Some determinants of Iranian foreign policy in the Arab East

Al-Akhbar is currently going through a transitional phase whereby the English website is available for Archival purposes only. All new content will be published in Arabic on the main website (www.al-akhbar.com).

Al-Akhbar Management

Iranian foreign policy has become far less shaped by the Islamic ideology of the Islamic Republic’s founder. Its policies are now similar to those of the other regimes of the region that are overwhelmingly concerned with survival, popularity, and influence. In the early years of the Islamic Republic, the regime sought the support of Sunnis and Shia alike in a vision that promised Islamic unity. The vision was not far fetched at first as the construction of the republic according to the vision of the Wilayat Al-Faqih (Guardianship of the Jurist) was in its infancy. Many Arabs, Muslims and leftists alike, were inspired by the example of the revolution and pinned high hopes on the new regime which toppled the mighty dictatorship of the Shah.

The revolutionary zeal of the regime aged and the urge to “export the revolution” got old. Not that the regime gave up on its desire to exercise regional influence (very much like the desires of Saudi Arabia and Turkey) but it has become more realistic about its abilities and appeal. There was a time when the Iranian regime assumed (early on and not so early on) that Arabs would wish to emulate the model of the Iranian regime. But those wishes are long gone: the regime, while far less closed and far less rigidly controlled from above than all Gulf regimes, is not appealing to Arabs for many reasons. The guiding ideology was by definition exclusivist due to its sectarian philosophy, and it became far less appealing in the age of sectarian agitation which was triggered on purpose – at the behest of Israel and the US, no doubt – by the Saudi regime.

The Iranian regime now has a set of priorities in its policies in the Arab world, and the Arab East in particular. The North Africa region has been for all intents and purposes shut down: Saudi Arabia arranged for the regimes of Egypt and Morocco to adopt an explicit anti-Shia doctrine, and Libya is now too Salafi and too Ikhwan-dominated to welcome Iranian or Shia presence. All Iranian foreign policies have to focus on the Arab East, knowing that the Gulf-Iran conflict will be settled there.

1.) Iran will try to avoid at all cost the escalation of the Sunni-Shia conflict knowing that the Saudi regime has been undeterred in its pursuit of that goal. Yet, the recent surge of ISIS and al-Nusrah Front may have given the Saudi regime a reason to pause. The exuberance of the Saudi royal family over the benefits of sectarian agitation has lessened especially that the proxy wars in Syria and Lebanon have not gone along Saudi wishes.

2.) Hezbollah and its preservation are an Iranian political priority. But Hezbollah no longer needs Iran to survive. It has established its own powerful base in Lebanon, and among the Shia diaspora. And contrary to widespread misconceptions, Nasrallah does not take orders from the Iranian regime to implement in Lebanon, as his predecessors in the party had done in the past. It is fair to say that not only does Nasrallah enjoy wide freedom of decision-making in Lebanese matters but that the Iranian Supreme leader consults with him thoroughly on Iranian foreign policy orientations in the region.

3.) The survival of the Syrian regime but not of Bashar al-Assad is a matter of priority. But the regime may come to terms with the reality that Syria may not be patched back together intact. The regime may have to accept the reality of a division of Syria in which the regime in Damascus continues to exercise control over the major population centers. And the regime can easily be swayed to sacrifice Bashshar if a settlement with the West covers the Syrian or Lebanese files. In fact, sacrificing Bashshar (just as the Iranian regime sacrificed Maliki in an understanding with the US) could emerge as the main component of the “political settlement” that could be worked out between Iran and Western powers.

4.) The relationship with Saudi Arabia remains central but Iran holds less cards than the Saudi regime. The resort to violent options against Saudi interests has not been pursued thus far, but it could become a necessity if the region disintegrates further into fragmentation and civil wars, especially if Lebanon descends into an all-out civil war (which is not likely for the time being). Ironically, if Iran reaches an understanding with the West over the nuclear issue, its desire for reconciliation with the Saudi regime diminishes.

5.) The Iranian regime has to continue to preach its attachment to the Palestinian resistance movement, and it also has to continue to fund and arm Palestinian resistance groups. The deterioration in the relations between Hamas and Iran has hurt Iran (and Hezbollah) as that relationship helped dispel the sectarian cast of Iranian policies in the Arab East. For that reason, the Iranian regime quickly began arming and funding alternative Palestinian groups, including the PFLP, which is unprecedented given the Marxist-Leninist ideology of the front (at least in its past manuals). On this question, and in light of the alliance between Gulf regimes and Israel, the Iranian regime can use the Palestinian problem to its advantage vis-à-vis Arab public opinion.

The role of ideology continues to play a part among some Iranian clerics and officials, especially among the elite Revolutionary Guards. If the balance of power in Iran switches toward the “militant” faction, the role of ideology could become more prominent. Furthermore, the conflict in Iranian society and the outcome of nuclear negotiations between Iran and Western countries will have an immediate impact on domestic politics in Iran. It will either strengthen the hand of Rohani, or will put the Revolutionary Guards in supreme control of Iranian foreign policies.

