Tehran-Ankara competition intensifies in South Caucasus
Azerbaijan, Baku, Dec. 2 / Trend E. Tariverdiyeva /
Recent events have intensified Turkey's and Iran's competition in three key areas: the Middle East, missile defense, and security (including energy security) in the South Caucasus, Political Risk Analyst at Menas Associates, London, Alex Jackson wrote in his article published in Azerbaijan Diplomatic Academy (ADA) weekly.
"Iran's antagonistic relationship with Israel has been a major difference between Tehran and Ankara, but the rapid deterioration of Turkish-Israeli ties has caused a significant shift in the geopolitics of the region," he said.
Turkey's motivations in this case are mixed, but one of the reasons is Ankara's desire to become a champion of the "Arab street", he said.
Criticizing Israel and embracing the Arabic revolutionaries is enabling Turkey to outflank Iran.
Tehran has traditionally seen itself as a key player in the region, he said.
Despite concerns about Turkey's ruling Justice and Development Party's (AKP) alleged slide into anti-Westernism and Islamism, Turkey has recently agreed to host part of NATO's planned missile defense network, a network assumed to be aimed at Iran.
Tehran views this gesture as a direct threat and it may lead to a significant deterioration in ties with Ankara.
"The fact that Turkey has agreed to host the missile defense shield speaks volumes about its threat perception of Iran," he said. "Officially, both states have warm and peaceful ties, and to a large extent this is true; but clearly, officials in Ankara believe that Iran's nuclear and ballistic missile program is a threat."
The relations between Iran and Turkey clearly affect Azerbaijan. Baku's multidimensional relationship with Ankara would take precedence, of course, but its ties with Iran would also have to be taken into account. Azerbaijan will balance between them.
Ankara and Tehran are often portrayed as engaging in a kind of "soft war" in the Caucasus, with Turkey backing Azerbaijan in the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict settlement. Iran has closer relations with Armenia.
The reality is more complex, but Iran does represent a vital lifeline to Armenia, a bridge that allows it to partially offset the Turkish-Azerbaijani closure of borders with Yerevan.
"At the same time, Turkey's support is integral to Azerbaijan's security strategy," he said.
Both Turkey and Iran are publicly committed to a peaceful settlement of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict, but have different approaches, he said.
Iran aims at insisting that the conflict will be settled through the negotiations of regional leaders.
"At the same time, both Turkey and Iran seek to decrease the others' influence through promoting their own model of conflict resolution," he said. "Turkey conspicuously avoided including Iran in its Caucasus Stability and Cooperation Platform idea in 2008, while Iran has lobbied for a more active role in the peacemaking efforts.
Competition could emerge between the two countries. But this would not be sufficient to significantly damage Turkish-Iranian ties, but given the fragility and complexity of security in the South Caucasus, it could lead to a sudden shift in regional dynamics and spark confrontation, he said.
The conflict between the two South Caucasus countries began in 1988 when Armenia made territorial claims against Azerbaijan. Armenian armed forces have occupied 20 percent of Azerbaijan since 1992, including the Nagorno-Karabakh region and 7 surrounding districts.
Azerbaijan and Armenia signed a ceasefire agreement in 1994.
The co-chairs of the OSCE Minsk Group - Russia, France, and the U.S. - are currently holding the peace negotiations.
Armenia has not yet implemented the U.N. Security Council's four resolutions on the liberation of the Nagorno-Karabakh and the surrounding regions.