Will Turkey be Affected by Soleimani’s Death?
Abdul Abbas THO Academic Liaison
At the exact moment of the attack, the killing of Soleimani affected three countries. American missiles were ordered to kill an Iranian leader on Iraqi soil, but the actual effects far surpasses just impacting Iraq, Iran, and the United States. In an effort to draw common ground, all three of those nations have military forces currently deployed in Syria, where contending forces are either supporting or opposing Assad’s forces in a brutal civil war targeting civilians. To add another country affected by the attacks, a particular spot of contention is Syria’s North Eastern border with Turkey, where Turkish forces have been fighting off Iranian forces and their proxies for years. Given Turkey’s geographical and democratic relations with the aforementioned nations, especially Syria, a military dispute between any of them will undoubtedly create complications for Turkey and it’s interests. With a total of five nations now discussed, four of which have military forces in the fifth, a clearer image of the issues the attack created is made. With Syria being the common denominator, and Turkey being the regional NATO representative assisting anti-Assad resistance, Turkey must proceed with caution as acting for or against Iran will impact Syria and Syrian lives.
The question of how Soleimani’s death will affect the fight for power in Syria must be considered, as all 5 countries will need to adapt to the shift in Iran’s power structure. According to an article by Telegraph UK, Soleimani is the reason there are Iranian forces on the ground in Syria, and elaborates that without Iranian support, the Syrian army “would have collapsed by now” (Sherlock, Ruth, 2014) Given Iran’s partnership with Assad and his government, the loss of the Major General of the extraterritorial division of the Iranian revolutionary guard, The Quds Force, could mean weakened Iranian support in the region. For Erdogan, the death of Soleimani is positive news as Turkey militarily supports anti-Assad resistance efforts, which means he was in direct opposition with Soleimani. His death gives Turkish and Syrian resistance forces a heightened ability to establish a safe zone for refugees to return to their homes. When asking how the attacks impacted Turkish forces in Syria, it is unclear how much of a real effect it will have on the ground. However, from Erdogan’s perspective, he will have an easier time advancing the Turkish-Syrian agenda considering one of the main people opposing that agenda is now out of the picture.
In regards to an official statement by Erdogan in regards to Soleimani’s death, which would have been a perfect opportunity for Erdogan to voice the effect the attacks had on Turkey, he opted not to put out anything official but rather chose to contact his Iranian counterpart, Hassan Rouhani; to offer his condolences. The nature of the attack came precariously close to violating international law, as Article 51 of the United Nations Charter states that an attack against another nation cannot be ordered without the authorization of the United Nations Security Council, unless the attack was made out of self-defense. (United Nations Charter, 1945) This claim of self-defense is what now must be substantiated by the executive branch, as President Donald Trump and Secretary of State Michael Pompeo both stated the attack was a preemptive measure to stop an “imminent attack” against Americans. (Stracqualursi, Hansler, 2020)
Public support or condemnation of the attack by Erdogan is a lose-lose situation for Turkey, as neither the president nor the secretary of state have yet to officially prove the legality of the attack, so commenting either way may not be in the best interest of Turkish foreign relations.
The resulting death of Soleimani puts Turkey and Erdogan in a mostly positive situation, with the driving force behind Iran’s grip on Turkey’s southern border now gone, giving Erdogan more military leighway in the process; but the downside is that he can’t officially comment either way as not to threaten political ties. I suspect the U.S will have no choice but to strengthen ties with Turkey – the sole NATO ally in the region – as during these uncertain times, America needs more than just a politically advantageous ally in Turkey, they need a geographically advantageous one more than ever.
- Abdul Abbas (University of Calgary THO Academic Liaison)
Sherlock, R. (2014, February 21). Iran boosts support to Syria. Retrieved from
Stracqualursi, V., & Hansler, J. (2020, January 3). Pompeo: Strike on Soleimani disrupted an 'imminent attack'. Retrieved from https://www.cnn.com/2020/01/03/politics/mike-pompeo-iran-soleimani-strike-cnntv/index.html
UN Charter (full text). (n.d.). Retrieved from