The notion of a joint Iran-Turkey invasion of Israel is a realistic scenario according to several Middle East experts.
According to Jpost correspondent Seth Franzman‘s analysis, both Ankara and Tehran have been cooperating in various Middle East conflicts including their opposition to American involvement in Syria as well as battling Kurdish dissident groups. And the once rivals also now share a hatred of Israel combined with the support of Hamas which could translate into a united front in a potential war against Israel.
Franzman notes a high-level meeting between Iran’s foreign minister Mohammad Javad Zarif and Turkish officials where the former asked that Ankara help his country fight against sanctions. In exchange, Tehran would support Turkish efforts in Libya to secure offshore oil drilling rights.
Other coordinated incursions between the two Muslim countries include a joint strike against Kurdish rebel groups in Northern Iraq. The IRGC, who Washington considers to be a terrorist organization, is currently coordinating with Turkey to fight “terrorist” threats from the “Iraqi Kurdistan region” according to Iran’s Tasnim News.
But the joint Iran-Turkey efforts in Iraq could now be redirected towards Israel, warns Franzman. One example is how Turkey’s Religious Affairs Ministry has threatened to mobilize the Muslim community against Israel to protect Jerusalem against annexation. Similar sentiments have been heard from Tehran as Iran’s supreme leader, Ali Khamenei, called for “armed resistance” (against Israel) on May 21.
Franzman also notes how Hamas is currently funded by Turkish-backed Qatar and the two maintain very close diplomatic ties.
Franzman, notes other commonalities between Turkey and Iran which include a shared antipathy towards Israel and Saudi Arabia. Both are allied with Qatar and Hamas. They both want a downgraded US role in Syria. Tehran has agreed that in exchange for support in opposing sanctions against them, the Islamic Republic would pressure Kurdish dissidents in Iran while coordinating with Turkey in Iraq.
Noting that both Turkey and Iran need another cause to rally popular support both at home and in the region, a bullseye on Jerusalem could be next.
Dr. Mordechai Kedar
Dr. Mordechai Kedar, a senior lecturer in the Department of Arabic at Bar-Ilan University, noted that Turkey and Iran were diametrically opposed due to their religious differences with Iran being strongly Shia and Turkey being strongly Sunni.
“Sometimes, Sunni and Shia cooperate against a common enemy,” Dr. Kedar said, noting that Iran, fanatically Shia, funds Hamas and the Islamic Jihad, fanatically Sunni, against Israel, the small devil, and the US, the great devil.”
Dr. Kedar emphasized that Russia was a major player in this complicated game.
“Russia is allied with Khalifa Haftar in Libya,” Dr. Kedar said. “This pits Turkey against Russia since Erdogan is working to depose him. Erdogan is also helping the rebels in Syria who are trying to depose Bashar al Assad, who Russia supports.”
“Erdogan has really put himself in a difficult position regarding Russia because he thinks he is stronger than Putin. For a similar reason, Erdogan has antagonized the US by buying Russian military hardware and making overtures to Putin, despite being a NATO member. Erdogan sees all the internal strife in the US and thinks this is the opportunity to thumb his nose at Trump and take advantage since Trump cannot deal with anything except what he has on his plate right now.”
“Turkey and Iran see themselves as a powerful unified front that can stand against any other country in the world right now, whether it is Russia, the US, Israel, or Saudi Arabia.”
Dr. Kedar noted that Libya plays a key role in this Iran-Turkey alliance.
“In one word; gas,” Dr. Kedar said. “Two months ago, there was an agreement between Turkey and Libya regarding the natural gas under the Mediterranean. The Turkish agreement attempts to obviate the agreements between Israel and Cyprus and Egypt which have already agreed on the division of the same gas reserve. This gas reserve is huge and the political implications are even bigger.”
“Keep in mind that the biggest players in the world’s natural gas market today are Iran, Qatar, and Russia. There are two separate and opposing coalitions with interests and agreements about the one gas reserve.”
“So even if Iran and Turkey don’t like each other, they share a common interest in the gas. But as soon as they are together on the common interest of the gas reserves, a global concern, this alliance can be used for other ‘smaller’ interests like Jerusalem and Israel.”
Dr. Efrat Aviv
Dr. Efrat Aviv, a senior lecturer in the Dept. of Middle Eastern Studies at Bar Ilan University and an expert on Turkey, suggested that it would be misleading to describe the relationship between Turkey and Iran as an alliance.
She noted that the Ottoman Empire, the previous incarnation of Turkey, and the Persian Empire, the previous incarnation of Iran, were at war for over 300 years, finally laying down their arms in the 1820s. The conflict between these two huge countries who share a sliver of a border began under the rule of Ismail I who unified Iran as a Shia empire creating what might seem an irreconcilable conflict with the Sunni Ottomans to the west.
“These borders and differences still exist today,” Dr. Aviv said. “They always were and are still in conflict over the hegemony of the region and of the Islamic world. While Saudi Arabia is the leader of the Sunni world in its right, Turkey and Iran are both Muslim but are not Arab. They each have about 82 million people and large militaries. This puts them in direct conflict. This also sets them at odds with Israel; the only other non-Arab entity in the region.”
“Despite their differences and their history, the two countries have occasionally had good relations, depending on their vested interests at the time.”
“For economic and trade, Iran and Turkey can get along quite well,” Dr. Aviv said. “In Turkish culture, there are no ‘friends’. There are only common interests. This is especially true of foreign powers. They have an expression that there is no friend for a Turk other than another Turk. There are agreements, agendas, and goals but no real alliances. This allowed Turkey to stay out of World War II until the very end. This allows them to be a member of NATO but still buy Russian military hardware when it suits them.”
“Even after hundreds of years of war with Iran, they can agree to work with Iran against a common enemy.”
“What this means for the US, Israel, and other countries is that even if Turkey is not an enemy, even if they are working with you right now, if their interests suddenly demand, they can become an enemy overnight.”.
David Sidman contributed to this report.