Turkey is trying to bring Iran and Russia around to its side in its confrontation with the United States, Gönül Tol, founding director of The Middle East Institute’s Center for Turkish Studies said in an article in the National Interest Magazine.
President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan said last week he did not believe U.S. shipments of arms to Syrian Kurdish fighters were for use against Islamic State, “it means you have calculations against Turkey and Iran, and maybe Russia,” he said.
By making such remarks, Tol said, Erdoğan was trying to “galvanise a common front of anti-U.S. sentiment” in Turkey, Iran and Russia, and downplay its escalating tensions with those countries over the war in Syria. If successful, she said, Turkey would be less likely to compromise with Washington when U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson’s visits Ankara on Friday.
Turkey’s opaque relations with al Qaeda offshoot Hayat Tahrir al-Sham in the Syrian rebel-held province of Idlib appear to be creating tension between Russia and Turkey, Tol said. The militant group claimed responsibility for shooting down a Russian fighter jet using a surface-to-air missile on Feb. 3.
“Russia is frustrated with Turkey’s failure to roll back the al Qaeda–linked Hayat Tahrir al Sham’s influence in Idlib while Iran and the (Syrian President Bashar) Assad regime have grown increasingly uncomfortable with Turkey’s move into Afrin.”
Iran asked Turkey this week to stop its three-week-old military incursion into the Kurdish-held enclave of Afrin, a sign tension between the countries is increasing. Syrian and Iranian forces also attacked a Turkish convoy in Aleppo province this week.
Turkey’s growing isolation, according to Tol, is worrying Erdoğan as well. “He also hopes this will keep the pressure on Washington at a time when Turkish and U.S. forces might clash in Syria,” said Tol. The Turkish leader understands the country “cannot take on Russia and the United States at the same time,” she said.