As the world watches in horror, Assad’s forces, Iranian Revolutionary Guards, Iran’s proxy militias and Russian air power continue their assault against Aleppo and the massacre of its civilian population. On Monday December 5, Harakat al-Nujaba, one of Iran’s proxies in Iraq that is involved in the Syrian war, released a short clip of Ghassem Soleimani, the commander of Iran’s Revolutionary Guards Quds Force, touring Aleppo’s frontlines. The broadcast is the latest from the Iranian regimes propaganda push to get the full credit for the potential victory against a city reduced to rubbles, and witness to one of the most barbaric crimes in recent memory.
While Soleimani was touring Syria, the Iranian Foreign minister Javad Zarif, began his tour of Asian countries, advancing Iran’s “smile diplomacy” and lecturing his hosts about the merits of peace and presenting Iran as the flag bearer in the struggle against terrorism and violence in the region.
For over three decades the Iranian regime has attempted to simultaneously push a charm offensive, presenting itself as a reliable partner for peace and stability in the region, while expanding its military presence and empowering the armed militias, who are the main source of sectarian violence and terrorism in the Middle East. This dual policy has helped Iran to advance its strategic goals and overcome external and internal challenges.
This Iranian behavior has been receiving mixed reactions in the West. The European and American governments are charmed by the so-called moderate President Hassan Rowhani and his Foreign Minister Zarif, but the US Congress remains skeptical and sees the Iranian Supreme Leader and his allies in the Revolutionary Guard as the real power holders in Tehran. As a result, despite White House opposition, the Congress overwhelmingly voted to extend the Iran Sanctions Act (ISA) for 10 more years.
The ISA was initially passed by the Congress in 1996 and was called ILSA because it included Libya. At the time, President Clinton seemed more receptive to the Iranian President Hashemi Rafsanjani, who was considered to be a moderate, but Congress reacting to Iranian sponsored terrorism and its opposition to peace process in the Middle East, passed the Sanctions Act. The similarities between the 1990s and the events that led to the passage of ILSA and current situation are startling and demonstrate the divergence in Washington in regard to Iran and show the Iranian regime’s aptitude in advancing its bi-faceted foreign policy.
Oil contract offered to US
In 1988, the bloody eight year war with Iraq which devastated the Iranian economy, came to an end. A year later, Ayatollah Khomeini the founder of the Islamic Republic died and Hashemi Rafsanjani became President. He vowed to improve the economic situation and launched a charm offensive toward Washington and in 1992, offered an oil contract to US oil company Conoco. President Clinton responded positively to Rafsanjani’s attitude and tacitly approved the American investments in Iran. But at the same time, the Iranian regime was pursuing other foreign policy goals.
In 1991, the US sponsored Madrid conference assembled Arab states, in addition to Israeli and Palestinian delegations, to seek a peaceful solution to hostilities and pave the road for the creation of a Palestinian state. The Iranian leadership feared that it could no longer highjack the Palestinian cause and used it as a political and ideological justification for interfering in the Middle East and seeking hegemony in the Islamic world. As a result, Iran made a strategic decision to oppose and destroy the peace process.
On October 17, 1991 the Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei released a fiery statement against the recognition of Israel by the peace process and opposed the two state solution, urging Palestine to “make the entire world unsafe for the Zionists.” A few months later, On March 17, 1992 a suicide car bomb hit the Israeli embassy and on July 18, 1994 another suicide truck hit the Jewish center AMIA in Buenos Aires killing 85 and wounding hundreds. The Iranian sponsored terror campaign continued in Israel.
Attack in Saudi Arabia
Dozens of terrorist attacks targeting buses and public places killed scores of civilians. As a result, the hostilities increased between Palestinians and Israel, while the moderate factions in the Palestinian Authority were weakened and the peace process was halted. The Iranian terror spree reached its climax in June 1996 with a terrorist attack against a housing complex in Khobar, Saudi Arabia, that killed 19 US Air Force servicemen. As a result, In July 1996, the US Congress disregarded Hashemi’s charm offensive and passed the ILSA sanction Act against Iran.
Those events resemble the current situation and the divergence between the White House and US Congress with regard to Iran. Since the beginning of his Presidency in 2009, President Obama believed that a friendly policy with Iran would empower the so-called moderates in the regime, therefore, he extended a friendly hand toward Iran. In order to continue his outreach and gain the trust of the regime, Obama ignored the mass uprising which took place in Iran in 2009 and lasted over a year and brought the regime to the brink of collapse. Obama believed that reaching a nuclear deal with Iran would transform the regime and change its foreign policy. As a result he closed his eyes to the sectarian and repressive activities by Iranian proxy militias in Iraq and Iran-backed Prime Minister Nouri Al Maliki and later, remained idle as Iran intervened in Syria to slaughter the Syrian people and save Assad regime.
The emergence of the Rowhani government in 2013 and the interim nuclear agreement which took place the same year encouraged the Obama administration to pursue its conciliatory approach toward Iran and oppose the opponents of his Iran policy, chief among them the US Congress. But Obama’s calculation that a more conciliatory policy with Iran and the lifting of sanctions would moderate the regime proved to be delusionary.
In fact, Iran has become more aggressive in pursuing its radical agenda in the region. It has accelerated its missile program, increased its military support to its proxies across the Middle East including the Yemeni rebels, who are firing Iranian missiles at neighboring states. Iran has expanded its military involvement in Syria, supported the slaughter of the Syrian people, while taking American hostages and provoking US ships in the Persian Gulf.
As a result, the US Congress rightfully believes that Rowhani and Zarif’s charm diplomacy are part of Iranian strategy to deceive Western public opinion and policy makers and as a result, help Iran to advance its real foreign policy based on hegemonic aspirations and export of Islamic fundamentalism in the region.
The battle for Aleppo and the Iranian military involvement across the Middle East reveal the real nature of Iranian foreign policy and expose the deceptive nature of Rowhani and Zarif’s “smile diplomacy”.