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Iranian-Turkish relations strained over Syrian agendas

Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei (R), speaks with Turkish officials while meeting with Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Turkish prime minister at the time, in Tehran, Dec. 3, 2006.  (photo by REUTERS)

In an Oct. 13 speech marking the new academic year at Marmara University, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan asked, “What kind of religious leader is this [who] says ‘[Syrian President Bashar al-] Assad is the only one challenging Israel’? Assad didn’t shoot a bullet at Israel. Assad killed 250,000, and you’re still supporting him, sending him money and arms.” The religious leader in Erdogan’s crosshair was Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

The Marmara speech was possibly the first time since the Syrian crisis erupted that Erdogan has directly slammed Iranian policy on Syria. The weirdest part of it was his criticism of Khamenei, a clear indication that what once had been strong ties between the two countries has been radically altered by the clash of interests laid bare by the ongoing civil war. Despite deserving to lead the news, Erdogan’s remarks did not receive the media coverage they warranted in Iran, the Arab world or internationally.

While discussing Erdogan, an Iranian official told Al-Monitor by phone, “The death of 250,000 in Syria was caused by nations that back the terrorists in Syria. Turkey is one of those states, and it has full responsibility for the situation today. Mr. Erdogan personally knows that Iran is innocent. Iran is helping a legitimate government restore control over its land and fight terrorists coming from around the globe to kill and terrorize civilians.”

The source also said that Tehran had decided that the time is not yet right to respond publicly to what he called Erdogan’s “irresponsible” comments. He stated, “It will require hours of speaking to remind him of his last visit and what he told the [supreme] leader. We don’t have to time for this right now, and we know this is only for domestic consumption.”

The official further said of Erdogan, “He has to ask himself, who opened the borders? Who gave weapons to these extremists? Who is it that transformed his country into a huge training camp?” He explained that Iran had been surprised by Erdogan’s rhetoric. “This is another indication that Ankara isn’t really serious about cooperating to end the crisis in Syria. It’s such a shame that an essential country in the region is still not determined to fight terrorism, is hesitant to help its Kurdish neighbors in any way and at the same time is attacking those who warned of this end from the beginning.”

Erdogan paid his most recent visit to Tehran on Jan. 29, as prime minister. Supposedly quoting Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, Naqavi Hosseini, spokesman of the National Security and Foreign Policy Commission, told reporters Oct. 8 that Erdogan would be paying Iran a presidential visit and meet his counterpart and other high-ranking officials. It is not known whether the visit is still on after Erdogan’s critical remarks.

Turkish-Iranian relations appear to have peaked during Erdogan’s January visit and the signing at that time of a strategic cooperation treaty. Khamenei’s words were as clear as day, with his being reported as saying that Iranian-Turkish relations were at their best in centuries and that both countries must seize the opportunity to solidify their relationship. Erdogan offered that Iran felt to him like a second home. So what happened? Why do Turkish-Iranian relations now appear to be going in the opposite direction?

As with most other shake-ups in the region, Syria appears to be the problem. Both countries earlier expressed a keenness to move toward compromise, but events on the ground threw barriers in the way. The rise of the Islamic State (IS) and the formation of the US-led coalition imposed on all parties the need to move forward with plans to deal with the Middle East’s new sick man, i.e., Syria. There was no more time for diplomacy or kind words, as the map of regional alliances became clearer by the day. As it turned out, Turkey and Iran were not in the same boat. Each backed a different set of allies on the ground and around the region.

Turkey’s strategist and prime minister, Ahmet Davutoglu, has been seriously thinking about his country’s role in the new regional order. On Oct. 19 he declared that Turkey would not become the guardian of the Sykes-Picot borders. Ankara is certain that the situation that prevailed before the war against IS and thecoalition airstrikes has been superseded. It is therefore aiming to secure some gains before shooting a bullet. It knows well that what applies today — when the coalition needs to make use of its borders and position — will not apply after the coalition prevails (should that become a reality).

The removal of Assad is Turkey’s first priority. This need not be achieved directly, but Ankara believes it should be acknowledged as a necessity in solving the Syrian crisis. Full control by Turkey’s allies over northern Syria, from the border with Iraq to the Mediterranean, would ease Ankara’s concerns over the possible establishment of a Kurdish state on its border, in addition to being an essential element in defeating Assad’s regime and hastening its fall. Northern Syria would become a safe haven for the Turkish-backed Syrian opposition to establish their control and expand under coalition airstrikes. Therein lies Turkey’s problem with Iran.

