Why the deepening ties between Tehran, Ankara and Doha can and will be broken
The latest developments in the region, specifically the formation of a new Qatari-Turkish-Iranian axis, could have a significant impact on the geopolitical, strategic and socio-economic landscape.
In the past, the region was mainly thought of through the predominant narrative of Shia groups led by the Iranian government versus the Sunni-led coalition. On the one hand, Iran, Hizbollah, the Houthis, Iraqi Shia militias and Bashar Al Assad’s regime cooperated closely to expand their influence. On the other, the Sunni-led coalition stood opposed to Mr Al Assad, the Houthis and Iran Revolutionary Guard Corp’s military adventurism.
But the current Qatar crisis has added a new layer of complexity to the geopolitical equation.
Turkey, a country with a predominantly Sunni population, was traditionally opposed to Shia Iran. In February 2017, the Turkish foreign minister, Mevlut Cavusoglu, criticised the Iranian government for attempting to weaken Ankara and its allies by implementing “sectarian policy” in the region. Iran's foreign ministry spokesman, Bahram Qassemi, responded by accusing Turkey of supporting terrorist groups. The two countries fight on opposite sides in Syria and have significant differences regarding the Kurdish question.
Read more on the Qatar crisis
Nevertheless, when the recent crisis began, Turkey had to make a decision between Qatar and other Gulf states. Ankara not only chose Qatar, it significantly bolstered ties with Doha, signing 15 trade agreements relating to gas, technology and logistics. Militarily speaking, Turkish leaders plan to ratchet up the presence of their forces in Doha to 3,000 troops and last week, Qatari and Turkish navies carried out a joint exercise. Mutual support for the Muslim Brotherhood and Hamas, another commonality between the two countries, has also increased. Tehran, meanwhile, sees the current moment as ripe for exploitation. Iranian leaders have offered assistance to both Qatar and Turkey. Land trade is expected to pass through Iran. The Iranian government also decided to shift its strategic policy by joining Turkish forces against some Kurdish groups in Syria.
Gen Mohammad Hossein Bagheri, Iran’s chief of general staff, visited Ankara on August 15, a trip that was characterised as a milestone by both Iranian and Turkish state news outlets. The Iranian official said the trip was "necessary for better consultation and cooperation on various military and regional issues.”
Tehran is the only player in this game that has nothing to lose. In fact, the Iranian government only gains by attracting more players on its side, while Qatar and Turkey will inevitably incur economic losses from pursuing deeper ties with Iran and by turning away from the rest of the Gulf.
While the three-way alliance defies the mainstream narrative of examining the region solely through the prism of Shia versus Sunni, it also means that the Qatar-Turkey-Iranian alliance can be disrupted because there exists some underlying deep policy differences between Tehran and Ankara, in particular regarding Bashar Al Assad’s rule and the destiny of the Kurds in Iraq and Syria.
Dr Majid Rafizadeh is president of the International American Council
> More on the Qatar crisis: Qatar's broken pledges
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Updated: August 18, 2017 05:44 PM