Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani criticized Turkey for shooting down a Russian military aircraft Nov. 24 on the Syrian-Turkish border. While Rouhani was diplomatic in his criticism, conservative Iranian media lashed out against Turkey and its policies in Syria.
Contrary to Turkish claims, Rouhani said Nov. 25 that the Russian Su-24 was struck inside Syria’s borders. He added, “assuming it was close to Turkey’s borders, missiles and planes are not toys that someone could decide to shoot them down in the air.”
Rouhani called Turkey’s actions “provocative,” adding, “We want our neighbor and friend Turkey to be seriously watchful of the situation, because the circumstances are very sensitive.” He added that Iran is not happy to see a deterioration in Russia-Turkey relations, saying that it is neither in Iran’s nor the region’s interests, especially in the fight against terrorism.
Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif called on all sides to show restraint, saying that conflict between the two nations aids terrorists. During the Nov. 25 press conference, Zarif said the incident should be used as an opportunity to create a broader coalition to fight terrorism in the region “without preconditions.”
Iran’s hard-line media, however, saw Turkey’s actions in the broader context of the country's and NATO’s policies in the region. The top story in Vatan-e Emrooz was headlined “Turkey’s playing with fire.” The article called Turkey, along with Qatar and Saudi Arabia, “supporters of terrorism.” Javan Newspaper, which is linked to the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, headlined their story “NATO’s stab in the back of those fighting Daesh [Islamic State].”
Iranian analyst Sa’adollah Zaeri told Mashregh News that NATO’s backing of Turkey in this incident will not be “beyond verbal support” and that Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has made a “strategic mistake” in thinking otherwise. He said Turkey exposed their interests to “serious damages,” and the suspension of military cooperation between the two countries weakens Turkey’s standing from its north in the Black Sea to its south in Syria.
Zaeri also said Russia’s intervention in Syria is strategic and the downing of their jet will not change their calculations. According to Iranian parliament member Alireza Zakani, Russia’s intervention in Syria was prompted when Quds Force Cmdr. Qasem Soleimani personally told Russian President Vladimir Putin that there are 16,000 Chechens fighting in Syria and Iraq who will return to the Caucuses and create a security problem for Russia.
Despite being on opposing sides of Syria’s bloody civil war, Iran and Turkey have been able to maintain their economic relationship. As sanctions are lifted from Iran, this relationship will likely increase.
Russian and Iranian ties, however, are much more significant and deeper for Iran. And this relationship will only continue to grow in the coming years based on the reactions to the meeting between Putin and Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei on Nov. 23.
In reference to the two-hour Putin-Khamenei meeting, Ali Akbar Velayati, foreign policy adviser to Khamenei, said there has not been a meeting of this “quality and importance” in the last 37 years since the 1979 Revolution. He called it a “turning point” for both countries and said that Iran and Russia have “entered a strategic relationship,” adding that the futures of Iran and Russia are tied together in many aspects.
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