Does Iranian foreign minister’s visit in Ankara reflect Tehran’s concern over improved relations between Turkey and Iran’s rivals?
Visit comes right after Israeli foreign minister, Saudi crown prince made officials trips to Ankara
Iran’s foreign minister visited Turkey on Monday just days after Ankara hosted the Israeli foreign minister and, earlier, the Saudi crown prince.
Iranian Foreign Minister Hossein Amir Abdollahian met with Turkey President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu. Diplomatic sources reportedly noted that they discussed the tensions between Israel and Iran after Israel’s warning to its citizens not to travel to Turkey to avoid being targeted by Iranian agents.
At their joint press conference, neither foreign minister mentioned the foiled kidnapping of the former Israeli ambassador by Iranian agents in Istanbul on June 17.
For his side, the Turkish foreign minister named terrorism as “our common enemy.”
“We must continue to work together,” he said.
Abdollahian stated that Iran is aware of Turkey’s security concerns, but that Iran and Turkey’s security were indivisible.
“We want nothing but good for the region and Turkey,” he said. Yet, he was clear about what he considered Turkey’s primary threat: “We consider the fake Israeli regime the No. 1 enemy of Muslims and the Islamic world.”
Before the visit to Ankara, Abdollahian announced that the drafting of an agreement for long-term comprehensive cooperation between Iran and Turkey was in motion.
In separate talks, Abdollahian and Erdoğan stressed the importance of bolstering bilateral ties through “comprehensive and sustainable cooperation and boosting consultations over regional and international issues of interest.”
The June 23 trip to Turkey by Israel’s Foreign Minister and alternate-Prime Minister Yair Lapid was the first visit by an Israeli foreign minister in years.
At a joint press conference with Çavuşoğlu, Lapid thanked Turkey’s security services for thwarting the kidnapping attempt against the former ambassador and his wife, as well as other Israelis who were visiting Turkey as tourists.
“In recent weeks, the lives of Israeli citizens have been saved thanks to security and diplomatic cooperation between Israel and Turkey,” Lapid said. “Just today it was published that Turkish intelligence recently foiled an Iranian plot in Istanbul. And these efforts are ongoing. We are full of appreciation for the Turkish government for this professional and coordinated activity.”
“Iran is behind these attempted terrorist attacks. The intelligence leaves no doubt about it,” he said.
Just a few days earlier, Turkish security services arrested a terror cell comprising five Iranians and two Turks, for planning to attack the former Israeli ambassador.
On his visit to Ankara on June 22, Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman (MBS) was ceremoniously received by the Turkish president.
MBS’ visit has been said to mark the ending of years of hostility between Turkey and Saudi Arabia, especially over the murder of journalist and Saudi dissident Jamal Khashoggi in the Saudi consulate of Istanbul in 2018.
Abdollahian’s visit to Turkey comes at a time when Iran’s main historical rivals and foes in the Middle East – Saudi Arabia and Israel – have been strengthening ties with Turkey.
“What worries Iran the most is that Turkey has been improving its relations with Iran’s rivals, particularly Israel and Saudi Arabia,” said Hamidreza Azizi, an analyst of Iran-Turkey relations and a CATS fellow at the German Institute for International and Security Affairs, in an interview with al-Monitor.
“This dual-track rapprochement … has created the perception in Iran that a regional front might be in the making with the participation of Turkey, Israel and the Arab states of the Persian Gulf, with the primary aim of confronting Iran,” Azizi said.
Turkey has an open-door policy with Iran, which means that citizens from both countries can cross each other’s borders without a visa.
According to Turkey foreign-policy specialist Gallia Lindenstrauss, that arrangement “provides easier logistics for Iranian plans to target Israeli tourists.” It is unlikely that the policy will change.