A Turkish army tank moves near the border with Syria. (AP)

By Behrouz Turani

October 11, 2019

Turkey’s military operation in the Kurdish populated northeastern Syria has left Iran in an extremely difficult position between its strongest regional friend and one of Iran’s most significant ethnic groups which views itself part of a trans-border identity.

Iran fears a spill-over of tensions into the Iranian Kurdish provinces, and at the same time cannot afford losing Turkey as its most important friend in West Asia, by crossing Ankara’s red line regarding the Kurdish issue, or even by strongly condemning Ankara’s aggression.

In all the difficult days the Islamic Republic has experienced in the past 40 years, Turkey has never given Iran a hard time. During the Iran-Iraq war or international sanctions, Ankara has left its borders open with Iran allowing trade and access to Europe.

As one of the three powers of West Asia alongside Turkey and Saudi Arabia, Iran prefers to keep Ankara happy as tensions between Tehran and Riyadh have been on the rise, particularly after the attack on an Aramco oil facility in eastern Saudi Arabia in September.

At the same time, and similar to what happened during the attacks on Kobani in 2014 and the Kurdish referendum in Iraq in 2017, Iranian officials are under immense pressure by Iran’s massive Kurdish community of several million to back the Syrian Kurds that have come under attack by Turkey.

On the other hand, with its own military intervention in Syria for almost seven years, Iran may find itself in an uneasy situation while trying to preach for Turkey to behave otherwise, while, Iran is an absolute stranger in the region and Turkey is Syria’s next-door neighbour with legitimate security concerns.

On Thursday October 10, the Iranian Foreign Ministry issued a statement to express its misgivings over Turkey’s military action in northeast Syria.

While it said Tehran understands Turkey’s security concerns , the statement added, “The Foreign Ministry of the Islamic Republic of Iran voices concern over Turkey’s military action in Syrian territories, and stresses the need for an immediate end to the attacks and the pull-out of Turkish forces from Syrian soil given the importance of the humanitarian situation and dangers posed to civilians in the conflict zone.”

The statement added that “the Islamic Republic of Iran regards the current situation in the region as the fallout from extra-regional interference, especially by the United States, and expresses its readiness to play a role,” in easing tensions between Turkey and Syria.

 

Control of territory in Syria and areas hit by air strikes and shelling as Turkish offensive started against Kurdish people on October 9.
Control of territory in Syria and areas hit by air strikes and shelling as Turkish offensive started against Kurdish people on October 9.

In an earlier statement on October 8, “Describing as illegitimate the presence of American troops in Syria, the Foreign Ministry of the Islamic Republic of Iran” had announced that it “considers the United States’ decision to end its occupation of Syrian territories and withdraw its forces from the Arab country as a measure that must have been taken much earlier.”

Both of the cautious statements appear to be more about criticizing U.S. policies rather than questioning Turkey’s action.

President Hassan Rouhani also spoke cautiously against Turkey’s Syria adventure during a cabinet meeting earlier this week.

Before that, Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif had condemned the United States’ role in Syria as soon as the news of a possible U.S. troop withdrawal from Northern Syria came out on October 7.

In one of the latest developments, Iran’s Majles Speaker Ali Larijani cancelled a pre-planned visit to Turkey on October 9, Iranian state TV reported.

Meanwhile, Iran has already taken cautionary measures along its borders with Iraq’a Kurdish populated areas presumably to prevent the influx of armed Syrian Kurds who might decide to stay away from the current conflict for various tactical reasons including preparing for later action at a time of their own choosing.

The “unscheduled” military exercise announced October 9 in northwestern Iran at the juncture of Iranian, Turkish and Iraqi borders was probably part of Iran’s measure to reinforces its defenses.

RFE/RL

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.