The Iranians want to rid the region of IS at any cost. Although it is true that they refuse to support or bless the US-led coalition and have criticized its effectiveness, they know that the strikes are succeeding in keeping IS somewhat in check. They are also thinking of their post-Sykes-Picot status, or at least about keeping the sick man alive to the extent possible to prevent losing too much of the ground they have gained during the last decade.

To Iran, the fall of Assad would mean the loss of Syria as a whole and the isolation of Hezbollah within the borders of Lebanon. It would also mean that Iranian-influenced Iraq, where most Sunni and Kurdish regions are outside the government’s control, would be under threat. In such a scenario, Iran’s influence in the Levant would be severely scaled back. This possibility has pushed Iran toward ditching its usual “policy of ambiguity” concerning its presence on the ground in the region. Today, images and statements touting itsmilitary role in Iraq have became common, even exaggerated, sending a clear signal that it has boots on the ground and that it is ready to do whatever necessary to achieve its objectives.

The clash between Iran and Turkey is likely to intensify, but only in regard to the battlefields of Syria and Iraq. These descendants of the Safavid and Ottoman Empires will always keep their differences away from their borders and mutual interests. Thus, it is unlikely that Turkish-Iranian economic relations will suffer. Business should proceed as usual.

Source: Al-Monitor

Suleimani – The Second Most Powerful Man in Tehran

Suleimani

The most interesting Iranian person in the world right now isn’t sitting in Vienna to talk about the nuclear agreement, and isn’t dishing out quirky or alarming quotes from Tehran. He is probably on a plane, flying to and from Beirut, Damascus, Baghdad etc…helping to increase Tehran’s military and political influence.

Meet Qassam Suleimani, commander of the IRGC’s „external“ operations units, better known as the Qods Force. A former CIA chief, John Maguire calls him, „the single most powerful operative in the Middle East today„. Or you can call him by his nickname: Keiser Soze.

Suleimani in Iran

On the outside, he leads a „regular life“. He is 57 years old. He wakes up every day at 4:00 and goes to sleep early at 21:30. He has five children. He takes his wife on some of his many „business“ trips. He suffers from back aches. He never raises his voice (in fact he is silent most of the time) but is gifted with an „understated charisma that makes people pay attention to him.

He is also a decorated war hero from the Iran-Iraq war and is connected all the way up to the Supreme Leader Khamenei himself who has referred to Suleimani as “a living martyr of the revolution.”

Rumours have it that Suleimani recently attempted a coup against Rouhani which was blocked at the last moment by Khamenei himself.“

Running the War in Damascus

In Syria, Suleimani has worked as the liaison between the leaders in Tehran, the Hezbollah chiefs and Bashar al-Assad for the past 3 years. He has built up Assad’s army from the inside after once exclaiming „The Syrian army is useless! Give me one brigade of the Basij, and I would conquer the whole country“.

He works in Damascus from a fortified nondescript building together with a large array of officers: Syrian military commanders, a Hezbollah commander, a coordinator of Iraqi Shiite militias and a close comrade of his, the Basij former deputy commander Brigadier General Hossein Hamedani.

Once Suleimani got settled in, an immediate sharp increase in Iranian supply flights into the Damascus airport carrying weapons and ammunition was noticed. Thousands of Quds operatives suddenly turned up within the Syrian army and in Assad’s special security service.

Working Behind the Scenes in Baghdad

But, as the ISIS crisis got into Iraq, Suleimani flew out repeatedly to Baghdad. The Guardian says – „Experts agree that it is hard to overestimate Suleimani’s role in Iraq. „At times of crisis Suleimani is the supreme puppeteer…He is everywhere and he’s nowhere. Suleimani is doing in Baghdad what he did in Damascus“ – this time with Maliki instead of Assad.

Under his guidance, Tehran began by supplying Maliki with weapons and militia men as well as flying out drones and jet fighters into Iraq. Judging from Suleimani’s experience in Damascus, one can only expect Suleiman to set up a similar force in Baghdad as well.

In any case, it would be worthwhile to keep an eye out on him at all times…trouble is never far away from him.

