Meanwhile, to some Iranians, the Turkish flotilla shouldn’t be interpreted as an attack on the Israeli siege of Gaza, but first and foremost as an assault against their influence in Gaza. Iran’s efforts to send its own flotilla are testimony to that. Iran’s main goal is not to help Palestinians who are suffering the consequences of the siege—that’s maybe a second or third consideration. Its number one goal is actually to save its standing and influence in Gaza compared with the Turks, and to improve its image in the Islamic world as the defender of the Islamic cause.
It’s the same with Syria. For years, Iran has been trying to capture the Syrian market. Iranian officials have reportedly been greasing the palms of corrupt Syrian oligarchs such as Rami Makhlouf and the Assad family with bribes. They were also investing in the country when it was considered a pariah and no one else would invest there. This was especially true after the assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafiq Hariri. Now the Turks have arrived, and with their Free Trade Agreement are penetrating the Syrian economy and grabbing market share from Iran. The fact that both countries share a land border (unlike with Iran) makes Turkey an even more attractive destination.
Erdogan’s recent policies suggest that he’s on the path toward making Turkey the leader of the Islamic world, especially in the Middle East—something Iran has been trying to do for the past 32 years. This reality is ultimately going to see them compete and clash over spheres of influence.Enjoying this article? Click here to subscribe for full access. Just $5 a month.
Between the two, Turkey has a bigger and more advanced economy. Its relations with the United States and EU are far better than those of Iran. So are its relations with Sunni countries as well as Shiite ones. As a consequence, improving relations with Turkey offers much better prospects and returns for many Middle Eastern countries and groups. And although they won’t break off relations with Iran, the increasing presence of Turkey is likely to come at a high cost for Tehran.
Iranians leaders will soon be looking for some kind of competitive advantage. With their economy in tatters and their country more isolated than before, becoming a nuclear armed country is likely to be the most attractive and convenient means for Iran’s Supreme Leader to gain an edge over the Turks.