Turkey and Iran Geopolitical Approaches in the Middle East

By: COL Saud Alhasawi, Kuwait Army, CSAG CCJ5
16 July 2021


Historically, Turkish-Iranian relations were characterized as a mix of both cooperation and competition. Each of the two has its own agenda and regionally projects power with ambitions towards sovereignty and control. The worsening of the Middle East’s regional situation has provided an opportunity for the two countries’ aspirations to expand. Repercussions regarding civil unrest and the disintegration of many AOR countries continue with the increase in terrorism, the spread of armed militias in the face of governments. The growth in militia loyalties to other countries such as Turkey and Iran leads to prolonged conflicts in the region. The level of cooperation between the two countries, however, should not be overstated. Turkey and Iran have historically been rivals rather than close partners. While they may share particular economic and security interests, their interests are at odds in many Middle East areas. The political identities and ideologies of the two countries are radically different. The political and ideological rivalry between Turkey and Iran has intensified as a result of the Arab Spring. The fall of authoritarian regimes in Tunisia, Libya, and Egypt, and uprisings in Syria, Yemen, and Bahrain have undermined the Middle East’s political order. Turkey and Iran both have sought to exploit the emerging “new order” in the region to achieve their respective interests in the Middle East.

Key Points:

  • Turkey and Iran each have agendas, and both project power regionally with ambitions towards sovereignty and control.
  • Turkey and Iran are constantly coordinating strategies throughout the Middle East as they collaborate on various issues.
  • The current strength of Turkey and Iran economic relations offsets some of the tensions over their geopolitical differences.
  • Economic relations between Turkey and Iran have undergone a significant expansion in the last decade.
  • The withdrawal of US troops from Iraq has created a power vacuum and shifts the regional balance of power.
  • Turkey and Iran have some convergent interests regarding the Kurds.
  • The differences between the US and Turkey on the Iranian nuclear issue are primarily over tactics, not strategic goals.

Read the complete paper here.

The opinions and conclusions expressed herein are those of a number of international officers within the Combined Strategic Analysis Group (CSAG) and do not necessarily reflect the views of United States Central Command, not of the nations represented within the CSAG or any other governmental agency.