Iran, Syria Plotting to Blunt Turkey
Two of the Middle East's dictators, Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, want to form a united front against NATO ally Turkey for what they see as dangerous meddling in regional affairs.
Believing that it has blunted Saudi Arabia's influence in the Middle East, Iran is now turning its focus on Turkey in an effort to establish Iranian hegemony in the region.
Iranian officials in recent weeks have stepped up their attacks against Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan for allowing NATO to station an early-warning radar in Turkey as part of NATO's missile defense system aimed at countering ballistic missile threats from neighboring Iran. But the Iranians are also furious about Turkey's continuous support of Syrian opposition forces, who are suffering a brutal crackdown from the Assad regime.
Tehran had earlier threatened Turkey to the effect that Iran would bomb every NATO and U.S. base in Turkey should the latter allow any attacks on Syria to be launched from Turkish soil.
Now the two dictators, in an exchange of letters, want to step up the pressure against Erdoğan's administration.
Khamenei, in his personal letter to Assad that has just come to light, stated that "[t]he response to Turkey's bullying must be the strengthening of ties and a strong unity between Iran and Syria," according to a source from within the Iranian regime who disclosed the information to the opposition site Iran Press News.
Khamenei stressed that Iran and Syria, responding to Turkey's "impudence," should also strengthen relations within the Shi'ite realm, which includes Iraq and Lebanon. On Sunday, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton warned Iran not to take advantage of the withdrawal of American forces in Iraq.
According to Khamenei, Shi'ite-dominated Iran has beaten back Saudi Arabia's leadership of Muslims worldwide, and it will not now allow Turkey to fill the leadership void with Sunnis within the Islamic world.
The letter, which was sent via a special envoy, Commander Qassem Soleimani of the Revolutionary Guards Quds Force, was delivered personally to Assad and was in effect a response to Assad's own letter of June 15 delivered to Tehran via a Syrian special envoy. In that June letter, Assad is said to have expressed his concern for the abrupt and aggressive behavior of the Turks against the Syrians. Assad also begged for the Iranian regime's assistance to his country in both the political and the international areas. He thanked Iran for assisting with the active suppression of the protests in his country.
However, the main thrust of Assad's letter was on relations with Turkey.
Khamenei believes, based on recent Turkish insults to Syria, that Iran and Syria must respond swiftly and aggressively as soon as a limited form of stability and calm is achieved in Syria, since Turkey is situated between the two countries. Turkey must be shown that belittling Syria is indirectly an insult to Iran and will not be overlooked.
Khamenei's letter, which addresses Assad as his "Brother in Arms," suggests joint actions, such as protests in front of or around the Turkish embassies in Iran and Syria, that would insult Erdoğan. To that end, Khamenei says, Iran and the terrorist group Hezbollah will assist Syria, since "when deceivers lift their masks off their faces, real friends must prove their loyalty." Khamenei reiterated that he is proud to have sanctions put on him by the West for standing by Syria.
Khamenei also condemns Turkey's direct call for the removal of Assad's younger brother, Maher al-Assad, from his post as commander of Syria's Republican Guard, and Turkey's willingness to host the gathering of Syrian opposition forces in Anatolia, as unacceptable meddling in Syrian affairs and an attempt to remove the elected president of Syria. Khamenei requests that Assad, via a confidential channel, demand that the Turks cease and desist from any further manipulation and subterfuge in Iran and Syria's area of suzerainty.
Iranian officials and commentators believe that Turkey wants to bring Syria under its own influence in an empty hope of reviving the Ottoman Empire by expanding Turkey's control over the Middle East. Turkey feels, these experts say, that it must prove to the West that it is the only problem-solver in the region.
Khamenei believes that Turkey is meddling in Syrian affairs because of Turkey's own internal problems and that Erdoğan is afraid that events in Syria will spill over into Turkey as a result of the Kurdish rebellion. Just last week, Turkish forces pursued Kurdish rebels across the border into Iraq, killing dozens of the Kurds.
With Moammar Gaddafi's execution in Libya, Iranian leaders worry that Assad, their closest ally in the region, could be next and even be the catalyst for the downfall of the Islamic regime in Iran, which has for decades brutally suppressed its own people. However, President Obama's announcement last week that U.S. forces would be gone from Iraq by the end of this year might provide the radicals in Iran an opening to further consolidate power in region.
The dangerous game Iran is playing could lead to a wider conflict.
Reza Kahlili is a pseudonym for an ex-CIA spy who requires anonymity for safety reasons. He is a senior fellow with EMPact America and the author of A Time to Betray, a book about his double-life as a CIA agent in Iran's Revolutionary Guards, published by Threshold Editions, Simon & Schuster, April 2010. A Time to Betray was the winner of the 2010 National Best Book Award and the 2011 International Best Book Award.