Dr. As’ad AbuKhalil is a Professor of Political Science at California State University, Stanislaus, a lecturer and the author of The Angry Arab News Service. He tweets @asadabukhalil.

Comments

occupation:- the seizure & control of an area by military force, especially foreign territory.
"a territory is considered occupied when it is actually placed under authority of the hostile army.
it makes no difference weather the occupation has received Security Council approval, what its aim is -/ invasion / administration / occupation.
The legality of any occupation is regulated by the UN charter of law known as jus ad bellum. Once a situation exists which factually amounts to an occupation the law of occupation applies - weather or not the occupation is considered lawful.

* The Partition Plan - without the consent of the majority of the people of Palestinian, the UN did not the right to partition Palestine or assign any of its territories to a minority of aliens in order to establish a state of their own.
* The Partition did not go become UN policy because it did not go to the Security Council.for approval.
* The Partition Plan became vitiated, it became invalid & was taken back to the General assembly for more discussion.
* In the mean time Israel unilaterally declared itself to be in existence actually in defiance of the wills of the organized international community including Truman's administration.
* Zionists assertion that Israel was given its birth certificate & thereby its legitimacy by the US Partition Plan is a myth, propaganda nonsense.
* The truth at the time is that the Zionist State of Israel had no right to exist & could have no right to exist unless it was recognized & legitimatized by those who were disposed by their land & their rights during its creation. In International Law only the Palestinians could give Israel the legitimacy it craved & that legitimacy was the only thing that the Zionists could not take from the Palestinians by force.
* Integration in to Israeli life ( Judaization ) by the Palestinians is not a good idea it can be seen as an acceptance & therefore argued against the Palestinian existence & extinguish their right to their rightful state of Palestine.
* This needs a team of lawyers
I know the legal world & I know for sure that there are lawyers who would give anything to argue this one -
As to winning - it is a no contest .
Maybe everyone could put a few dollars into a jar
$A1 X1 million people is $1.000.000
Imagine if they gave $A5 each.............

The author does not discuss Iran's role in the US invasion and occupation of Iraq. Many of the Iraqis who had connections to the Neo-Con led invasion, also had ties to Teheran, such as Ahmed Chalabi and SCIRI (Supreme Council for the revolution in Iraq). Somehow, this element was left out of the discussion, due to the fact that it might expose Pro-Western collaboration on the part of Teheran and gives lie to his claim that Iran does not want a violent sectarian escalation in the region.

Actually this element was left out because it is irrelevant...first of all Saddan was Iran's enemy and he made no secret about it...the blood of thousands of Iranians and Iraqi Shias were on his hands and like any other country no one will say no if another country decided to bomb your enemy..secondly, back then the U.S. still had some guise of credibility..so when the 9/11 events occurred and when Bush claimed Saddam had WMD..the whole world went for the ride believing the Americans..even the Russians believed that..the aim according to the U.S. was to stop Saddam and seize all WMD and leave...the U.S. fooled the whole world back then.. Iranians believed that and even helped the U.S. like the rest of the world...it is no secret that Iran immediately changed it's stance and was against US Iraqi occupation when it was clear that the removal of Saddam and non existent WMD were only an excuse to invade Iraq..so sorry to tell you my dear but you have exposed nothing on Iran since Iran never made it a secret that it collaborated with the U.S. and no one can blame Iran since the removal of Saddam would ultimately benefit Iran and benefit Iraq because Saddam was a huge danger to both Iraq and Iran..and so sorry to tell you too my door that it is not the author "giving" a lie but it is you that is "living" a lie..this constant attempt to make this a Sunni Shia issue is really getting boring..you guys need to come up with something new

I fully support the arguments of the above commentators and am surprised at the analysis of Mr As'ad Abu Khalil who does not seem to understand what the Iranian policy is all about. Like Russia Iran supports vehemently the independence and self determination of states. Iran is against all interference in the internal affairs of states and strives for peaceful solutions to conflicts. In fact should Iran do what you have implied in your article and sign an agreement with the western powers in exchange to agreeing that president Assad should give up power would be a foolish step and would weaken Irans stand in the Arab world. It would destroy the image of Iran as being a state built on principles, loyalty and international law. Iran would loose all credibility. What would Iran gain by doing this? There is no one in the Syrian government ( I prefer to say government and not regime as you typically for western analysts like to do) who could possibly replace Assad at the moment and hold the country together. And I'm convinced that Syria will stay intact. Also the fact that the west is desperate to sign this agreement with Iran only shows the political and economic strength of Iran despite the sanctions. And I have to agree with the comments that Assad has huge support and has been elected by a vast majority of voters who can not be ignored. Talk about the support for the Palestinian people this has always been a fundamental part of Iranian and Syrian foreign policy irrelevant of the mistakes made by the Palestinian leadership.

