Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu (R) and Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif give a press conference in Ankara, April 17, 2019. (AFP)

April 20, 2019

The United States is increasing pressure on Tehran and Ankara. With Tehran, it’s almost a declared war while the pressure on Ankara is less than war but more than just tension.

There are common denominators that place both in the same trench against Washington but where does this fragile alliance start and where does it end?

Before going into the limited options available to the Turks and Iranians in the face of the growing US escalation against them, it is important to note that the US position regarding both countries reflects Washington’s decision on its priorities in its Middle East alliances.

The fact that Turkey and Iran are major sources of terrorism in the world has become a major determinant of US policy towards the Middle East. The list of designated terrorist groups has expanded to include Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps.

Washington has sensed the Turks’ support of terrorism through their covert support of the Islamic State (ISIS) and their ostentatious support of al-Nusra Front in Syria. Washington also has had it with Ankara’s open-door policy towards so-called political Islamist groups, notably the Muslim Brotherhood. Ankara and its Arab acolytes have claimed that these groups were peaceful and do not carry sabres or guns.

Obviously, Iran and Turkey can no longer play the game of pretending to fight terrorism with one hand while supporting it with the other.

ISIS is mostly gone and gone with it are Ankara’s and Tehran’s dreams of dominating the Middle East. Washington seems to be telling both capitals: “You’re not getting more than what I agree to give you and I will not tolerate voices above mine.”

So who and what are the Turks and the Iranians counting on in their showdown with the United States?

If it’s China, Beijing favours dialogue, compromise and agreement with Washington. The Russians have obvious differences with the Iranians and it is in Moscow’s interest to support the US war against Iran, at least in Syria.

Turkey’s exploitation of its relations with the Russians to blackmail the United States has become a scornful game for both Moscow and Washington. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan cannot escape choosing between the two. His party’s loss in the municipal elections is a sign of the failure of his foreign policy and his quixotic enterprises.

Of course, choosing between the Russians and the Americans is a luxury Erdogan can no longer afford. The Russians have given him as much as they can in Syria and whatever more he is hoping for will come his way only after Uncle Sam’s blessing and Washington has a long list of conditions waiting for him, including that he stop pursuing the Kurds in northern Syria.

As for the European Union, it doesn’t appear able to do anything about the differences between Washington on the one hand and Ankara and Tehran on the other. The Europeans have enough problems of their own and enough points of contention with Washington. They also enjoy the sight of US President Donald Trump disciplining Erdogan and are encouraging Trump indirectly.

The economic pain caused by US sanctions has hit both the Turks and the Iranians and the prescription for its cure is in Trump’s hands.

Not long ago, Ankara was Tehran’s secret back door through which it could escape Washington’s sanctions. Today, both capitals are looking for a saviour to rescue them from the same predicament.

On top of that, Iran and Turkey’s options in the face of mounting American anger have almost faded away. Ankara recently tried to enlist Tehran’s help in its war against the Kurdistan Workers’ Party in Iraq and Tehran refused. And forget about enlisting its help in fighting the Kurds in Syria because of the US presence there.

One serious option for the two oppressed allies is to start small and scattered war fronts in Syria but that is not as easy as it sounds and will not get them out of the pickle they’re in.

It’s not easy to win a battle in Syria without Russia’s support and, when the foe is Washington, Moscow will stand on the sidelines.

Being in the same trench does not necessarily mean that Ankara and Tehran should join hands to face Washington. If Iran’s single option is to declare a full-scale war against US allies in the region, Turkey would certainly prefer reconciliation with Washington, even at the expense of Erdogan’s dreams in Syria.

The Arab Weekly

About Track Persia

Track PersiaTrack Persia is a Platform run by dedicated analysts who spend much of their time researching the Middle East, in due process we fall upon many indications of growing expansionary ambitions on the part of Iran in the MENA region and the wider Islamic world. These ambitions commonly increase tensions and undermine stability.