Sunday, October 09, 2011

Does Iran's Warning Mean It And Turkey Are Edging Towards A Showdown?

Two of the most aggressive Middle East countries today are Turkey and Iran, working on increasing their power and influence in the region.
Along the way, Ahmadinejad and Erdogan use many of the same tactics: both make threats against Israel a staple of their speeches, both make a point of sending out their navy as a show of their power--they even have both made overtures to Egypt.

But they differ in key ways too.
Iran is run by a theocratic regime; Turkey claims to be more secular.
Iran needs the Syrian regime to remain; Turkey has made clear that it opposes Assad.

So it's not surprising that Iran has threatened Turkey it better watch what it is doing:

A key aide to Iran's supreme leader said on Saturday Turkey must radically rethink its policies on Syria, the NATO missile shield and promoting Muslim secularism in the Arab world -- or face trouble from its own people and neighbors.

In an interview with the semi-official Mehr news agency, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei's military adviser described Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan's invitation to Arab countries to adopt Turkish-style democracy as "unexpected and unimaginable."

Turkey and Iran, the Middle East's two major non-Arab Muslim states, are vying for influence in the Arab world as it goes through the biggest shake-up since the Ottoman Empire fell, a rivalry that has strained their previously close relations.

While cheering crowds greeted Erdogan on his recent tour of North Africa, Tehran accused him of serving U.S. interests by opposing Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's crackdown on street protests and agreeing to NATO's missile defense.

But even with ties to NATO, this is not to say that Turkey is a friend of the West.
Barry Rubin points out that Turkey is in fact taking an Islamist turn.

For that matter, the Arab world has little reason to favor Turkey over Iran, given the history of the Ottoman Empire:
Despite the frequent applause by the Arab League foreign ministers, some faces must have blanched when Erdogan said: "The Turks and the Arabs are linked by brotherhood for hundreds of years. We share the same culture and the same faith ..."

Collective memory in Arab countries has not forgotten Ottoman rule, which is blamed for the backwardness of the Arab world. An Ottoman sultanate or modern Turkey are not quite what the protesters in Tahrir Square longed for. That might be the reason that Al Jazeera twice interrupted the broadcast of Erdogan's speech.

Iran and Turkey may very be heading towards a showdown at some point down the road--which may have the benefit of putting a stop to the aspirations of one of them, but is unlikely to benefit the Middle East as a whole.

Not that anyone would notice anyway--most people are still focused on how resolving the Israel-Palestinian conflict will bring stability to the Middle East.

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