Since the Syrian civil war began, Tehran has firmly supported Bashar al-Assad while Ankara has aided those fighting against him. Thus, the Iranian president’s recent condemnation of the Turkish incursion into Syrian Kurdistan should come as no surprise. Yet, argues Doron Itzchakov, while Turkey is now helping Sunni Islamist groups seen by Iran as a threat, the two country’s interests are not entirely at odds:
Tehran does not want to risk its relationship with Ankara, which allows it to circumvent U.S. sanctions and constitutes an essential channel for the supply of Iranian gas to major European countries. . . . Kurdish national aspirations, [moreover], pose significant challenges to all four countries that contain large Kurdish populations, [of which Iran is one]. The precedent of a Kurdish autonomous territory in Syria is unacceptable to the Iranian establishment, which remembers the uprising that led to the establishment of [a short-lived Kurdish polity in Iran] in January 1946. . . .
[In fact], the Turkish offensive could advance Iranian interests. . . . The [recently concluded] defense agreement between the Kurds and the Assad regime, enabling the deployment of Syrian military forces in Syrian Kurdistan, will whet Iran’s appetite and prompt its Revolutionary Guards and their subordinate militias to consolidate their presence in northern Syria, with Assad’s approval. As has happened before, Iranian troops will be disguised by Syrian army uniforms.
The Iranian regime [also] has high hopes that the international community will turn its eyes to Turkish aggression. A global focus on Ankara’s actions will divert attention from Tehran’s attempt to expand its [own] strategic depth, as did the world’s attention to the problem of fighting Islamic State. . . . Iran is likely to make extensive use of the Turkish incursion into northern Syria to expand its hold on the region, with the aim of threatening Israel’s border.
Tehran’s condemnations of the Turkish invasion thus look like mere lip service, as the revolutionary regime may well benefit from the new situation created by the U.S. withdrawal. . . . For Israel, by contrast, this is a zero-sum game, because the promotion of Iranian interests is an inherent threat. Israel should prepare itself for challenges to come.