 

Source: Iran 24/07

Rouhani: First Presser on US, Reforms, Nukes

 

      On June 17, president-elect Hassan Rouhani called for new ways “to build trust” with the international community on Iran’s controversial nuclear program. Rouhani, in his first press conference, said both the United States and Iran need to find a way to heal „a very old wound.” He spoke expansively on domestic issues and foreign policy, promising to follow the “path of moderation and justice, not extremism.” The following are excerpts with a link to the broadcast with English subtitles.

The United States and Foreign Policy 
            “Relations between Iran and the United States are a complicated and difficult issue. It’s nothing easy. This is a very old wound that is there, and we need to think about how to heal this injury. We don’t want to see more tension. Wisdom tells us both countries need to think more about the future and try to sit down and find solutions to past issues and rectify things… [Talks] should be based on mutual respect and interests, and should be [held] on equal footing… Lies den Rest dieses Beitrags

US Charges Iran More Active Worldwide

On May 31, two senior U.S. officials detailed Iran’s growing role in extremist activities worldwide. Tehran was directly or indirectly involved in the planning of attacks in Europe, Southeast Asia and Africa in 2012, said the officials. The following are excerpts from the background briefing.

            SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL ONE:  Yesterday we released at the State Department the annual Country Reports on Terrorism for 2012.  And one of the most noteworthy conclusions when we put that report together was a marked resurgence of terrorist activity by Iran and Hezbollah.  The tempo of operational activity was something we haven’t seen since the 1990s, with attacks plotted in Europe, Southeast Asia, and Africa in 2012 alone.
We believe this is an alarming trend.  It’s borne out by the facts and it merits closer inspection as we evaluate the landscape of terrorist activity globally.  Add to this, of course, is the deepening commitment both Iran and Hezbollah have made to fight and kill on behalf of the Assad regime in Syria.  That involvement, of course, is hardening the conflict and threatening to spread the violence across the region.
            Hezbollah and the Iranian leadership share a similar world view and strategic vision and are seeking to exploit the current unrest in the region to their advantage.  This approach has increased sectarian tensions and conflict and serves further as a destabilizing force during a time of great change throughout the region. Lies den Rest dieses Beitrags

Part II: Shiite Holy Sites in Syria

Garrett Nada

Syria is home to some 50 sites holy to Shiites. Some have been badly damaged in the fighting between Syrian government forces and rebels since 2011. At least one shrine has been reportedly desecrated by Sunni extremists. Several top Iranian officials have condemned attacks on holy sites. “Such acts could ignite the fire of religious rifts among followers of the divine religions,” warned Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi in May 2013. The following are profiles of seven major holy sites in Syria.

Sayyidah Zaynab Mosque and Shrine
      The gold-domed shrine, located near Damascus, is one of the holiest sites in Shiite Islam outside of Iraq and Saudi Arabia. It houses the remains of Zaynab, granddaughter of the Prophet Mohammed and daughter of Ali ― the fourth leader of the early Islamic empire and one of the most revered figures in Shiism. She was taken captive after her brother Hossein fell in battle against the Ummayad Dynasty near Karbala, which is in present-day Iraq. The shrine commemorates the seventh-century tragedy. The adjoining mosque was completed in 1990 and can accommodate more than 1,000 worshippers.
            Thousands of Iranians reportedly used to visit the site each year before the Syrian conflict erupted in 2011. Shiite fighters from Lebanon and Iraq have since flocked to the area to protect the shrine from extremist Sunni rebels. One Iraqi was reportedly shot by a sniper in May 2013. Lies den Rest dieses Beitrags

Part I: Iran-Syria Religious Ties

Mehdi Khalaji

Iran and Syria are unlikely bedfellows. Iran has been an Islamic republic—and the world’s only modern theocracy—since the 1979 revolution. Syria has been a rigidly secular and socialist country since Hafez Assad took over in 1970. Ethnically, Iran is predominantly Persian, while Syria is predominantly Arab. Yet Tehran and Damascus have one of the region’s strongest alliances—based in part on religion. Iran is Shiite-dominated and Syria is predominantly ruled by Alawites, a Shiite offshoot. They share a common interest in the survival of a minority in the Middle East, which is about 85 percent Sunni Muslim.

