However, according an article in the the New York Times by on December  18, Ali Vaez, Senior Analyst for the Crisis Group based in Istanbul, and one of the foremost experts on Iran’s nuclear and missile programs, writes that Turkey and Iran are now on a collision course. Their involvement as the region’s major Sunni and Shiite powers has deepened their participation in the conflicts in Iraq and Syria. 

While their economies intertwined, they developed strong ties over the past two decades, but their inability to accommodate each other has the potential to undermine or even undo all of that.  

How they choose to deploy their power, and their determination to overcome their differences will largely determine the future of the Middle East. The present dynamics point toward greater bloodshed, growing instability and greater risks of military confrontation. 

Vaez writes, “Turkey’s military involvement in Syria and Iraq is partly a response to the perception that Iran is increasingly encroaching on its historic sphere of influence, especially in and around the Aleppo and Mosul battlefields close to its southern border. It is also an effort to prevent the Syrian Kurdish Democratic Union Party, or P.Y.D., which is affiliated with Turkey’s archnemesis the Kurdistan Workers’ Party, or P.K.K., to gain more territory,” and adds that, “Syrian rebels supported by the Turkish Army are currently advancing southward, having pushed the Islamic State out of the towns of Jarablous, al-Rai and Dabiq near the Turkish border between August and October. They are now at the gates of the town of al-Bab, and the stage is set for confrontation. The strategically important city is held by the Islamic State but coveted by others: the United States-backed P.Y.D. closing in from the east, and the Syrian Army and Iranian-allied forces from the south. Already, some officials have alleged that an Iranian-made drone was involved in killing four Turkish soldiers in an air attack near al-Bab on November 24.” 

Friction is rising alarmingly high between the two countries, s at a time that mutual trust has reached rock bottom. 

According to Tehran, Turkey’s policy regarding Syria is y a product of ambition to regain power and encourage pro-Turkey Sunnis. An Iranian national security official told Vaez,What changed in Syria” after the civil war began was neither the government’s nature nor Iran’s ties with it, but Turkish ambitions.” As well, Iran blames Turkey for allowing the flow of jihadists through Turkish territory to Syria, and for giving them logistical and financial support. 

“In the same vein, officials in Ankara contend that Iran seeks to resuscitate the Shiite version of the ancient Persian Empire. In March 2015, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey accused Iran of fighting the Islamic State in Iraq only to replace it. Turkey also says that Iran’s mobilization of Shiite militias from Lebanon, Iraq and Afghanistan to protect the rule of a minority sect, the Alawites, over a majority-Sunni population in Syria has worsened sectarian tensions, giving Sunni extremists a potent recruitment tool,” Vaez writes, continuing, “In trading accusations, each decries the other’s refusal to acknowledge its view of reality, while ignoring the fact that each has acted in ways for which it faults the other — including deploying military forces to wars beyond their borders and supporting militias, both aimed at controlling whatever emerges from the debris of today’s turmoil in Syria and Iraq.” 

Both countries have built on shared interests, like defeating the Islamic State and curbing the rise of Syrian Kurds. But deep suspicions about each other’s ambitions has increased tensions. 

Vaez states, “To reverse course and avoid worse, Turkey and Iran need to overcome mistrust and go beyond merely managing differences — with the risks of accidents, miscalculations and miscommunications this entails — and, for once, frankly acknowledge each other’s core interests and security concerns,” and adds, “To this end, they need to establish a channel for continuous high-level negotiations over Iraq and Syria. The pace of such meetings to date has been problematic: periodic senior-level encounters lasting one or two days, followed by relatively long periods of diplomatic vacuum often filled with the escalation of proxy wars and one-upmanship. Mr. Erdogan and Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei of Iran should designate personal representatives with the authority to manage the diplomatic channel.” 

The governments should find ways to increase cooperation and trust, Vaez believes.  They should share intelligence about common foes, avoid clashes, and coordinate steps to defuse tensions where their areas of influence collide. Perhaps, as a show of good faith, in northern Iraq, Iran might rein in Shiite militias in return for Turkey’s withdrawal of tanks and other weapons from the area. With strong military ties to Turkey and Iran, support such steps should be shown by the United States and Russia.  

Among the countries involved in the ever-worsening wars in Iraq and Syria, Turkey and Iran are best suited to finding mutual accommodations.  Their long history of peaceful relations, should keep them from being pulled into an uncertain future. Finding common ground will let them contribute to a stable and secure region. Otherwise, there will be even greater disorder and suffering.