The Gaza war has shaken a fragile regional order in the Middle East, where regional powers Turkiye and Iran have historically vied for influence. Ankara and Tehran have a complex history of ups and downs in their relations and the two states often stand on opposing sides in regional conflicts, such as in Syria and the Caucasus. The Gaza war serves as a crucial context in which to examine the stances of these two powers.
Although the war might, depending on its longevity, bring Turkiye and Iran on to the same page, given their common stance toward Israel, it still might not be enough to foster cooperation between them due to their differing regional visions. One example is that Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi was expected to attend a summit in Ankara on Tuesday that Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan had earlier announced to reporters. However, he did not show up. Iran’s semiofficial Tasnim news agency reported that Raisi’s visit to Turkiye had “been postponed,” but it did not provide any reason or any other details. The visit was announced amid Erdogan’s call for Iran to join Turkiye in forging a joint response to the Israel-Hamas war.
The controversy about Raisi’s visit seemingly indicates that, despite their common stance on the Gaza war, there are still lingering differences between Turkiye and Iran on several issues. It is understood that Turkiye’s condemnation of Israel’s war on Gaza falls short for Tehran, which expects Ankara to go beyond words and sever its commercial and political ties with Tel Aviv. This dramatic new wave of war erupted following a prolonged period of regional-led de-escalation and reconciliation efforts. Within this climate, Turkiye and Israel were moving toward normalizing their relations.
Regarding the Gaza war, Turkiye has adopted a diplomatic stance and has offered to play the role of mediator. As Turkiye has close relations with Hamas and was in the process of reconciling with Israel, it sees itself as an ideal mediator. It has also proposed a guarantor system and suggested that it could be one of the guarantors. This was a clear reflection of Ankara’s policy of separating political and commercial issues.
Many analysts read the postponed visit of Raisi as a reaction that aimed to push Ankara toward more stringent measures. However, such Iranian expectations do not provide a solution, nor are they realistic at this stage. One prominent retired Turkish diplomat this week said: “No regional country has the will to engage in this war militarily, so why should Turkiye?” He was right, because even Iran recently stated that it is not willing to directly enter any regional conflicts, including Gaza.
Although their stance against Israel’s actions toward Hamas may be aligned, Turkiye and Iran have different relations with the Palestinian factions and different policies regarding the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Both Ankara and Tehran have ties with Hamas, albeit of a different nature. Unlike its Western allies, Turkiye does not consider Hamas a terrorist organization. While Erdogan branded Israel a “terrorist state,” he described Hamas as a “liberation group” that is part of the Palestinian resistance. On the other hand, Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei did not even mention Hamas’ name in his latest speech, but he did reiterate Iran’s moral support for the Palestinians.
Although Iran has politically and militarily supported Hamas, they had major disagreements during the Syrian war. Hamas stood by Turkiye in Syria and against the Assad regime, which is backed by Iran. It sees itself as politically and ideologically closer to Ankara than Tehran. Although Iran tried to keep the dialogue channels with Hamas open in order to be seen as a supporter of the Palestinian cause, the relationship also faced challenges in 2015, when Hamas expressed its support for the Arab coalition’s military campaign against the Houthis in Yemen. Since then, Iran has alternately reduced and suspended its aid to Gaza. But even if there has been a reduction in the scope of cooperation, Iran has tried to maintain a degree of closeness with Hamas.
Turkiye’s support is more political in nature, as it has tried to maintain ties with both Hamas and the Palestinian Authority. Turkiye is part of a group formed at this month’s summit of Arab League and Organization of Islamic Cooperation states in Riyadh that comprises foreign ministers and other representatives from Qatar, Egypt, Jordan, Nigeria, Saudi Arabia, Indonesia and the PA, as well as the OIC secretary-general. However, Iran, despite being a member of the OIC and a country that constantly underlines the unity among Muslims, is not part of the group that is calling for an immediate end to the war in Gaza.
Although Tehran’s policy on the Gaza war is derived from its desire for regional hegemony and its consistent drive to assist every regional party opposed to Israel, the conflict still offers more advantages to Iran than to any other actor, including Turkiye. The war halted the Saudi-Israeli normalization process, strained Turkish-Israeli relations after their recent rapprochement and raised anti-Israeli sentiment in the Muslim world. Whereas the prolonging and even spreading of the war to Syria and beyond poses disquieting risks for Ankara.
Although Turkiye and Iran seem to be on the same page regarding the Gaza war, they are actually walking on different paths. Iranian Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian has visited Turkiye during the Gaza war and regularly engaged in phone conversations with his Turkish counterpart on this issue. Despite such engagements, these two states’ historical competition for strategic dominance in areas like Iraq and Syria and the postponed visit of the Iranian president to Turkiye indicate that any unified Turkish-Iranian cooperation on Gaza will likely be limited.