In volatile circumstances that envelopes Middle East at present, rhetoric and propaganda are equally effective, if not more than hard military prowess. It is an invaluable tool to whip up patriotism among the local populace while inciting masses beyond the borders, at considerably lesser cost in terms of finances, human lives and materials that a hard military solution would require.
Of all the countries in the region, the Iranians have mastered this art, particularly after the damaging war with Iraq in the 1980s. Since then, the clergy driven regime euphemised as “Vilayat-e-Faqih” has gone into an overdrive to further its aim of attaining hegemony in the region.
It has propped up its proxies in nearly every country, using every trick in the book and beyond, exploiting sectarian differences in some countries (Lebanon, Yemen, Bahrain) to legitimizing rule of the dictators and tyrants (Syria) by issuing religious edicts in their favour.
Further still, it has used force with religious overtones in violence plagued countries (Iraq, Yemen) and trying its best to foment terror and disturbances in relatively well managed and peaceful countries (Saudi Arabia, Bahrain). To stir up further disturbances, it has also succeeding at creating a divide in the Arab world, with countries such as Qatar and Oman being now more of partners than foes.
The Egypt example
It had nearly succeeded in Egypt by seducing the Muslim Brotherhood governed led by Mohammed Morsi, though there was a course correction following its fall. The propaganda has been so successful that it has Iran is thought to be a champion of Palestinian rights despite not expending any significant loss of penny or life to the Palestinian cause.
This has been solely a result of long running propaganda painting Arab countries being indifferent to the problems of the region, Ironically, much of these have been exacerbated by the Iranian regime itself.
Beyond the Middle East, the regime has been duplicitous in dealings with neutrals as well as friends. While touting friendship with Pakistan, it has embarked on raids on its territory while in the case of India, it has ripped apart an agreement for a gas field which was inked when sanctions were rife.
Post the removal of sanctions, although still partial, the regime has been emboldened, forgetting the support of the very countries, which helped them in times of crisis. It has also renewed its ballistic missile tests, going against the very nuclear deal with P5+1 countries it has been brandishing as a testimony of its sincerity.
Iran watchers are conscious of its sophistry, and beyond its posturing and high decibel rhetoric, its words ring hollow. However, the explosion of mass media helps the regime to hijack the narrative in the eyes of the common populace across the globe. An analysis of its action rips apart whole façade.
In Syria, right after Hafez Al Assad seized power in a military coup, the Iran affiliated Lebanese Grand Mufti, Musa Al Sadr, issued a Fatwa recognizing Alawites as denomination within the Shiism, thus lending its support and insulating his rule from any threat, even as massacres at Homs and Hama continued unabated. Of late, Hezbollah has lent all its might to support the embattled regime of Bashar al-Assad.
In Bahrain, Iranian subterfuge has been well documented, inciting the local populace against the ruling government, which has led to disturbances from time to time. In Saudi Arabia, similar tactics have failed to generate much response though this has created problems in the region.
But it is in Yemen particularly where the regime’s sophistry has been the most prominent. It has been trying to paint the situation as that of Saudi led invasion against the native populace. Further still, it has also succeeded in giving it a sectarian colour, as a struggle between Shiites (Zaidis) and Sunnis, propped up by GCC countries.
What has been brushed under the carpet is the fact that the GCC countries helped Yemen government of Ali Abdullah Saleh who himself was a Zaidi, for a good 23 years, and it was only after the rebellion of the local populace that a democratically elected government has been recognized. The same Saleh has now joined Houthi ranks against the Yemini government.
The list of activities, aimed at weakening the countries in the Middle East, is endless and has been a defining characteristic of the Iranian regime and one can argue that has been its raison d'être since the much touted “Islamic Revolution”. The Arab world as well as the world beyond it would do well to recognize this threat and take counter measures to defeat such exercises.
Faraz Shams is an independent analyst who has written for various news websites. His area of interest includes geopolitics and energy security. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.