The current clash between Turkey and Iran has promoted instability in the region as both use historical and political claims in Iraq as a means to wield influence. The pursuit of these claims and the policies it has generated have affected political and social stability in Iraq as each of these foreign states has resorted to using proxies to confront each other.
The same dynamic can be observed in Syria. Damascus places great value on its strategic relationship with Iran, and Syria has long been complicit in implementing Iranian strategies in the region, albeit sometimes with its own objectives in mind. This is most noticeable in the great influence Syria exerts on Lebanon, which is in large part a function of its relationship with Hezbollah. Today, Iran defends Assad and supports Armenian parties that harbor animosity toward Turkey. Iran also supports some Alawite forces inside Turkey. Unsurprisingly, then, Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan employs threatening language when speaking of Assad, and his foreign minister has often spoken of Assad’s “last chance” to reform. Istanbul also plays host to the Syrian opposition, particularly the Muslim Brotherhood, in an attempt to be instrumental in any political transition in Syria. This has contributed to the fragmentation of the Syrian opposition though Ankara never followed up its tough talk with action, even when Syria downed a Turkish airplane and reneged on agreements to halt cross-border skirmishes. The only action taken by Turkey was to monitor Russian and Iranian planes. And, during Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin’s most recent visit to Turkey, the two countries even signed a deal worth $100 million.
Nevertheless, the battle for influence between Turkey and Iran is full of ironic twists. Iran, for example, supports the PKK, the militant Kurdish separatist organization that occasionally attacks Turkish forces, and hosts one of its most important leaders. Iran has also resorted to liquidating Iranian opposition figures on Turkish soil. Despite all of this, Ankara has left open all channels of communication with Tehran. Leaders of both countries have exchanged visits, unavoidable diplomatic niceties that stem from a trade relationship valued some $ 70 billion.
Iran is also active in Yemen where it supports Al-Qaeda, Houthis, and southern rebels that are remnants of the long-defunct Communist government there. Iran’s support of these groups is an attempt to fragment Yemen, creating a vacuum that could result in the establishment of a religious state that would be an Iranian satellite, an alternative to Syria in case the civil war there results in a breach between the two countries. As a means of countering that potentiality, Turkey provides economic support to the Muslim Brotherhood in addition to providing them training and intelligence. In a breach of diplomatic convention, the Turkish embassy in Yemen meets with the Muslim Brotherhood and provides them with weapons.
Not surprisingly, Iran sees conversion to Shiism as a gateway to more influence in the region. Shiism is seen as a tool for influence and control and, for this reason, Iran defends Shiites all over the world. Nevertheless, it may behoove Iran’s leaders to remember that not only are Yemenis pro-Arab, but they also threw out Turkish and Persian occupiers in the past.
At the end of the day, the Iran-Turkey clash is a political one. Turkey is in pursuit of neo-Ottomanism through the Muslim Brotherhood. Iran has adopted Houthis, Al-Qaeda, and the remnants of communists in Yemen. Neither country appears to have considered the possibility that Arab countries might support opposition forces in Turkey and Iran. This is a scenario that should not be ruled out. Take the Iraqi prime minister as an example. His government refused to receive a Turkish Cabinet member and refused to allow his plane to land in Baghdad. The Iraqi prime minister invited the head of the Turkish opposition to visit Baghdad. What if Yemen and other Gulf countries were to support our people — Shiite and Sunni — in the occupied Arabstan or Balochistan?
Intervening in another country’s internal affairs has long been disdained officially by world leaders. Nevertheless, both Iran and Turkey grant themselves this right. And, in doing so, they increase the possibility of regional instability. Erdogan’s visit to Beirut and Ahmadinejad’s visit to Beirut are still fresh in our memory. Both behaved as though they were the high commissioners! The Yemeni foreign minister confronted his former Iranian counterpart with concrete evidence of Iranian interference in Yemen. The former Iranian foreign minister neither denies nor admits to the existence of this evidence.
It is unfortunate that Turkey resorted to supporting the Muslim Brotherhood with American guarantees in 2008 as Rashid Al-Ghannouchi, the mentor of Erdogan and Mahdi Akif , the former supreme leader of the Muslim Brotherhood, met with the Turkish prime minister. The meeting took place in the presence of a senior official from the CIA and put forward the plan for the Arab Spring. Also, Turkey agreed to freeze the membership of Iran in the international bureau of the Muslim Brotherhood during the last conference held in Istanbul. Turkey also turned its back on the Sunnis of Iran, offering no defense of their rights or recognition of their grievances at a time when Iran was persecuting them.
This all exposes a religion-based discourse aimed at realizing political ends. Turkey’s discourse was exposed in Libya, Iraq, and Iran. Likewise, the Iranian Shiite discourse was exposed. Even Arab Shiites began to perceive the threat of Iran and the country’s tendency to look down at them while at the same time utilizing them for political ends. This is in line with the opinion of the Kuwaiti thinker Abdullah Al-Nafisit who said that Iran regarded the Arabs with contempt. Iran’s dealing with Nuri Al-Maliki is a manifestation of this condescending approach.
Meanwhile, where does Saudi Arabia stand? Riyadh has always called on others not to politicize religion or energy lest it have negative effects on society. Clearly, however, Iran has been politicizing religion and energy for years. Equally important, Turkey appears to be entertaining some dreams of its old imperial empire. It could be dreaming of restoring the influence of the Ottoman Empire, an obviously unachievable goal. Some even argue that such thinking is only a ploy to avoid dealing with internal challenges.
Iran has no choice but to entice its citizens — as if they are a herd — to accept the fantasy of the awaited Mahdi as a means of averting the accountability demanded by the Iranian street. Iranian governments have failed repeatedly to resolve their country’s economic problems while corruption and unemployment hit society hard. Meanwhile, Erdogan sought to distract the Turkish street with a TV series called “Wives of the Sultan” meant to make a link to the Sultan Suleiman. If anything, this is like reshuffling the deck in order to play a new role. This is a sign of political bankruptcy for a country that should be more civil. In fact, this evokes the jokes that the late Muammar Qaddafi used to tell during Arab summits. He teased the British by saying the Shakespeare had some Arab roots and his real name was Shaikh Zbeir. He once sent Barack Obama a letter in which he addressed him as his son! He even suggested that the African roots of Condoleezza Rice allowed her to understand the Africans who were in need of her help.
The problem is that the world has been developing at an alarming rate at all levels. And, yet, some are still obsessed with a past that will never return. Just look at the United States: It persecuted Native Americans and African Americans and, now, see how it is leading the free world.