Dear Dr. As'ad,

I respectfully disagree with you on many points:

Your way of mentioning Iran mainly focuses on Iran being a country that seeks regional influence for personal gains...If Iran was a country looking for personal gains it would have submitted to the West and Israel a long time ago and would probably have the biggest economy in the Middle East..it is no secret that the USA wants to weaken if not destroy Iran in anyway possible, so does Israel, so does the GCC, what do you expect the Iranians to do?? Just sit down and fold it's hands?? Whatever happens to Hizbullah in Lebanon affects Iran whatever Happens to Syria affects Iran whatever happens to Iraq affects Iran whatever happens to Afghanistan affects Iran...it is no secret that the war done on Syria is in an effort to destroy the axis of resistance...which Iran is the main backer in..Iran has to use whatever cards it has to defend itself..it has to use whatever influence it can muster to counter the Western influence...this has nothing to do with religion or ideology...this is Iran defending itself and defending it's principles by countering any attempt to weaken it from it's neighbors

The Hamas issue in no way Hurts Iran...it only hurt Hamas itself and strengthened Iran because it proved to the Sunni world and those who care about Palestine that no other Arab country will support Palestine the way Iran does and has..this made Iran more credible than ever and strengthened it's position...Iran will also always support whatever resistance that exists no matter how many times they back stab Iran for one reason and one reason only...Any weakening of any resistance to Israel would ultimately benefit Israel the most..i.e. if Iran were to react to Hamas's betrayal by cutting off all aids and supplies to Hamas this will ultimately benefit ISRAEL...and Iran will never allow that to happen...need I remind you that it is written in Iran's constitution that Israel is an enemy of Iran? This stance is not subject to being bent or negotiated. The Iranian regime doesn't have to "preach" anything
Your comparison to Maliki and Assad is full of flaws that I don't even know where to begin, Assad enjoy popular support in Syria whereas Maliki didn’t, Maliki was imposing a Shia power, Syria imposes a secular power, Maliki proved his incompetence in Mosul, Syria didn’t, and most importantly, it is not up to Iran to “Sacrifice” any person, Iran is not a country that imposes it’s decisions on anyone, and you cannot even bring one shred of proof that Iran imposes anything on any country, you are mistaken the Iranian mentality with that of the Wahhabi mentality or the Imperialist Western mentality, it is ultimately up to the Syrian people to decide whether Bashar ever goes or not, in Maliki’s case the people had decided to have him removed, Iran has no choice but to accept that whether it likes it or not.

I find your description of the Iranian governing body as a " regime" is unfair. While Iran does not have a Jeffersonian democracy they do have the structure for a viable government. Since 1979 Iran has transformed itself into a republic with duly elected presidents and a representative parliament. Religious or ideological influence should not always be considered dictatorial. Israel is an example.

1)Jeffersonian democracy? That is, the state of colonizers and slavers? Nice example, sure.
2) Israel is "an example" of what? Of another state of colonizers and ethnic cleansers?

you are using the same paradigms as the orientalists ,western journalists,and affiliates in the region that you so much despise are using,e.g. Maliki =Assad.They are two worlds apart so are Syria and Iraq in their political lives.One couldn't built an army under the sectarian rules set by the Invaders and the veto of the Hegemon,the other has an army that has shown its resilience and loyalty in the most horrific war the region has experienced.And God how many wars we experienced ……One found himself with a very fractured society curtesy of the Hegemon,the other contrary to the western propaganda and the dreams of certain "leftists"in the region,has managed the no small feat of keeping against all odds a house that is very badly damaged yes but with very solid foundations,no windows nor doors left but the bulk of the edifice intact.
Finally don't mistake Syria for Lebanon.One has been fighting with all it can muster to save its sovereignty and independence ,hence the multiple layers of allies and friends it patiently cultivated ,the other unfortunately,Lebanon,our country has been an artificial construct from the beginning and has never mustered the courage to create a state.
Finally I don't think Iran will impose its will in Syria ,a NO puppet country.
A curiosity:since you write so often and with so much assurance about Syria ,have you ever been there?In our neighboring country and matrix so to speak?
I have been there,a hundred time,was even posted there as diplomat,which doesn't mean that I might not be wrong in my assessment of the Syrian-Iranian relations.

Post new comment

The content of this field is kept private and will not be shown publicly.
  • Web page addresses and e-mail addresses turn into links automatically.
  • Allowed HTML tags: <a> <em> <strong> <cite> <code> <ul> <ol> <li> <dl> <dt> <dd><img><h1><h2><h3><h4><h5><h6><blockquote><span><aside>
  • Lines and paragraphs break automatically.

More information about formatting options

^ Back to Top