Home > Politics > The regional policies of Turkey and Iran in the Middle East

The regional policies of Turkey and Iran in the Middle East

Below is an excerpt from Iranian Diplomacy, from an interview with Jochen Hippler, a political scientist specializing on the Middle East. Interestingly, Hippler mentions a point that has been quite important in Turkish foreign policy toward the Middle East, that Turkey can act as a source of technology. Turkey’s alliance with Europe and the USA has given it access to technological expertise and materials that it can and has leveraged in its relations to the region, such as in the case of using its own companies to deliver services (such as negotiations around energy extraction and refinement), or even the potential transmission of technology to states. Furthermore, Turkey has the potential, due to its close partnership with and geographic proximity to Europe, act as a trade and transit bridge to the European continent, which can also be leveraged in its foreign relations.

Q: What do you think of the regional competition between Iran and Turkey? Just as Turkey, Iran is trying to influence the domestic and foreign policies of Arab countries. Many observers believe that there is a competition going on between Iran and Turkey to add more Arab countries to their camp. Do you agree with these observers?

Hippler: Not that much. I think there are two counter-arguments for such analyses. First of all, Iran is trying to find and integrate exceptions in the Arab World. It is following this policy in Lebanon, has relations with some Iraqi groups with this aim and also tries to exert its influence on Palestinian groups such as Hamas. The Arab World is looking at such efforts with suspicion. Arab countries think that Iran is trying to promote its ideology between Arab countries and revive its ancient influence over Arabs.

So I think that Iran’s policy contradicts that of Turkey and this gives Turkey the upper hand. For Turks, ancient past is history and can’t be developed anymore. Also, there is more sympathy between some Arab countries and Turkey. Religious factors –I mean the Shiite-Sunni issue- can bring Turkey and Arabs closer. So against Turkey, Iran doesn’t have so many opportunities.

On the other hand, Turkey’s chances aren’t that much better. Although Turkey’s position among the Arab countries is better than Iran, we cannot blow it out of proportion. I think that for Turkey, it is more important to attract Arab and Muslim countries and spearhead their ties with the United States and West. This can be an advantage for Turkey. Arabs have oil and Turkey has technology which comes from West, especially the United States. Arab countries need that technology. Through Turkey, they can export their products to the European Union. Strong ties with EU can help Turkey in its interaction with Arab countries.

In my opinion, this is the policy Turkey is following right now. Look at the quality of its relations with Syria, Egypt, Lebanon or even Jordan. So for those reasons, Turkey can outperform Iran in its ties with Arab countries. Compared with Iran, it can be a better diplomatic leader for Arab countries. Iran’s chances are lower. So I don’t think talks about regional competition between Iran and Turkey are realistic.

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