğan has paid special attention to the Kurdish issue. Kurds have been bothering Turkey for many years, and it has all the grounds for worries. The largest nation in the world without its own state (there are approximately 40 million Kurds in the world) is unevenly spread along the territories of Turkey, Iraq, Syria and Iran — it may become the very detonator that would explode the situation in each of the above-mentioned countries. No one wants it to go this way, so sooner or later the world would have to deal with that problem. For now Bashar al-Assad has listened to the advice of his Turkish friends. A week ago he granted Syrian citizenship to more than 300.000 Kurds, populating the Al-Hasakah province in the north-east of Syria. Kurds, the largest national minority in Syria, make up 10% of the country population, yet many of them were unable to obtain citizenship for decades. It is quite clear that Assad’s decision was made to ease down the mass disturbances, which started nearly a month ago. Last Friday Kurds have taken the part in protest rallies in the north-east of the country for the first time.
Turkish authorities have learnt a lot from the West. They are carefully watching every swing of public opinion. Thanks to that, they are gradually reinforcing their “soft” influence — influence in the Middle East as well. Soon the Turkish motion picture “Valley of Wolves: Palestine” is to hit the screens — it describes the adventures of a Turkish James Bond, avenging Israelis for the Freedom Flotilla Raid. According to its creators, it is to attract millions of viewers in the region and, quite naturally, is to become yet another contributing factor of Turkish influence in the Arab world.
Competition of Turkey and Iran in Syria is accompanied by simultaneous Turkish self-assertion in the Western direction. Turkey makes the USA and the EU accept the fact that they would have to recognize leadership of Ankara in the Islamic world — age of direct influence over the Middle Eastern countries is coming to an end. New, post-revolutionary layout in the region will seemingly be characterized by indirect influence of major Western world powers on the settlement of Middle Eastern peace. And Turkey is most likely to mediate this settlement. That’s exactly the kind of game that Davutoglu — as a Turkish Kissinger — plays.
[i] Turkey never misses a chance to spoil Iranian pleasure. According to the Turkish newspaper Hürriyet, Turkey informed the UN Security Council of the weapons, withdrawn from the Iranian plane that headed to Syria. Turkish report denoted that UN-forbidden military cargo was found aboard the Il-76 plane, belonging to the YasAir Cargo Airlines air carrier that ditched in the airport of Diyarbakır on the 21st of March, this year. It contained 60 Kalashnikov AK-47 submachine guns, 14 automatic BKC/Bixi machine guns, 8.000 ammo, 560 60-mm mortar shells and 1.288 120-mm mortar shells.
It was also mentioned that extracted weapons and ammo are currently stored at the military warehouse on the town of Diyarbakır. At the same time, we cannot to say for sure, whether Syria was the terminal destination point for those weapons.
Turkish party has denoted in its report that the crew was detained and questioned by the state investigator of Diyarbakır and that crew-members stated that they knew nothing of sender or receiver of the cargo. Incident with Iranian plane, arrested in Diyarbakır is not that exceptional. Similar cases were registered in 2006 when Lebanon fought against Israel, while Iran supplied Hezbollah with weaponry. In 2006 five Iranian cargo planes and one Iranian passenger plane have brought their load of weapons to Diyarbakır since 27th of July till 17th of August.
Source: Russian Interests