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Can Iran achieve victory over Turkey? 4 juillet 2011

Posted by Acturca in Middle East / Moyen Orient, Turkey / Turquie.
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Dar Al-Hayat (UK) Mon, 4 July 2011

George Semaan

It would be difficult for Iran to convince itself or the others that the results of the Arab action rendered it a great victor. Iranian influence is retreating, as neither the youth on the squares conveyed their fondness of the Iranian model, nor the Islamic movements involved in this action showed a tendency to draw their inspiration from it. They chose the Turkish model in advance, because it is more enticing on the political level, but also at the level of freedoms, international relations and the economy.

Therefore, it would have been better for Iran during this stage to postpone its disputes and the conflicts between the wings, unify its powers and maintain what it achieved during the last couple of decades. Indeed, thanks to the support of Guide Ali Khamenei, the Conservatives had managed to « defeat » the « Green » front that was headed by Mir-Hossein Mousavi and Mehdi Karroubi following the presidential elections which resulted in the renewal of Ahmadinejad’s term. However, this « victory » over the reformists soon witnessed the detonation of a more dangerous conflict between two wings in the Conservatives front, i.e. between the Guide and the president of the republic. This conflict – that is both ideological and political – was anticipated and was the natural outcome of the struggle over power. In any case, it has depleted the republic’s strength and limited its ability to act, achieve some of its ambitions and benefit from the change action prevailing over a number of Arab countries.

This does not necessarily mean that the conflict will affect the republic’s foreign policy, but it will definitely limit its ability to move freely. We might even say that once again, Tehran is appearing to have two policies or two faces, while the side controlling the situation from above is the Guide whose decisions cannot be overruled by any policy.

Under the two terms of Hashemi Rafsanjani and those of Mohammad Khatami, the Islamic Republic made steps toward exiting the stage of the revolution toward that of the state, and was not far from performing its role in the context of the international community. However, with the arrival of Ahmadinejad, these steps retreated due to what Iran reaped from the war policy adopted by the United States following the New York and Washington « invasions. » While the American military was and still is in difficulty in Afghanistan and Iraq, Tehran got rid of two archenemies and was able to gain what it never dreamt it could. Indeed, it saw the removal of the regime of the Taliban which was originally formed to stop the division affecting the Jihad movements after the Soviets’ exit from Afghanistan, but also to keep the Islamic Republic preoccupied with its backyard in the hope of distancing it from the Gulf and the neighboring states. It also saw the collapse of the Baath regime in Iraq and the execution of Saddam Hussein, who pushed Imam Al-Khomeini to « drink the poison » and accept the ceasefire and the obligations featured in the international resolution over the first Gulf war – which allowed it to gain control over Baghdad.

In short, during the last decade, Teheran achieved what it never could have conceived. However, what was more important was for Iran to maintain its natural role in the region. It thus became a difficult figure throughout the area and its crises, from Palestine to Iraq and Lebanon. This reached a point where Ahmadinejad presented his country as a superpower, calling on the United States to a dialogue among equals over the affairs of the region and the world! Nonetheless, Turkey’s emergence as a key player based on the wish of the Arab neighbors that were fearful about the Iranian expansion, has forced the two countries to compete over the prime position in the region. But instead of fighting, they had to find some sort of balance between this competition and bilateral economic, commercial and oil cooperation.

This is why Turkey felt that the Syrian action and its confrontation by use of military and security force could lead to an anarchy that will not spare it, and will consequently undermine this balance with the Iranian opponent that did not conceal its support of Bashar al-Assad’s regime and its choice to strike the opposition. Ankara believes that Al-Assad is qualified to lead reforms instead of taking risks with a security solution that will undoubtedly lead the country toward doom. During the next few days, Iran will definitely face difficult questions and even more difficult answers which will be carried by Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu during his visit to Damascus, Riyadh, Amman and Tehran to secure an Arab rallying behind and an Iranian understanding of the transformation toward which Turkey is trying to push the Syrian regime.

But the logical question – in light of Davutoglu’s expected tour – is the following: Can Iran risk losing its relations with Turkey, as well as additional cards for the sustainment of which it worked hard throughout two decades?

Iran lost in Bahrain. It carried out a venture and massively damaged the popular action and the demands that were raised in Manama. It failed to realize that the « coup » in this country did not concern its people solely but rather constituted an attempt to undermine the accurate balance of powers in the Gulf region, and primarily threaten the Saudi interests. This could not have been tolerated by Riyadh at whichever price. And eventually Hamas chose to accompany the rise of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, considering that Cairo is closer to it than Tehran, whether in terms of geography, ideology, denomination and concerns, or in terms of the aspirations.

Also, the progress achieved by the Special Tribunal for Lebanon is yet another factor that should prompt the Islamic Republic to reconsider the monopolization policy it adopted at the level of the Palestine and Lebanon files. The tribunal will remain – for a long time – a thick stick in the hands of the international community, regardless of Hezbollah’s position toward it. Its decisions and measures will continue to besiege the party, i.e. « the spearhead of the resistance and rejectionism forces » as it was described by President Ahmadinejad the day he visited Lebanon. Lately, along with its allies in Damascus and Beirut, Tehran achieved a victory by leading the Future Movement out of the command of the Lebanese government, and undermined the existing balance with Saudi Arabia, Turkey and other Arab countries in Lebanon. However, Ankara’s ability to prevent Syria from sliding toward the feared unknown, might – in case that goal is achieved – force the Islamic Republic to reconsider its Lebanese calculations.

The renewal of violence in Iraq and the return of some Sunni voices opposed to the Iranian influence in Baghdad to demand the imposition of a federal system which will eventually affect the centralized authority in the capital – where the Islamic Republic enjoys what no other power does- might not be a coincidence. Is Iran aware of the seriousness of these mines?

If Iran does not wish to lose its relations with Turkey, but more importantly does not wish to suffer additional losses, it has no other choice but to support the Turkish action to appease the situation in Syria. This is due to the fact that chaos in this country will not allow it to fill the vacuum as it did in other places where the expansion turned out to be unguaranteed and temporary. And while the Islamic Republic has been the greatest beneficiary from the American policy adopted by President George Bush Jr. during the last few years, what it could lose nowadays might affect its natural role that cannot be challenged, since it is a reality and a fait accompli due to geography and history. In the meantime, the aspirations will remain the object of conflicts of interests between the regional powers and the major states. At this level, the circumstances that helped Iran achieve wide ambitions in the region during the last decade have changed, along with the policies and the balances of power caused by the transformations in the Arab world.

At this point, one must ask: Will Iran agree to maintain its legitimate role and position in the region, and relinquish its aspirations that have caused and are still causing trouble for it and its allies? Will it risk additional losses as it is preparing to confront the world in a year or two, once it secures the promised nuclear weapon? But more simply: Can Iran achieve victory over Ankara in any conflict over and inside of Syria?

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