Many common fears and common interests can be listed to explain this situation. Now, however, defining exactly what the common interests are has become more difficult. Of course Iran knows perfectly well that Turkey is a NATO member and candidate for EU accession; in other words it is a solid ally of the West. However, it also knows that since the end of the Cold War, Turkey has tried to develop its relations with all its neighbors, including those who have doubts about the objectives of the Western alliance.
So why suddenly have Turkish and Iranian officials started to accuse each other of not being honest? This is undoubtedly about what is going on in Iraq and Syria. Tehran believes that Turkey is defending American interests (and consequently Israeli ones) in the region, while Turkey is convinced that Iran’s stubborn policy on Iraq and Syria will end in the disintegration of those countries. Such an occurrence is very much feared in Turkey because could lead to the eventual emergence of an independent Kurdish state. However, Iran’s essential fear is to lose its influence over the Shia populations across the region, and it will do anything to prevent this from happening. If Iran and Turkey were able to act together or at least in harmony about Iraq and Syria, as Turkey has proposed many times, a more satisfactory situation for all countries in the region could likely be reached.
Everyone has noticed that Turkey has chosen to quarrel with Israel in order to gain more room to maneuver in the Arab world. Quarreling with Israel also means that Turkey has turned its back to Iran’s greatest foe in the region. Turkey’s strategic purpose was to create a common platform that would allow Turkey, Iran and the Arab countries to harmonize their foreign policies. However, Saudi Arabia wasn’t eager to cooperate with Turkey on this, and by the way Iran, too, has rejected the idea. Iran’s negative position has encouraged Bashar al-Assad to refuse Turkey’s help in resolving the Syrian crisis. Meanwhile a deep political crisis has erupted in Iraq.
That’s why it seems now that Turkey and Iran’s long-term expectations are incompatible. The problem is that Iran’s refusal to cooperate with Turkey’s plan was exactly what the Western powers were waiting for. In other words, by its actions, Iran has probably served Western and Israeli interests more than its own interests.
From now on, Turkey may prefer to work more closely with its Western allies regarding Iran, and the latter will have to deal with Western powers more directly. Turkey has insinuated that it will support Western policies toward the region more energetically from now on, showing that it will not give in on Syria.
It is probably repetitive but still necessary to reaffirm: Turkey and Iran, as all countries, may decide at some point to throw themselves into the fire. However, if the two countries decide to cooperate instead of being angry with each other, they can easily interrupt the plans of other countries that are trying to incite them to fight. Unfortunately, there are people in Iran who prefer to sacrifice long-term foreign policy gains for short-term domestic policy interests, without taking into account the fact that internal and international policies are more intertwined than ever.