Iran Briefing Exclusive :
Where is the Islamic Republic’s foreign policy being set and who is leading it? This question has once again come to the forefront following September 2011 when the Islamic Republic officials vehemently reacted against Turkey’s move to let the NATO install missile defense shield on its soil.
The reaction of the Islamic Republic’s officials against Turkey was so overwhelming that Ahmet Davutoglu, Turkey’s foreign minister, had to share his concern with his Iranian counterpart in a phone call. Contrary to the previous position, the Islamic Republic’s foreign minister, Ali Akbar Salehi, dismissed statements made by Iranian high ranking officials and described them as “irresponsible” and “personal view” over the issue.
Salehi said that the Islamic Republic’s official foreign policy is being determined and set by the Supreme Leader, the president and the foreign ministry. If it is really so, how can one interpret threatening statements made by the high ranking commanders of the Revolutionary Guard and Iranian law makers against the NATO’s decision to install missile defense shield on Turkish soil?
In other words, is the Iranian foreign policy really the one which is being set by the Supreme Leader, president and the foreign ministry?
Why Threatening Turkey?
Turkey is a member of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO). The United States has been long heightening its military presence around Iran. At the same time, the Islamic Republic has also been intensifying its defensive, if not offensive capabilities. A ballistic missile program, which Iran has boldly disclosed it to the international community, is among the plans that the Islamic Republic has been long seeking to develop, though the experts believe is limited. Israel is the prime target of the Islamic Republic’s ballistic missiles because the Islamic Republic has clearly received and digested the US message that “every option is on the table.”
To counter the Islamic Republic’s limited but threatening ballistic capabilities, the US has proposed to install a defense shield on Turkey’s soil. The US proposal was ratified by the NATO member states on October 19th and 20th in a Lisbon summit, which was initially held by NATO members to reach an agreement for installing a defense shield against what is widely believed to be the “threat of Iran’s ballistic missiles.”
In another development, Turkey agreed to host NATO’s defense shield on its soil, though it did not name the Islamic Republic being the target of missile defense shield. The Islamic Republic, which sees Turkey standing against Iran in its struggle against the west, is left with no option but to send a threatening message to Turkey warning that such policy is not going to be without cost for Turkey.
Though Tehran gave red carpet treatment to Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Turkey’s prime minister, and Lula da Silva, former Brazilian president, and despite the Islamist victory in Turkey and Turkey’s dispute with Israel over Israel flotilla raid which made Iranian officials happy, sending a threatening message to Ankara shows the extent of Tehran’s concerns over Turkey’s foreign policy.
Ankara’s pressure on the Syrian regime, which is in stark contrast with the Islamic Republic’s policy towards Syria, is adding to the Islamic Republic’s concerns. A cursory glance at analysis of the event by the Sobhe Sadegh, the Revolutionary Guard’s mouthpiece, reveals the extent of ever increasing confrontation between Tehran and Ankara. He writes “Should the Turkish officials continue taking such policies, Iran, due to its ideological and strategic interests, will have no choice but choose Syria between Turkey and Syria.”
Missile Defense Shield: a Threat to the Regime’s Security
A missile defense shield smartly intercepts and destroys possible ballistic missiles before they reach the target. To install a defense shield on Turkish soil was so serious for Iran that Iran’s Deputy Police Chief, Brigadier General Ahmadi Moghaddam, reprimanded Erdogan, who has taken the toughest possible stance against Israel following the flotilla incident, said Erdogan is a “lackey of Israel” and described Turkey’s policy as “a play and disturbance to the situation of the Islamic countries.”
Having failed to convince Russian officials to deliver a S-300 defense system, which Iran had already paid for, the Islamic Republic is fully aware that Iran is defenseless against possible attacks. However, the Commander of the Revolutionary Guard’s Aerospace Forces, Brigadier General Amir Ali Hajizadeh, has explicitly threatened that the NATO’s defense shield in Turkey is incompetent against Iran’s ballistic missiles, and that “the NATO’s defense shield in Turkey would be the prime target of Iran’s ballistic missiles, should the Islamic Republic be threatened.”
