Erdogan’s unconstructive messaging toward Iran

February 13, 2022 - 21:14

TEHRAN – While Turkey has embarked on a new path of cooperation with many regional countries, it continues to spread allegations that could damage its relations with neighboring Iran.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is now in a new diplomatic mood. He keeps sending conciliatory messages in all directions. He warmly received Abu Dhabi Crown Prince Mohammad bin Zayed Al Nahyan in Ankara, exchanged warm greetings with Israeli President Isaac Herzog, who is expected to visit Ankara soon. Erdogan is also preparing to make a historic two-day visit to Abu Dhabi on Monday.

He also significantly soothed tensions with Saudi Arabia and Egypt. In Libya, he ceased to be protecting his allies in Western Libya by force. 

In a bid to expedite reconciliations with his onetime rivals, Erdogan prevented Turkish media from publishing news and reports that may damage relations with many countries in the region. Muslim Brotherhood-affiliated television networks no longer operate from Turkey to target Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates. Turkey-based Hamas leaders are instructed to tone down their rhetoric against Israel. 

All that is because the Turkish president suddenly discovered that “now is the time for regional peace and cooperation initiatives.”

On Sunday, a day before he visits the UAE, Erdogan wrote an op-ed for the Khaleej Times newspaper, saying that Ankara is willing to develop relations with every country. “Turkiye is one of the rare countries that seeks to balance its interests with peace and stability in its foreign policy. We strive to apply this principle to all parties we come into contact with. Our fundamental principles are aligning our interests, extending the fields of cooperation using the ‘win-win’ formula, and joint struggle against threats. As Turkiye, we are ready to develop our cooperation with every country and work together to solve regional problems,” he said. 

But recent announcements by Turkey about alleged Iran-led attempts to kill or kidnap people residing in Turkey run counter to Erdogan’s stated policy of expanding his countries’ foreign relations.

Over the last few days, a barrage of accusations was leveled by Turkish media against Iran. On Friday, while the upcoming visit of the Israeli president to Turkey was in the news, Turkish media broke the alleged news that Turkey’s National Intelligence Organization (MIT) had foiled an alleged plot by Iran to assassinate an Israeli-Turkish businessman using a network of hitmen.

The businessman was identified as Yair Geller, an Istanbul-based tycoon with investments in the machine and defense industries. MIT’s counterintelligence branch claimed that the plot was in response to Israel’s 2020 assassination of Iranian nuclear scientist Mohsen Fakhrizadeh on the outskirt of Tehran. 

In addition to the Israeli businessman, MIT also claimed that it foiled another plot by Iran – this time to kidnap Iranian dissidents living in Turkey.

On Friday, MIT briefed Turkish media outlets on its alleged counterintelligence efforts that allegedly led to busting the Iranian plotters and Turks collaborating with them. Simultaneously, Turkish media showed footage featuring arrests, home searches, and the transfer of suspects. 

The alleged Turkish revelations come at a time when Iran is looking to open a new chapter in bilateral cooperation, especially with neighboring countries of which Turkey is an important one. 

Iranian President Ayatollah Seyed Ebrahim Raisi on Thursday laid out the principles and characteristics of his administration’s foreign policy in a meeting with foreign ambassadors, heads of foreign missions and organizations in Tehran.

The president said his government has proved its sincerity in strengthening friendly relations with neighbors and other international partners in the period since its inauguration. “In our efforts for a new approach in the field of diplomacy, we are trying to create a new chapter of cooperation and multilateralism.”

Ayatollah Raisi added, “We have also taken effective steps to improve relations with all neighbors and by strengthening ports and transit corridors, we have prepared the way for the development and expansion of cooperation with neighbors.”

Turkey, however, does not seem equally eager to improve relations with the region’s countries. The recent history of Erdogan’s diplomatic turnabouts shows that he treats change in Turkey’s foreign policy only selectively. While he moves to patch up relations with old rivals in the region, he keeps ignoring allegations propagated by his country’s media outlets against Iran.

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