A very nice article by Al Monitor, titled “How Turkey Really Feels about the Iran Deal”, July 2015. The article examines how Turkey sees the agreement about Iran’s nuclear program, which will allow Iran, after many years of isolation, to reconnect to the Western world.
The article says that Turkey sees the agreement positively, because she expects economics benefits from it. Obviously it will be a great benefit for the Turkish economy if Iran finally sends its natural gas to Europe through Turkey. I must add that Turkey has helped Iran a great deal during its negotiations with the West for obvious reasons. However the article also mentions that Turkey worries with the possibility of Iran rising to a regional power. A statement made by the Turkish Foreign Minister says it all. After the agreement was reached about the Iranian nuclear program, Melvut Cavusoglu said that Iran must play a constructive role in Iraq and Syria. And the Al Monitor article wonders what will happen if Iran does not care to play a constructive role in Iraq and Syria?
The truth is that Turkey worries about the dramatic improvement in the relations between USA and Iran. Maybe Turkey did not see that coming. Recently the Americans and the Iranians were fighting ISIS together. Taking into account that Turkey exerts a lot of influence on ISIS, this could be seen as an indirect war between the Americans and the Iranians on one hand, and the Turks and some Arabs on the other. That’s a total conversion of the geopolitical landscape of the Middle East.
It is true that Turkey wanted an agreement to be reached between Iran and the West, but she also hoped that in the meantime the Syrian dictator Bashar al Assad would be overturn. Turkey was hoping that Assad would be forced to go to elections and that Turkey and the Arabs would manage to take Syria away from the Iranian influence. Syria’s Muslim population is predominantly Sunni, like it is the case with Turkey and most Arab countries, while Assad is an Alawite. Alawites are an offshoot of Shiite Islam, and Shiite Muslims are the overwhelming majority of the Iranian population.
We therefore saw in Syria a very strange thing happening. In the beginning the Americans were pushing for Assad’s overturn, and the Russians were helping the Iranians to keep Assad in power. But as the agreement about Iran’s nuclear program was approaching, and as the American-Turkish relations were deteriorating, the Americans were becoming less willing to overturn Assad, and the Russians were becoming less willing to support Assad.
For the Russians Assad is usefull as long as Iran is a Russian ally, because Syria’s main ally is Iran. If Iran becomes an American ally, and starts selling its oil and natural gas to Europe, harming Russian interests, then Assad might even become a problem for Russia. If Iran becomes an American ally, Russia would prefer Syria to be controlled by Turkey. Because no matter how antagonistic the relationship between Russia and Turkey is, Turkey needs Russia, since she buys from Russia most of her natural gas. Note that in Ukraine, which is not important for the Turkish energy policy, Turkey remained silent, even though she is a prominent NATO member. Iran on the other hand, if it starts selling its oil and natural gas to Europe might not need Russia at all. Iran might even see Russia as an opponent.
Therefore one should expect that the more the American-Iranian relations improve, and the more the Turkish-American relations deteriorate, the less Russia will be willing to keep Assad in power. See also Russia Direct “Is Russia finally turning its back on Assad”?, June 2015.
Under the new geopolitical landscape Turkey’s geopolitical significance deteriorate, because if Iran is supported by the US, it might be able to hold the Iran-Iraq-Syria line, and export its oil and natural gas to Europe avoiding Turkey. That is if Turkey and Iran do not manage to work things out. It is useful to try to see thing from the point of view of the US. What is for sure is that the optimal solution for the Americans is for Iran to send its oil and natural gas to Europe through Turkey. But let’s take the scenario that the Turks and the Iranians do not manage to work things out. There are thee other options, as you can see on the following map.
The first one is the Southern Energy Corridor, the green line, the second one is the East Med Pipeline, the red line, and the third one is the Iran-Iraq-Syria pipeline, the purple line. The Southern Energy Corridor is the only one that can avoid the sea, but it is difficult to supply it with gas and oil without Iran, since Iran and Russia block the Trans-Caspian pipeline which could send Kazakh and Turkmen oil and gas to Turkey and Europe, avoiding Iran and Russia. Moreover Turkey is not for the US the ally that she once was. Finally in the Balkans the Russians have a lot of influence and can cause problems to the Southern Energy Corridor, like they are already doing.
The East Med pipeline i.e. Israel-Cyprus-Greece, has less than two trillion cubic meters of natural gas and almost no oil. Therefore either Saudi Arabia or Qatar would have to join this pipeline. But Qatar is Turkey’s closest ally, and together they fight Israel from Gaza. Saudi Arabia on the other hand has an alliance with Israel against the Iranians, and that could be a possibility. Moreover, Jordan, the country that lies between Israel and Saudi Arabia, has good relations with Israel, and she is one of the two Arab countries that have ever singed a peace treaty with Israel, after Israel’s creation in 1948. Egypt is the other one that singed a peace treaty with Israel in 1979. Jordan signed the peace treaty in 1994. Even Saudi Arabia, which unofficially cooperates with Israel against Iran and Turkey, does not officially recognize Israel.
However under this scenario, Turkey and Iran would attack Jordan, and it could be very difficult for Israel and Saudi Arabia to protect Jordan. Israel and Saudi Arabia are already trying very hard to prevent ISIS from taking Jordan. If ISIS takes Syria, it will be like Turkey infiltrating between Israel and Saudi Arabia, and the two countries are already facing Turkey in many other places. You can also read International Business Times, “Fighting ISIS: Kings of Jordan, Saudi Arabia Meeting To Discuss Terrorism, Regional Conflicts”, February 2015, about the Saudi and the Jordanian efforts to keep ISIS away from Jordan and Saudi Arabia. http://www.ibtimes.com/fighting-isis-kings-jordan-saudi-arabia-meeting-discuss-terrorism-regional-conflicts-1827822
Having said all that, one might argue that maybe for the Americans the best solution is the Iran-Iraq-Syria line. That is of course leaving aside the Iran-Turkey-Europe solution which is without doubt the best one. Under this scenario the Americans and the Iranians would have to fight the Turks, the Arabs and the Russians. But given the rise of the Iranian economy and the Iranian army that will follow Iran’s nuclear agreement, the Iranians, supported by the Americans could clear the Iran-Iraq-Syria corridor. Maybe yes maybe not. I don’t know.
I must say that I am just guessing, because it is very difficult to say with accuracy which option will turn out to be the best one. What can be said for sure is that the option Iran-Turkey-Europe is the best one for the Americans, and that the Americans would be crazy to waste the option Iran-Iraq-Syria, by helping Turkey to take control of Syria, because that would give Turkey the power to blackmail the Americans and the EU, as she has already done in the past.
For the Al Monitor article see
“How Turkey Really Feels about the Iran Deal”, July 2015