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A month of Iranian escalation ahead of the Vienna negotiations

An attempted assassination in Iraq, a disruption of the government in Lebanon, and a deep-rooted hatred for Arabs laid bare by election results in Baghdad.

Tony Francis

Published: Updated:

The latest election results in Iraq can be viewed as a turning point that separates two Iranian eras in the region. The election put to the test Iran’s influence in Iraq, which fell under its control following the US invasion that paved the way for Tehran. At the same time, it provided an insight into the tools to which the Mullah regime would resort to protect its influence.

Tehran was not only not convinced of the election results; it was shocked. Its allies and supporters suffered a resounding loss. Instead of turning the “Shia vote” to a referendum on Qassem Soleimani’s blood raising the banner of ending US presence in Iraq, the election results instead announced Soleimani’s “second death” in Baghdad itself.

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Iran’s explicit reaction to the loss was escalation on various frontlines. Tehran’s supporters were let loose to threaten and demonstrate in rejection of the results. Once it realized these results cannot be changed, it launched its explosives-laden drones to assassinate Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi, whom Iran’s state media describe as “pro-American,” thus crowning its comprehensive terror campaign in the region and overstepping all red lines.

In parallel, a similar scene was taking place in Lebanon. A few hours after the announcement of the election results, Iran’s allies began their attempts to disrupt the work of Lebanon’s new government under the guise of dissatisfaction with the judge investigating the Beirut blast. Two days later, they decided to send a message to the US during a visit by Victoria Nuland, the most senior US official to visit Beirut in a while. They organized demonstrations that soon turned into secular attacks and reactions that threatened to awaken the ghost of the civil war. To this day, the crisis fabricated in mid-October is still developing. Meanwhile, Tehran’s allies keep their firm grip on governance and the government, while fear cripples all other concerned officials, who opt not to take any decisions or measures for fear of the militia’s retribution. This fear will visibly increase after al-Kadhimi’s attempted assassination. Judges and politicians will see their lives threatened. Lebanon’s ministers, Prime Minister, and President even will live in a constant fear of being held accountable by the militia for any step they may take, especially in terms of restoring relations with Gulf states.

In this context as well, Tehran’s escalation gets to new heights after the “Iraqi experience.” Iran was talking positively of four rounds of negotiations with Saudi Arabia, sponsored by al-Kadhimi. Suddenly, in parallel with a military escalation in Yemen and attacks on Saudi Arabia, Iran’s state media launched a new campaign on the Kingdom. Tehran’s Mehr News Agency commented: “Arabs do not want a Shia state in Iraq because they feel a historical humiliation and defeat”!

Iran’s exhumation of the history of national hatred just as its dominance project stumbles was bound to cast doubts on the negotiations with Riyadh. For some Iranian observers, Saudi Arabia’s objective from these talks is to solve its problems in Yemen, as officials in Riyadh “thought that Tehran, through its control over Yemeni forces, can lead them to their ambitions, which is why they entered the negotiations.”

Iran’s coordinated escalation for over a month does not reverse its obligation to agree to return to the Vienna negotiating table at the end of November. This agreement, in turn, needed an “American film” to justify it in the eyes of Iran and its axis. The scenario required an announcement by Tehran that Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) ships confronted a US fleet a few days before. The announcement came in parallel with Tehran’s agreement to return to the Vienna negotiations, thus allowing the IRGC to talk of victories against the Great Satan.

The IRGC’s Fars News Agency said the operation allowed Iran to hit seven birds with one stone:

1. It forced US naval ships to leave the scene

2. It demoralized the US negotiating team in Vienna

3. It enshrined the Iranian-Chinese rapprochement following the AUKUS deal

4. It will distance France from the US even further given the rift between the two countries

5. It exposes Israel’s cowardly affronts on Iran

6. It increased maritime safety for Iran’s exports

7. It boosted the morale of Houthis in Yemen.

Iran will only go to Vienna after creating a haze of dust in the region, because it fears the US inclination to bring Tehran’s regional policy to the table of negotiations, while it insists on this divisive, aggressive policy. It only sees in the Vienna negotiations a way to lift sanctions off its regime and figures.

Indeed, Iran did create its storm of dust: the escalation in Yemen, the disruption of the government in Lebanon which is already on the brink of an explosion, and the attempted assassination of Iraq’s Prime Minister, which the Iraqi pro-Iran figure Qais al-Khazali doubted and considered a “home explosion.” For his part, the head of Iran’s National Security Council Ali Shamkhani said it was “a new sedition that must be traced back to foreign think tanks.” But since when does Iran not explicitly condemn ideological sedition?

This article was originally published in, and translated from, Independent Arabia.

Read more:

The attempted assassination of Kadhimi and the Kuwait cell

Al-Kadhimi… The man with a dream too big for Iraq

Disclaimer: Views expressed by writers in this section are their own and do not reflect Al Arabiya English's point-of-view.