‘Cooperation between Turkey and Iran needed now more than ever’

‘Cooperation between Turkey and Iran needed now more than ever’

In an interview with United World International, Turkish political analyst and journalist Ramazan Bursa shed light on the assassination of Iran’s prominent nuclear scientist Mohsen Fakhrizadeh and discussed the possible impact.

Q: Mohsen Fakhrizadeh, considered the “main architect” of Iran’s nuclear program, was assassinated in Tehran on Nov. 27. What was Fakhrizadeh’s strategic importance?

Bursa: Mohsen Fakhrizadeh was known as “Iran’s Abdul Qadeer Khan”, “the architect of nuclear works”, “father of the nuclear program” and “Iran’s Qasem Soleimani on nuclear matters.” Before participating in the nuclear program, Fakhrizadeh was involved in the missile program promoted by the defense ministry as a member of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC).

In 2007, Mohsen Fakhrizadeh was added to the sanctions list via the United Nations Security Council (UNSC). He was closely watched by Israel and the United States (US) along with the rest of the West.

In 2012, the Wall Street Journal called Fakhrizadeh as “the mysterious man behind Iran’s nuclear program.” In 2013, Foreign Policy magazine added Fakhrizadeh to its list of the “world’s most powerful 500 people.”

During a conference in 2018, Israeli Prime Minister (PM) Benjamin Netanyahu had the following to say: “Mohsen Fakhrizadeh, don’t ever forget this name!” Ex-Israeli PM Ehud Olmert said that they knew Fakhrizadeh “better than he did himself” and that he was “defenseless.”

All these declarations and reviews effectively prove how critical Fakhrizadeh’s position was.

For Iran, Fakhrizadeh was as important as Qasem Soleimani, murdered by the US on Jan. 3 in Iraq.

Q: Do we know anything about the perpetrators?

B: We do not know, at least for now, who pulled the trigger. But there are signs regarding Israel’s presence behind the hands that pulled it. Two American intelligence agents gave the New York Times information about Israel’s involvement in the killing, even if Israeli officials avoid clear statements on the issue. Iranian officials also claim this was an Israeli operation.

What we do not know yet is whether Mossad agents infiltrated Iranian soil and directly perpetrated the assassination or called upon some local organizations to assume the task. Only time will tell.

Q: Do you believe that the assassination reflects a “continuum” with the recent fires and/or explosions recorded in Iran’s various chemical production facilities?

B: Certainly. These are interconnected and well-planned assassinations, sabotage.

It all started with Qasem Soleimani’s assassination. After that, numerous acts of sabotage were conducted against Iran’s strategic facilities. Now we have the killing of Mohsen Fakhrizadeh. I don’t believe these are separate facts.

I think this sequence of assassinations and sabotages was prepared during the Fall of 2019.

Q: What are the ultimate political and/or military goals here?

B: Iran’s activities in Iraq, Syria, Lebanon and Yemen are threatening Israel’s security and US (and its allies’) interests. At the first stage, the aim is forcing Iran to withdraw to its borders and to decrease its activities in the region.

Meanwhile as Iran gradually stands back, some domestic organizations are to be activated in order to create instability.

As I explained earlier, the opening gambit is all about minimizing Iran’s actions that pose a threat to Israel. As for the ultimate goal, it’s about creating the “right atmosphere” that would require Iran to pursue comprehensive reforms.

Q: Do you expect retaliation from Iran?

B: Presidential elections are to be held in Iran in June 2021. Starting from January, Iran will be entering the electoral process. The current government maintains a strong belief that the Biden administration will go back to the nuclear deal.

Iran’s economy is a mess. Since May 2018, that is to say, since the American sanctions kicked-in, the daily production of 3 million barrels have dropped to nearly 500,000. Iran’s economy is massively dependent on petroleum and gas revenues.

When we line all these important features up, it seems that retaliation in the short-term is unlikely.

Soleimani was assassinated in Iraq whereas Fakhrizadeh was assassinated in Tehran. The sovereignty of both countries, namely Iraq and Iran, were violated. Despite its traditional emphasis on “international law”, the West didn’t seem to care much about these assassinations, even at a simple discursive level. |

Q: How would you describe the overall international reactions in this regard?

B: The West has always been hypocritical when it comes to principles such as “international law”, “human rights”, “press freedom”, “national sovereignty” and “the right of peoples to auto-determination”. This hypocrite stance is also clear in Mohsen Fakhrizadeh’s case.

Some western countries have reacted to the assassination but these reactions are weak and ineffective.

Moreover, there is a matter that should be underlined: Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif called on Russia and China to condemn the assassination. As these two countries are being regarded as Iran’s closest allies, their silence is rather interesting.

Q: What impact do you believe losses such as Soleimani and Fakhrizadeh could have on national politics?

B: The impact shall be measured in accordance with the candidates. Conservative candidates could develop rhetoric based on revenge. This type of rhetoric might make an impression, especially on the peripheral/country-side electorate in Iran.

On the other hand, Rohani is considered to have failed on the nuclear deal. The Iranian people have lost faith in reformists as they blame Rohani for his unsuccessful management of the nuclear deal as well as the economy. Reformists are expected to encounter serious difficulties in this election. The fact that reformists weren’t able to produce credible leadership after Rafsanjani is also an important factor.

Nonetheless, fractures inside the conservative camp are also noticeable. These fractures have led to a weakening of conservatives.

We are also aware that Ahmadinejad is getting ready for a possible candidacy. If his candidacy is accepted, then the outcome of the elections will be very different.

In short, yes, the assassinations will play a role in the elections.

Q: How do you think the Biden-Harris couple will manage the Iranian case once their inauguration is complete?

B: Joe Biden promised to revive the nuclear deal during his campaign. He also asserted that new negotiations with Iran could be envisaged. I think that Biden, once in office, won’t rush his decisions on Iran and will probably wait for the outcome of the Iranian elections.

Besides, we don’t know how the new government and/or the Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei will approach the rehabilitation of the deal or new negotiations. Khamenei’s attitude is decisive. He said many times that Iran won’t negotiate with the US anymore. Nevertheless, Iran’s position will also depend on what Biden will say and do.

Q: Finally, what would you say about the need for cooperation between Turkey and Iran in these turbulent times?

B: Good bilateral relations between Turkey and Iran a sine qua non condition for sustainable peace, serenity and stability in the region.

The implementation of any project in the region, if the simultaneous engagement of Turkey and Iran is not assured, will inevitably be doomed to crash eventually.

This is the reality according to which Turkey and Iran need to act on.

Global power balances are shifting. We are entering into a phase of global metamorphosis. Cooperation between Turkey and Iran is nowadays needed more than ever in the region.

Ramazan Bursa is a Turkish journalist working on the Middle East in general and on Iran, in particular. Bursa represented Al-Quds Tv (Kudüs TV) in Iran for many years. He also worked for TV 5.

 Sinan Baykent
Political Scientist. Former Political Advisor and Speechwriter. Commentator. Works on European nationalism, Turkey and the Middle East. 

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June 2021