Iran’s Raisi Flies to Turkey for Delayed Gaza Talks

Ankara (AFP) – Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi has traveled to Turkey for long-awaited talks aimed at resolving past differences between the two neighboring countries and addressing the escalating Israel-Hamas conflict.

Raisi’s visit to Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan comes as tensions rise and fighting intensifies across the Middle East due to the war in Gaza.

The United States and Britain have increased joint airstrikes against Iranian-backed Houthi rebels in Yemen in response to their attacks on Red Sea shipping lanes.

Meanwhile, Israel has repeatedly targeted figures linked to Tehran in Syria, and a full-scale war against Iran-backed Hezbollah militants in Lebanon appears imminent.

Last week, Iran and Pakistan exchanged strikes against militant and terrorist targets, and Turkey itself has stepped up artillery and drone attacks against Kurdish groups in Syria and Iran.

The rapidly deteriorating situation in the Middle East forced Raisi to delay his visit to Ankara twice. The planned talks in January were canceled following twin blasts claimed by Islamic State group jihadists at the shrine of assassinated Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps general Qasem Soleimani, which resulted in the death of 89 people.

A trip scheduled for November was called off due to conflicting schedules of diplomats involved in consultations over the Gaza war.

Before boarding the plane for his first official visit to Turkey since his election in 2021, Raisi stated that Iran and Turkey share a common stance in supporting the Palestinian people and their resistance against oppression.

The turmoil engulfing the Middle East since Israel launched its offensive in response to Hamas’s attack on October 7 has complicated Turkey’s relationship with Iran.

Erdogan views the Iran-backed Hamas as legitimate “liberators” rather than the “terrorist” organization they are considered to be in the Western world. Erdogan has even likened Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to Adolf Hitler for the offensive that claimed the lives of more than 25,000 people, mostly women and children, according to Gaza’s Hamas-run health ministry.

However, Erdogan initially defended Israel’s right to respond to Hamas’s attacks, leading to the deaths of 1,140 people, mostly civilians, according to an AFP tally based on official Israeli figures. The militants are still holding around 130 of the estimated 250 people they took hostage, making it the worst attack in Israel’s history.

Analysts have noted the widespread anger in Iran’s media over Turkey’s ongoing trade and diplomatic relations with Israel, adding to existing tensions between the two regional powers in conflicts such as Syria and the Azerbaijan-Armenia dispute in Nagorno-Karabakh.

During the visit, Raisi expressed hope of signing “important documents” that could significantly boost trade between Iran and Turkey to $30 billion annually, compared to the current estimate of $6 billion.

Iran and Turkey share a border of 535 kilometers (330 miles) and have a long history of economic cooperation and diplomatic tensions. Turkey supported rebel efforts to overthrow Iranian- and Russian-backed President Bashar al-Assad during Syria’s civil war. This support caused growing concern in Iran as Turkey supplied arms to Azerbaijan in the conflict with Armenia over Nagorno-Karabakh.

Observers believe the Gaza war will push regional disputes to the background, compelling Raisi and Erdogan to seek a joint approach to the Middle East. While symbolic measures in support of Palestine may be announced, the primary focus of the talks is likely to be containing the conflict and preventing further escalation, which both Ankara and Tehran desire.