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August 09, 2012, Thursday

Cold War with Iran

The crisis triggered by Bashar al-Assad's regime, which has been tyrannizing and massacring its own people -- who want nothing but freedom and democracy -- in an unprecedented manner for the past 17 months, seems to have set newer crises in motion with the potential to affect a wider geography and last longer. The regional actors such as Iran, Hezbollah and Iraq's Maliki administration, which lend support to Assad's massacres for political, geostrategic or religious purposes, are sowing the seeds for a regional Cold War with their ruthless moves and threatening statements.

As Syria, where a new massacre is reported every day, is quickly emerging as a bloody proxy war among the regional and global actors, Iran and pro-Iranian Baghdad and Hezbollah spurt a new case of verbal or physical aggression against Turkey. In particular, the Iranian press has recently been teeming with articles injecting a high dose of hostility against Turkey. Iranian officials one after another threaten Turkey. It seems that harsh anti-Turkey threats and statements have become the new method for Iranian officials to show their loyalty to the mullah regime. Using all sorts of available methods, Iran is trying to undermine the respectability and prestige of Turkey and sabotage its influence in the region out of jealousy for Turkey's triumph in the competition for regional leadership.

When recent developments are analyzed in light of the threats, it is clear that Turkey is still unable to see that its recent efforts to protect Iran in the international arena, particularly concerning Iran's nuclear program -- even at the expense of making its traditional allies dubious and concerned -- were futile and trivial. Reports that the terrorist organization Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) recently launched a big terrorist attack against military outposts in Şemdinli and Geçimli with hundreds of militants, and that the terrorists are piling on the Iranian side of the border and that almost half of the terrorists killed were from Iran, Iraq and Syria, are proving beyond doubt that Iran and the Iran-influenced neighbors of Turkey are adopting a hostile attitude towards Turkey. In particular, the PKK's Şemdinli attack, which is indicative of a change in the PKK's tactics, is widely believed to be masterminded by Iran. These attacks undertaken with the proxy war methods are further clarified with the non-diplomatic and impolite statements by some Iranian and Iraqi senior officials.

As you might recall from the numerous articles I have written about Turkish-Iranian relations, Iran has always maintained a hypocritical attitude towards Turkey. Despite Ankara's well-meaning attitudes and even its extremely self-sacrificial initiatives for the benefit of Tehran, Iran has always tried to undermine the prestige of Turkey as an emerging power in the region. The most concrete evidence for this has been that in its quest for a sectarian hegemony in the region, Iran sabotaged secretly or openly Turkey's efforts to create a stable administration in Lebanon and Iraq. And in the Syrian tragedy, the hypocritical Iranian policies had peaked.

In my opinion, Turkey has needlessly afforded protection to Iran against the international community's pressures and political attacks against Iran, and in return for its kindness, Turkey has never received a positive approach from Iran regarding energy or economic or trade relations. Thus, Iran continued to create large obstacles for Turkish companies and for Turkish trucks using the Iranian route to have access to Central Asia. And Iran sold at the highest price oil and natural gas, which Turkey vitally needed. There are many more examples that show the love Turkey extended to Iran was not reciprocated.

As is known, for the past several years, and in particular after the establishment of a defensive NATO radar system in Kürecik in Malatya, Iran has always been hurling threats against Turkey. But unfortunately Ankara's unrequited love for Iran has been to ignore or underestimate them. However, the seriousness of the developments in Syria has eventually made it impossible for some Turkish officials in Ankara to maintain their unrequited love for Iran. Indeed, like the bloodthirsty Assad regime, Iran has started to accuse Turkey in connection with every incident in Syria. Finally, Iran held Turkey responsible for the fate of 48 Iranian Revolutionary Guards who were captured by the Syrian opposition in Syria.

At the same time, speaking to the Revolutionary Guards' official website, Iranian Chief of Staff Gen. Hassan Firouzabadi said Turkey, Qatar and Saudi Arabia are responsible for the bloodshed in Syria, tossing threats against Turkey, and this has been the straw that broke the camel's back for Turkey. Being the second-highest-ranking official in the Iranian armed forces after the spiritual leader Ayatollah Ali Hamaney, Firouzabadi went further to say, "It will be Turkey's turn if it continues to help advance its current policy in Syria."

As a matter of fact, there is nothing surprising or new in Firouzabadi's remarks. And his words are not in conflict with Tehran's traditional attitude against Turkey. What's novel is that, for the first time, Ankara took such remarks seriously and showed due reaction. Previously, Ankara would just ignore or not take seriously similar statements from Tehran. Even the statements Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu has made to the reporters en route to Myanmar give the impression that Ankara is searching for a solution that will allow it to ignore Iran's threats in the current case. Davutoğlu indicates that he has talked to his Iranian counterpart Ali Akbar Salehi about Firouzabadi's remarks, who told him: "Only Ayatollah Ali Hamaney, the president and I can speak on behalf of Iran. Do not take heed of the remarks made for domestic policy purposes."

I hope Ankara will stop resorting to its traditional tactic of burying its head in the sand in the face of the Iranian officials' arrogant statements. "You lend support to the administration which is responsible for the deaths of tens of thousands of people, but you then criticize Turkey. This has nothing to do with sincerity or honesty," Davutoğlu also said, and I hope these words will represent the beginning of a new and rational process Ankara will pursue.

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