The extent of Iran’s concern over the NATO’s defense shield in Turkey will be clearer when one refers to the report prepared by the Iranian Parliament’s Research Center. In the report, which was compiled at the end of July 2011, Parliament’s Research Center described NATO’s defense shield in Turkey as “a serious threat against the Islamic Republic.” At the same time, Hossein Ebrahimi, Deputy Head of the Parliament’s National Security and Foreign Policy Committee, described the NATO’ s defense shield as being merely designed to “protect Israel,” and said that should Iran be attacked, it has every right “to defend itself.”
Salehi’s Denial, Why?
It seems that the Islamic Republic has no clear understanding of Turkey’s real concern. Turkey’s problem with Iran is not Israel’s security. Erdogan is the most popular non-Arab leader who has severely criticized Israeli policy towards Palestinians. Turkey’s problem with Iran is an atomic Iran. That is a concern that all Iran’s neighbors share with Turkey. As a matter of fact, that is an atomic Iran not a service to Israel that has made Islamists in Turkey side with the NATO against the Islamic Republic . Turkey’s ambassador to Washington has said “we can accept an atomic Iran even if the Americans can do so.”
Christian Science Monitor has quoted Namik Tan, Turkish Ambassador to Washington, as saying “perhaps no country other than Turkey , which has long common border with Iran, has the motivation to keep the Iranians away from the nuclear bomb.”
In spite of the fact that the Turkey’s decision to host NATO’s defense shield on its soil is a strategic one, and the Islamic Republic’s decision to confront it is a strategic one too, then how can one interpret Salehi’s intention in denying the statements made by the Islamic Republic officials?
The answer is that Tehran is fully aware of Turkey’s weight as an Islamic country with an Islamist government and as a NATO member, and it is aware of the role Turkey can play against the Islamic Republic.
The Islamic Republic needed to send threatening message to Turkey which was sent by high ranking commanders of the Revolutionary Guards. Turkey has clearly received the Islamic Republic’s message too. As a matter of fact, the Islamic Republic has sent its “indirect message” to Turkey. The “Deceive Strategy” was what Salehi had to apply while denying the statements made by Iranian officials. Salehi used the Deceive Strategy when he described the statements made by Islamic Republic’s officials as “personal views” which have nothing to do with Iran’s official foreign policy, the policy which he said would be determined only by the Supreme Leader, the president and the foreign ministry.
In fact, Salehi has properly used the “Deceive Strategy” when he says that the official position will be announced through the mentioned channels and all other statements are no more than personal views and “informal positions” which have to be answered by those who are making them.
The storming of the British embassy, which was lamented by the foreign ministry but encouraged by Ahmad Khatami, Tehran’s Substitute Friday Prayer Leader and member of the assembly of experts who described the event as UK’s need for punishment, is another example of the Islamic Republic’s official and unofficial position. Though it is obvious that the embassy attack could not take place without permission and green light from higher authorities, the foreign ministry, which is responsible for conveying the Islamic Republic’ s official position, expressed regret over the incident, and at the same time the Islamic republic’s unofficial position, which was to punish the UK, was expressed by Tehran’s Substitute Friday Prayer Leader and member of the assembly of experts.
The Islamic Republic is a peculiar phenomenon of double standards and dichotomous politics. While Salehi regards himself as a channel through which the Islamic Republic’s foreign policy is supposed to be set, he does not mention numerous examples in which the Islamic Republic ‘s official foreign policy has been pronounced by Saeed Jalili, head of Iran’s national security council.
There are numerous cases one can refer to that the Islamic Republic’s domestic and foreign policy, especially over Iran’s nuclear dispute, had been asserted by Saeed Jalili. Therefore, it is only the “Deceive Strategy” that Salehi is using in order to prevent further escalation of existing tension between Tehran and Ankara.
Salehi himself knows that his denial and rejection will not be trusted by either Turkey or other members of the NATO. However, his rejection can at least help water down Turkey’s already tough position against Iran, which has been fueled by the Revolutionary Guard’s threat to attack NATO’s defense shield in Turkey. The most important point, which has not been left unnoticed, is that Turkey’s decision to let NATO install defense shield on its soil is a strategic one, and at the same time, the Islamic Republic’s decision to counterweight that system is a strategic one too. However, in contrast to Turkey, which has remained firm on it decision to carry on with its plan to let the NATO install defense shield on its soil, the Islamic Republic has been forced to reconcile with Turkey to the extent that Salehi reminded his Turkish counterpart that he has warned “all those officials who had made such irresponsible statements.”
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