      The ties were again reflected in the Iranian regime’s call for volunteers to protect Shiite shrines in Syria in early May 2013, after Syrian rebels reportedly ransacked the shrine of Hojr Ibn Oday, a revered Shiite figure, in Damascus. The Nusra Front, a Sunni militia affiliated with al Qaeda, claimed responsibility for exhuming Oday’s remains. Syria is home to some 50 Shiite shrines and holy places. For centuries, Iranians have performed pilgrimages to Syria. The holiest is the Tomb of Zaynab (left) on the outskirts of Damascus. Mehdi Khalaji explains the religious ties that bind two of the most strategically important countries in the Middle East. Lies den Rest dieses Beitrags

Latest on the Race: Jalili on the Issues

  Chief nuclear negotiator Saeed Jalili is a leading conservative candidate for Iran’s presidency. The secretary of the Supreme National Security Council shares the supreme leader’s hardline outlook on all key issues. The following are excerpts from various interviews, public remarks and campaign materials.

Nuclear Energy Program
            “We are against the proliferation of nuclear weapons. The serious question today is which country has supplied Israel with nuclear arms. This is a serious question that needs to be addressed internationally.” February 4, 2013 at a press conference in Damascus
            “Uranium enrichment is one of these rights that every individual member state [of the Non-Proliferation Treaty] should benefit from and enjoy for peaceful purposes… Talks should be based on confidence-building measures, which would build the confidence of Iranians.” April 14, 2012 at a press conference in Istanbul after negotiations
            “The strategy of pressure is wrong and could not bring any results.” February 2013 in an interview with The Christian Science Monitor
            “The IAEA [U.N. nuclear watchdog] said they didn’t find one document showing any diversion from our peaceful program. Some of the great powers know this and they have made clear that they didn’t want confidence building – they just want to deprive Iran of its inalienable rights.”December 18, 2006 in an interview with the Boston Globe
            “We believe that the right to enrich is an inalienable right of the Iranian people ― whether we are talking about [to a level of] five percent or 20 percent.” April 6, 2013 according to AFP
Economy
            “Those who feel they can pressure the Iranian people through sanctions, are playing in our field; because this act allows for an enhanced Islamic Republic… That which is coming to an end is pressure placed on the Iranian people, for without doubt, difficulties result in further resistance and growth.” May 17, 2012 at a conference on Iran’s economy
            “Increasing privatization should not be limited to state supervision and authority.” In undated comments on his campaign website Lies den Rest dieses Beitrags

Iranian Strategy in Syria

Iranian President Ahmadinejad, Syrian President Assad, and Hezbollah’s Nasrallah appear together on a poster in Damascus, Syria. (Inter Press Service News Agency)

This is a joint publication by AEI’s Critical Threats Project and the Institute for the Study of War.

 

EXECUTIVE SUMMARY

The Islamic Republic of Iran has conducted an extensive, expensive, and integrated effort to keep President Bashar al-Assad in power as long as possible while setting conditions to retain its ability to use Syrian territory and assets to pursue its regional interests should Assad fall.

The Iranian security and intelligence services are advising and assisting the Syrian military in order to preserve Bashar al-Assad’s hold on power. These efforts have evolved into an expeditionary training mission using Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) Ground Forces, Quds Force, intelligence services, and law enforcement forces.  The deployment of IRGC Ground Forces to conflict abroad is a notable expansion of Iran’s willingness and ability to project military force beyond its borders.

Iran has been providing essential military supplies to Assad, primarily by air.  Opposition gains in Syria have interdicted many ground resupply routes between Baghdad and Damascus, and the relative paucity of Iranian port-visits in Syria suggests that Iran’s sea-lanes to Syria are more symbolic than practical. The air line of communication between Iran and Syria is thus a key vulnerability for Iranian strategy in Syria.  Iran would not be able to maintain its current level of support to Assad if this air route were interdicted through a no-fly zone or rebel capture of Syrian airfields.

Iran is also assisting pro-government shabiha militias, partly to hedge against Assad’s fall or the contraction of the regime into Damascus and a coastal Alawite enclave.  These militias will become even more dependent on Tehran in such a scenario, allowing Iran to maintain some ability to operate in and project force from Syria.

