The quiet thaw in Turkey-Iran relations surfaced in a border incident on January 1, when the Turkish authorities intercepted a weapons shipment destined for opposition groups fighting in Syria for the first time in the nearly three-year Syrian conflict.
In an effort to explain away the incident, Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu said Tuesday, Jan. 7 that allegations of Turkish support for radical groups in Syria were baseless.
“The truck was carrying humanitarian aid,” the minister said. “All the required procedures were completed. “Not everything can be revealed and sometimes a ministry may not know what the other ministry is doing due to security measures,” Davutoglu added.
DEBKA Weekly’s intelligence sources reveals that, when the Turkish minister said “not everything can be revealed,” he must have meant his recent under-the-counter exchanges with Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammed Jawad Zarif for a jointly-initiated ceasefire in the Syrian war.
One of Tehran’s pre-conditions for the partnrship was the halting of trucks carrying weapons and ammunition for the Syrian opposition at the Turkish border.
Turkey and Iran aim to draw Syrian opposition factions into their orbit
US Secretary of State John Kerry is not admitting to Washington’s acceptance of Iran’s participation in Geneva Summit 2 for a political solution of the Syrian conflict. All he would say on Jan. 5 was: “Washington opposes Tehran participating at the ministerial level unless it accepts that a future Syrian government will be formed by ‘mutual consent’ of the authorities and the opposition.” But Tehran was welcome to play a positive, informal role, he added.
However, in the meantime, Turkey has decided to attend the conference with Iran as its partner at the head of a single, unified delegation. They will put before the meeting their shared proposals for ending the Syrian war.
Invitations were issued by the UN Secretary Thursday, Jan. 9, but not directly to Tehran although it was generally accepted that Iran would attend.
DEBKA Weekly’s sources add that Washington and Moscow launched intense discussions Thursday to jointly draft final resolutions in advance of the meeting.
Davutoglu and Zarif have developed a strategy for circumventing this deal in order to snap the ties linking Syrian opposition groups with the US and Saudi Arabia and convincing them to move over to Turkish-Iranian auspices.
This bold step has three major implications:
1. This switch of patrons is not as mind-blowing as it seems at first.
As he reconvenes the Friends of Syria forum in Paris on Jan. 9 to try and convince them to keep up their support for the Syrian opposition, John Kerry knows that the Obama administration’s credibility among Syrian opposition groups is in the pits. Behind their formal smiles and handshakes, their leaders are casting about for more reliable international champions.
The Turkish-Iranian scheme will keep Assad in power
So an offer of Iranian aid via Turkey would not sound too far-fetched for them. And if Zarif and Davutoglu manage to pull off their scheme, Geneva 2 could start out with a second opposition bloc rallying behind Iran and Turkey.
2. The Iranian foreign ministers are not only conspiring to detach the Syrian rebel movement from the American orbit but also from Saudi Arabia. This might be less practicable because US support is more or less diplomatic, whereas Saudi aid is much more tangible and comes in the form of intelligence, money, arms and combat training. Counting against the Saudis, however, is their willingness to walk a tightrope in Syria by backing radical Islamic groups which are not part of Al Qaeda and its affiliates but often cooperate with them.
3. DEBKA Weekly’s sources say the plans laid by Ankara and Tehran will help preserve Bashar Assad in power in Damascus in the future. He has already decided to run for another term as president in the June election. If those plans are successful, they will lay the foundations for some of the rebel factions’ reconciliation with the Syrian ruler and ease his re-election.