Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s official trip to Bahrain, Saudi Arabia and Qatar has prompted anxiety in Tehran. Erdogan arrived in Riyadh on Monday night after a visit to Bahrain, and he is scheduled to go to Qatar next. According to Arab media , a high-level Saudi-Turkish summit is being held in Riyadh today, where the two sides are expected to discuss ways to strengthen relations between Turkey and the Gulf Cooperation Council (G.C.C.) states and to tackle regional conflicts, particularly in Syria and Iraq.
The news alarmed many inside Iran. An article in Iranian daily Alef, entitled “,” noted that both Saudi and Bahraini kings personally welcomed the Turkish president at the airports, and that the high-level meetings indicated relations between Turkey and the G.C.C. were improving. The article opined that three factors were potentially behind the creation of an anti-Iran coalition by the G.C.C. states, Turkey, the United States and Britain: “The victory of the resistance front [Iran and its proxies] in the region; the coming to power of Trump in America; and the exit of Britain from the European Union and London’s efforts to reassert its role in the Persian Gulf.” The paper also predicted that Turkish-US relations might further improve in the near future as the two countries will cooperate in Syria, particularly in establishing safe zones in the war-ravaged country.
Another analytical article in Tabnak, an outlet affiliated with former Islamic Revolution Guards Corps Chief Commander (I.R.G.C.) Mohsen Rezaei, that Ankara was again pursuing to topple the regime of Iran’s ally Bashar al-Assad. “We should be wary of another [policy] change by Turkey and its confrontation with Iran,” it warned. Other I.R.G.C.-affiliated also on Erdogan’s trip to Saudi Arabia.
Comment: Erdogan’s official trip to Saudi Arabia and two other G.C.C. states is particularly important because it comes just days before the U.N.-sponsored peace talks on Syria is to take place in Geneva on February 23. Tehran is worried that a potential alliance between Turkey, G.C.C. states and the United States could threaten Iranian expansionist agenda and influence in Syria and the broader region. Erodgan announced on Sunday that Turkish troops and Turkey-backed Free Syrian Army had entered the center of al-Bab, the last stronghold of the so-called Islamic State in the Syrian province of Aleppo. Ankara also that its forces, in cooperation with regional allies and the United States, plan to liberate Raqqa from terrorists.
As the commentary in the Iranian media indicates, Tehran is also concerned that the idea of establishing safe zones in Syria will boost cooperation between Washington and Ankara in Syria at the expense of Iranian military and political goals in the region. Iranian leaders have repeatedly warned against the creation of safe zones in Syria in the past. Earlier this month, Iran’s Supreme National Security Council Secretary (SNSC) Ali Shamkhani Washington’s safe zones plan, if implemented, would lead to Syria’s disintegration. “If some parties constantly pursue the exclusion of Syria’s legitimate president and the creation of a power vacuum in the country, or take steps to divide the country by plans such as setting up safe or buffer zones, they will actively strengthen terrorism and prolong the crisis in the region,” he warned.