Lebanese Hezbollah began to take on a more direct combat role in Syria as the Assad regime began losing control over Syrian territory in 2012. Hezbollah has supported Assad with a robust, well-trained force whose involvement in the conflict aligns with Iranian strategic interests as Secretary General Hassan Nasrallah acknowledged on April 30 in Tehran.  Hezbollah’s commitment is not without limitations, however, because Nasrallah must carefully calibrate his support to Assad with his domestic responsibilities in order to avoid alienating his core constituency in Lebanon.

Iraqi Shi‘a militants are also fighting in Syria in support of Assad. Their presence became overt in 2012 with the formation of the Abu al-Fadl al-Abbas Brigade, a pro-government militia that is a conglomerate of Syrian and foreign Shi‘a fighters, including members of Lebanese Hezbollah and Iraq-based Asa’ib Ahl al-Haq and Kata’ib Hezbollah. Like other paramilitary forces operating in Syria, these militants escalated their involvement as the conflict descended into civil war. The open participation of Iraqi Shi‘a militants in Syria is an alarming indicator of the expansion of sectarian conflict throughout the region.

The Syrian conflict has already constrained Iran’s influence in the Levant, and the fall of the Assad regime would further reduce Tehran’s ability to project power. Iran’s hedging strategy aims to ensure, however, that it can continue to pursue its vital interests if and when the regime collapses, using parts of Syria as a base as long as the Syrian opposition fails to establish full control over all of Syrian territory.

Source: IranTRACKER

 

Iran Takes Tough Stance on Chemical Weapons in Syria

On at least one issue—and at least rhetorically—Iran and the United States agree. Both Tehran and Washington are now on the record in calling the use of chemical weapons “a red line.” Iran’s toughening position may reflect its own experience when Saddam Hussein repeatedly used several types of chemical weapons against Iran during the 1980-1988 war launched by Iraq. The United Nations verified at least seven uses of mustard or nerve gasses in specific operations. 
On April 30, Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi said that use of chemical weapons by anyone in Syria is Iran’s “red line.” The United States recently called for a U.N. investigation based on new evidence of sarin gas use in Syria’s civil war. But Salehi reportedly suggested that the rebels might be responsible. Iran accuses Western and Arab countries of fueling the conflict and supporting foreign fighters against President Bashar Assad. The following are excerpted remarks by top leaders on Syria.

Chemical Weapons
            “We have always emphasized that using chemical weapons, by anyone, is our red line… [The United Nations should] identify the main culprit behind the use of chemical weapons in the country before it is too late and the situation gets out of control in Syria… We oppose any type of production, stockpiling and use of weapons of mass destruction, and this stance is the clear message and consistent policy of Iran…” Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi to Iranian news media on April 30 Lies den Rest dieses Beitrags

Türkei: Erstmalig Asylgesetz verabschiedet

Die Türkei hat zum ersten Mal in ihrer Geschichte ein Asylgesetz verabschiedet. Das Anfang April vom türkischen Parlament beschlossene „Gesetz zu Ausländern und internationalem Asyl“ befasst sich mit den Verfahren, nach denen Flüchtlinge in der Türkei
einen aufenthaltsrechtlichen Status erlangen. Bisher wurden die meisten von ihnen lediglich als sogenannte „Gäste“ geduldet. Wie bisher erhalten zwar weiterhin nur Flüchtlinge aus Europa den vollen Flüchtlingsstatus. Neu ist aber, dass Personen z. B. aus Afrika und dem Nahen Osten nun als „vorbehaltliche Flüchtlinge“ anerkannt und vor einer Abschiebung in Krisengebiete geschützt werden. Von dem Gesetz profitieren somit die etwa 350.000 syrischen Flüchtlinge, die sich nach Regierungsangaben in der Türkei aufhalten. Das neue Asylgesetz steht im Zeichen der Annäherung der Türkei an die EU und wurde von der EU-Kommission positiv gewürdigt. Die Türkei erhofft sich im Zuge der Harmonisierung der Migrations- und Asylpolitik eine Aufhebung der Visapflicht für türkische Staatsangehörige, wie sie bereits länger verhandelt wird (vgl. Ausgaben 2/11, 4/10). Türkische Menschenrechtsverbände begrüßten das Gesetz grundsätzlich, kritisierten es aber zugleich als nicht weitgehend genug.  Mehr Infos unter:  www.tbmm.gov.tr, http://www.amnesty.org.tr, http://europa.eu

 

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