At a February 5 meeting of the Justice and Development Party, Deputy
Prime Minister Bulent Arinc delivered a blistering critique of Iran's
policy of support for Syrian President Bashar al-Assad despite the
Syrian government's bloody crackdown on opposition strongholds.
"I am addressing the Islamic Republic of Iran: I do not know if you
are worthy of being called Islamic," Arinc said, according to the
Anatolia state news agency. "Have you said a single thing about what is
happening in Syria?"
This tone represents quite a change from 2009, when Turkish President
Abdullah Gül was among the first world leaders to congratulate Iranian
President Mahmoud Ahmedinejad on his contested reelection, or in 2010,
when Ankara put its relationship with Washington on the line by voting
against Iran sanctions in the United Nations Security Council.
News coverage also comes with a sharper edge. The Turkish press has
increasingly started running articles that cast suspicions on Iran's
intentions in the region and in Turkey, with some recent reports and
columns suggesting that the Revolutionary Guards were planning attacks
inside Turkey and that Iran is smuggling weapons through the country to
Hugh Pope, Turkey project director for the Brussels-based
International Crisis Group, and one of the authors of a report on Iran
and Turkey to be released on February 23, believes that Ankara's more
critical stance toward Iran indicates that "[t]he more hawkish faction
in Ankara, the kind that thinks Iran is crossing the line in Syria and
Iraq, is becoming more pronounced . . ."
Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan "feels personally burned
by the Iranians . . . " Pope commented. "Erdoğan likes to have wins and
the risks he took for Iran did not pay off, either in the US or Iran."
But the two sides' mutual wariness is not always consistent. An
Iranian general earlier threatened a retaliatory strike if Turkey hosted
a North Atlantic Treaty Organization missile radar, but, nonetheless,
Tehran has also proposed Istanbul as a possible site for another round
of talks about Iran's nuclear research program.
Much of the Turkish-Iranian sparring is done instead via proxies. In
Iraq, Turkey's neighbor to the south, Ankara's support for the Sunni
Iraqiya alliance resulted in a falling out with Iranian-backed Prime
Minister Nouri al-Maliki, who has since gone on to accuse Ankara of
"interfering" in Iraq's internal affairs.
"There is quite a strong and growing rivalry between the two
countries inside of Iraq, and it stems from having genuinely different
interests," said Sean Kane, a former UN official in Iraq and the author
of a 2011 report on Turkish-Iranian competition in Iraq for the United
States Institute of Peace.
"For Turkey, having a strong Iraq has historically been a bulwark
against Kurdish separatism and Iranian adventurism. Iran looks at all of
this very differently. A strong Iraq is a rival, and historically has
been a hard security threat."