Iran's Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian speaks during a joint press conference with his Turkish counterpart in Tehran on September 3, 2023. (Photo by ATTA KENARE / AFP) (Photo by ATTA KENARE/AFP via Getty Images)

Iran’s FM heads to Turkey as Erdogan Slams ‘Israel’s Barbarity’


By Amberin Zaman

ISTANBUL (Al-Monitor) — Iranian Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian was planning to pay an official visit to Turkey on November 1 to discuss the ongoing conflict between Israel and Palestine, bilateral ties and other regional developments, the Turkish Foreign Ministry announced on October 31.

The announcement came as Yemen’s Iran-backed Houthi rebels fired drones toward Israel’s southern city of Eilat on Tuesday in retaliation for its war against the militant group Hamas. Israel intercepted the missiles fired from the Red Sea area.

The meeting shows that “states of the region prioritize speaking to each other as they carefully manage the escalations. Iran and Turkey have had continuously close state-to-state talks and ties, even when they’ve stood at polar opposites of regional conflicts as was the case in Syria,” observed Arash Azizi, a historian at New York University and author of “Shadow Commander,” a biography of slain Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps Quds Force commander Qasem Soleimani.

“Through its axis of resistance, Iran has carefully kept up a level of escalation, the most dramatic recent addition to which was the Houthi missiles fired at Israel — symbolically dramatic, although practically unremarkable,” Azizi added.

On October 31, Amir-Abdollahian met in Doha with his Qatari counterpart, Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al Thani. Qatar has played a central role in negotiating between Israel and Hamas over the release of hostages.

Get the Mirror in your inbox:

Iran denies any links to Hamas’ Oct. 7 bloody rampage in Israel that left hundreds of civilians dead and at least 200 kidnapped, marking the deadliest day in the Jewish state’s history. Amir-Abdollahian said on Sunday in an interview with CNN that Iran does not want the war “to spread out.” Both Turkey and Iran have called for an immediate cease-fire. Such calls have been squarely rejected by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

“In general, Tehran has sought to use the ongoing conflict in Gaza, especially the opposition of public opinion in the Islamic world to Israeli military operations, as an opportunity for diplomatic engagement,” argued Hamidreza Azizi, a visiting fellow at the German Institute for International and Security Affairs.

“Until now, the Islamic Republic has been primarily known as a military actor in the conflict, providing military support to Palestinian groups. Now, Iranian leaders are trying to play a new diplomatic role alongside their traditional military one, viewing Turkey and Qatar as potential partners,” he told Al-Monitor. “This marks a qualitative shift in Iran’s approach to the Israel-Palestine conflict.”

Turkey’s rhetoric against Israel has grown increasingly harsh in parallel with the rising death toll in Gaza, with at least 8,525 Palestinians, including 2,187 women and 3,452 children, killed in Israeli airstrikes since Oct. 7, according to the Hamas-run Health Ministry. The Israeli death toll has reached 1,538, according to the Israeli public broadcaster Kan.

Tensions continued to escalate as Turkey’s Foreign Ministry on Tuesday condemned Israel’s bombing of the sole cancer hospital in Gaza that was built with Turkish funding, causing extensive damage. “As all necessary information, including the coordinates of the institution in question — which is the only cancer hospital in Gaza — was shared with the Israeli authorities in advance, there is no explanation for such an attack,” the ministry noted in a statement.

Israel had already pulled out its diplomatic staff from Turkey over mounting security concerns. The announcement was therefore seen as telegraphing that relations between the two countries are back on ice after a two-year thaw that saw their respective ambassadors reinstated and Israeli President Isaac Herzog meet with Erdogan in Ankara last year.

Iran is no doubt pleased by the setback in Turkish-Israeli ties, which have always been fragile because of Israeli actions in Gaza and Ankara’s links with Hamas. But the 2020 war between Azerbaijan and Armenia over the Nagorno-Karabakh region provided an opening, as both Turkey and Israel provided military support to Baku, allowing it to decisively prevail then as it did again in September when Azerbaijani forces took full control of the enclave, leading to the mass exodus of its majority Armenian population. Israel’s oil imports from Azerbaijan, which account for an estimated 40% of total imports, continue to transit through a pipeline running to Turkey’s southern Mediterranean port of Ceyhan.

Iran feels deeply threatened by Israel’s alliance with its post-Soviet neighbor, which allows Israel to use Azerbaijan as a base to spy on the Islamic Republic. The issue will likely be raised by Amir-Abdollahian in his meeting with his Turkish counterpart, Hakan Fidan.

Fidan will, in turn, likely convey Ankara’s concerns over links between Iran-backed Shiite militias and the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), the armed group that has been waging a 38-year-long insurgency against the Turkish state. The militias continue to target Turkish forces based near Mosul as part of a sustained campaign to squeeze them out of the area that is under the central government’s control. The bulk of Turkish troops, counted in the thousands, are deployed across Kurdish-controlled northern Iraq in pursuit of PKK militants based in the mountainous region bordering Turkey.