Soner Çağaptay, director of the Turkish Research Program at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, has claimed that Turkey's increasing prestige in Arab countries due to its current foreign policy, NATO membership and EU accession bid disturbs Iran.
Çağaptay, in comments to Today's Zaman, said: “Although Turkey wants to establish good relations with Iran, Iran considers Turkey, whose influence and power in the region is increasing, as a rival. While Turkey is boosting its influence in the region, Iran's is declining.”
Turkey and Iran are two countries in the region that have not been paralyzed by the events of the Arab Spring. “I believe that Iran, the oldest imperial regime of the region, will try to preserve its position in the region at all costs,” Çağaptay added.
While Turkey turned its back on the East and tilted toward the West, Iran strengthened its hand in the region, Çağaptay noted. But when Turkey refocused its foreign policy on the Middle East 10 years ago and began deepening its relations with other countries in the region, Ankara became Iran's rival.
“If the Arab Spring had never occurred, there would have been secret competition,” Çağaptay posited.
He pointed to the two countries' conflicting stances on the regime crisis in Syria, which he said has taken the Turkish-Iranian rivalry to an unprecedented level. “While Turkey supports the Syrian opposition, Iran has decided to support Syria's Assad regime. In the end, either the Syrian opposition or the Assad regime will win. In other words, either Turkey or Iran will win.”
Çağaptay said Iran's future relations with the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) are a way to determine whether Iran considers Turkey a threat. "If the terrorist organization conducts large-scale attacks this spring, and there are indications that Iran supports the PKK, we would then assume Iran considers Turkey a threat. Unfortunately, Iran would use the PKK as leverage against Turkey.”
In the midst of the political tumults of the Arab Spring, Turkey's relations with Syria, Iran and Russia have soured, Çağaptay said. Turkey's decision to host NATO's missile shield project has shifted the balance of the region, he argued. “The Arab Spring and developments in Iran showed that Muslim countries pay great importance to Turkey because of its NATO membership and the EU accession process. Ankara has analyzed this fact properly.”
“If Turkey were not a NATO member, it would not differ from any other rich Arab country in their eyes. Saudi Arabia and the Gulf countries need Turkey as a NATO member to minimize and balance the influence of Iran in the region. Because, in addition to its prestige, NATO makes it possible for its members to access US defense and weapons technology,” he said.