The drums of war are ringing in the region. Iran is taking it too far with its hardline messages to the world, continuing its extremist sectarian ideology alongside its strategy of hegemony and influence. The Iranian developments are moving toward escalation with the countries of the region and the world.
A key election in Iran with the support of the Supreme Leader is a major indicator of this trend, and the Arab presence at the inauguration ceremony is a show of Iran’s expansion of power as the attendees included the head of state, prime minister, ministers, and, most importantly, the presence of Arab representatives of the Iranian militias, Lebanon’s Hezbollah, Iran-backed Houthi militia, Hamas, and a representative of some Iraqi Shiites.
Iran challenges the world by escalating toward a nuclear bomb. Iranian harassment of Saudi Arabia is constant and continuous, whether through its Houthis or the direct attacks by Iranian drones. Iran challenges the United States by targeting American forces in Iraq. It supports Hezbollah’s uncalculated missile adventures. It is challenging the whole world by threatening international navigation, striking commercial ships with drones, and hijacking them via militants, and directing them toward Iran in the Gulf waters.
The language of Western escalation toward Iran is unmistakable, and the question here is claer: are these serious threats or are they more akin to the “Red Lines” that former President Obama was drawing and then doing nothing about their violation? The lesson Iran has learned is that when negotiating with Obama-politics, you have to be obstinate as they will yield, you have to commit crimes as they will take a step back and not react. Everyone remembers the images of US soldiers, who were kidnapped by Iran during the Obama Administration, stripped of their military uniforms.
“Taming the West” is one of Iran’s strategies in dealing with Western countries, and it has succeeded with Europe and the US before. The clearest examples were normalizing terrorism and forcing Western countries not to include it in the nuclear deal, then normalizing drones and ballistic missiles, and what is happening today regarding maritime navigation is a determined effort to confirm that normalization and make it a reality.
Sometimes the cunning of history forces some leaders to make decisions contrary to expectations; the weak may show strength while the hesitant may turn to firmness.
The countries of the region know the Iranian regime well, certainly more than western countries do. Israel knows all of Iran’s plans to besiege it, not only through Lebanon’s Hezbollah but also in the Syrian Golan Heights. Israel is aware of Iran’s strategies to establish its military presence in Syria through building military camps in Syrian villages and towns, and through a complex system of spreading political Shiism, and a system of interests that links Syrian citizens to those Iranian camps. In any case, Israel is not a weak state.
Extrapolating Iranian policies makes it clear that Iran understands only the language of power in international relations. Without listing positions and resolutions of the past 40 years, it is enough to remember the situation of the Iranian regime a few months ago when it was frightened and watching, and juxtaposing it to its great arrogance at the present time.
The Iranian powerful attributes are not in being a modern state or having a strong economy, nor are they found in experiencing exceptional development and growth. On the contrary, its strength lies in a repressive regime first, an extremist ideology second, and then having armed militias in Iraq, Lebanon, Syria, and Yemen, as well as Sunni terrorist organizations in Iraq, Syria, and the Gaza Strip.
Iran is a state incapable of war in the traditional sense and only faced defeats for nearly a full decade in its military war with Iraq, when Khomeini tried to export the revolution. However, Iran triumphed, in Khamenei’s view, by infiltrating Arab countries via Islamist parties, movements, and organizations; enlisting agents; throwing accusation of treachery; and penetrating states in the name of religion, sect, and doctrine.
It is not necessarily true that the gathering clouds in the region will lead to a full military war against the Iranian regime, but it should not be ruled out that painful military strikes can be launched against a regime that boasts excess power, ideological rigor, and militia influence, which will send it back in time more than it already is.
The dreams of the Persian Empire have not left the Iranian regime since its inception as it used all the strategies and methods. It failed in some and succeeded in others, and because the elements of its current power came from the silence of others, a well-crafted military strike within a solid international alliance can return it to what it once was; without any significant powerful attributes. Then, Iran would have to start from scratch, assuming it can that is.
Experience may fail the experienced, and the experience of the Iranian regime with Western countries assures it that it is able to turn the wild West into a friendly, silent one, seeking to appease the Iranian regime. Iran’s experience may fail it through its arrogant and aggressive policies. Tehran does not seem to understand the lesson well as it is testing the tools and raising its preparedness ahead of any emergency at this stage.
Judging from history and politics, political currents may have changes in tactics, albeit at the level of preparation for negotiations for example, and according to Obama’s Secretary of State John Kerry, Obama refused to simply play the force card to facilitate the negotiating process, which is something that is subject to change.
Arrogance in politics is deadly as it prevents the decision-maker from reading the scene accurately and assessing the strengths and weaknesses. The Iranian regime does not assess the strength of its neighbors in the region, which is the same error that propelled Saddam Hussein’s regime to an uncalculated adventure that eventually led to its fall. History does not repeat itself, but it does not prevent the occurrence of very similar scenarios.
In conclusion, no one in the region seeks war, but some of the congestions of history impose unconventional solutions that are less costly and more effective.
This article was originally published in, and translated from, the pan-Arab daily Asharq al-Awsat.