Iran Talks Tough to Turkey

James Phillips /

As international pressure on Iran has mounted due to its accelerating uranium enrichment, its foiled plot to assassinate the Saudi ambassador to the U.S., and its systematic human rights abuses, the embattled regime in Tehran has lashed out verbally against Turkey, Britain, Israel, and the United States.

On Saturday, General Amir Ali Hajizadeh, the head of the aerospace unit of the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC), warned that if the United States or Israel attacks Iran, then the IRGC would target NATO missile defense installations in Turkey. The Iranians claim that the NATO missile defense system, which Ankara agreed to host in September, is designed to protect Israel, a crude propaganda effort to discredit the Erdogan government as a tool of Israel.

Another high-ranking IRGC officer, General Yadollah Javani, also warned that “if Israeli missiles hit one of our nuclear facilities or other vital centers, then they should know that any part of Israeli territory would be the target of our missiles, including their nuclear sites.” The Israeli press has recently been filled with speculative articles about a possible Israeli preventive strike against Iran’s nuclear infrastructure.

Tensions over Iran’s nuclear program are growing as a result of a new IAEA report that charged that Iran has conducted experiments on detonating a nuclear warhead and designing a nuclear payload for Iran’s Shahab 3 ballistic missiles.

Iran’s saber-rattling is meant to deter a strike by Israel or the United States on its prohibited nuclear weapons program and underscore its continued defiance of U.N. Security Council resolutions calling for it to suspend its uranium enrichment efforts. But Iran’s relations with Turkey have also deteriorated due to Ankara’s growing pressure on Syria’s Assad regime, which is Iran’s most important Arab state ally.

Iran’s unpopular dictatorship knows that if the Assad regime is overthrown, Iran’s opposition forces will be emboldened to renew their own efforts to topple the Tehran regime. By threatening Turkey, Tehran hopes to deter it from considering a military intervention in Syria similar to the NATO-led intervention in Libya.

Iran’s relations with Britain have also deteriorated further after London last week cut all financial ties with Iranian banks due to their facilitation of Iran’s proliferation and terror activities. Iran’s hard-line parliament voted to downgrade relations with Britain amid chants of “Death to Britain.”

Iran’s dictators, increasingly sensitive to external pressure and fearful of internal rebellion, have become more belligerent. By publicly threatening to retaliate against Turkey in the event of a preventive strike by Israel, they are sure to outrage the Turks. But it also may make Turkey think twice about greater intervention in Syria. And the public threats serve other purposes by pushing up oil prices on the nervous world oil market and playing up foreign threats to prop up the regime’s sagging domestic support.