Since the early years of the revolution, Iran has generally followed an inactive policy regarding the West, but one of reaction toward the Muslim world.
It is understandable that Iran, which lacks the capacity to respond to anti-Iranian policies implemented by the West, cannot answer in kind. However, Iran generally remains silent against most anti-Iranian activities of Western countries as is obvious from its inaction following the assassination of two influential Iranian officials.
Two top Iranian officials, Gen. Qassem Soleimani and nuclear scientist Mohsen Fakhrizadeh, were assassinated in 2020. The assassination of Soleimani, the commander of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards’ Quds Forces, was directly carried out by the United States at the beginning of the year.
Iran’s principal scientist behind its nuclear project, Fakhrizadeh, was allegedly killed while he was under the protection of the Revolutionary Guards.
Most observers claim that Israel is behind his assassination. Besides the harsh words spoken against these two countries, Iran took no action against the U.S. or Israel. In fact, so far Iran has not reacted effectively to any punitive actions by the West.
On the other hand, the very same Iran reacts strongly to almost any anti-Iranian statement or policy by the officials of other Muslim states such as Turkey.
Iran created a huge fuss after President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan recited a poem last week. Iranian officials such as Foreign Minister Javeed Zarif overreacted to the poem, claiming that it directly threatened the territorial integrity of Iran.
Many Iranian politicians and media outlets went further and intimidated Erdoğan for reciting the poem.
There are certain reasons why Iranian officials have overreacted to the poem. First of all, Iranian officials have been trying to undermine Turkey's role in the liberalization of Azerbaijani lands from the Armenian occupation.
Turkey has emerged one more time as a game-changer in the region. Strategic weapons provided by Turkey changed the balance of power in the second Karabakh war in favor of Azerbaijan.
Iran is finding it hard to fathom Turkey's increasing popularity, due to its effective role in the liberalization of Muslim land within the Azerbaijani state boundaries. Iran is disturbed since it seems that it has lost against Turkey in the South Caucasus.
Second, the collapse of its pro-Armenian policy has upset Tehran greatly. Iran, which considers Muslim Azerbaijan as a potential threat to its national security, has been providing direct and indirect support to Armenia since the collapse of the Soviet Union.
Armenia, which has lost its strength and effectiveness in the region, cannot contribute much to the Iranian regional policies anymore. It seems that Iran’s political investments in Armenia proved futile.
Third, Iran does not want a solidified strategic alliance between Turkey and Azerbaijan, the two rising powers in the region. An economically and politically stronger Azerbaijan and a militarily stronger Turkey has just passed a huge test fortifying their strategic alliance.
Turkish authorities have repeatedly declared that they have given Azerbaijan a blank check in its fight for the liberalization of its territories. Turkey has contributed greatly to the fulfillment of the Azerbaijani people’s longtime dream.
Fourth, although the Iranian religious and political authority has been in power for the last 40 years, it has been acting as a minority regime in the country.
Therefore, the Iranian regime is very sensitive to any political development in the Muslim world. They always think that they are encircled by a sea of Sunni Muslims. This thinking, which is self-defeating, leads Iranian officials to think in zero-sum terms.
Fifth, Iran has been trying to recover its diminishing image and declining popularity after the assassination of Fakhrizadeh. Since they could not retaliate against the Israeli state, the regime has been trying to revitalize nationalist feelings by exaggerating Erdoğan's recitation of the poem and attacking Turkey. However, it seems that Iranian people will not buy this.
There are a number of reasons worth mentioning but space limitations do not allow me to list them. However, Iranian officials must be reminded that Tehran and Ankara are two interdependent countries in the region.
A zero-sum relationship will be detrimental to the national interests of both sides. Turkey has been much more mature in its relations with Iran. In spite of its competition with Iran, Turkey has been opposing the U.S.-imposed sanctions on Iran and has been asking other regional countries to keep Iran in the regional game.
This is one of the reasons why Israel and some Gulf states have been hurling accusations against Turkey. One last point worth mentioning is that on the same day that Erdoğan recited the poem, he also called for a regional collaboration platform consisting of six regional states, i.e. Turkey, Azerbaijan, Georgia, Russia, Iran and Armenia.
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