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The Iranian tussle between US and Russia

Rowhani and his camp expected two logical possibilities – either a nuclear weapon or territorial leverage

Radwan al-Sayed

Published: Updated:

No Iranian official dares to repeat what Rowhani and Zarif said about the nuclear deal in 2015. They stated that it is the biggest victory for Islam and Iran since the Revolution. At the time, the statement was directed at domestic opponents of the agreement. These were the people who wanted to produce a nuclear weapon the way Pakistan did in the last century.

According to other assessments at the time, including that of the Revolutionary Guard commanders, by acquiring a nuclear weapon Iran would have become a fortress that cannot be attacked or threatened. At the same time, it could pursue wars without fear in Iraq, Syria, Lebanon and Yemen.

Rowhani and his camp expected two logical possibilities – either a nuclear weapon or territorial leverage. Nevertheless, territorial acquisitions could not be achieved without the disintegration of the US embargo on Tehran. They needed the $150 billion frozen in the US to revive its army, refurbish petrochemical industry, and expand export capacity.

On the American front, Obama and his administration believed that the postponement of nuclear weapons program and end to blockade would take Iran into a new era. Owing to its growing needs and popular expectations, this will diminish Iran’s ambitions of investing in the ideals of the Revolution.

Jay Solomon, author of Iran wars (2016), believes that Obama erred in fathoming the Iranian tactics, as he misinterpreted the ambitions and aspirations of the Iranian rulers. Decision makers in Iran minimized the importance of popular aspirations and prosperity. They were still waiting for the opportunity produced by the US invasion of Iraq to take over the Middle East.

The difference between the two sides is that the Rowhani camp believed that they can fool the US to obtain two things – nuclear weapons and strategic expansion. So they were able to convince Khamenei to postpone the nuclear weapons program in exchange of expansion with the emerging capacity resulting from the lifting of the siege.

What did Iran gain from the wars? If ruin is a measure of success, they have succeeded in sabotaging at least three Arab countries

Radwan al-Sayed

Amman to Geneva

Solomon argues that the Iranians, the Rowhani camp and the Revolutionary Guards all stumbled in assessing the challenges they faced in the expansion areas. During the negotiations on the agreement, from Amman to Geneva, ISIS appeared in Syria and Iraq, other opponents of Bashar al-Assad arose. Iran itself faces a threat that even a nuclear weapon cannot annihilate.

Since they no longer battle against nations, but also against ideological armed organizations fighting at home Iran now wants to seize states and wealth, and its opponents want to burn them, in the early stages at least.

Iranians understood that the nuclear deal allows them an unlimited expansion if they avoided Israel. So a week after the signing of the agreement, General Soleimani went to Moscow to persuade President Putin to intervene in Syria in order to save Assad’s regime.

The Iranian lobby convinced President Obama, and to the world, of the danger of ISIS in Iraq, the Kurds. Thus, in early 2016 the Iranians believed again that they can have it all, get the embargo lifted, protect Iraq with the help of the Americans, and secure Syria with the help of the Russians.

And in the beginning of 2017, the Assad regime seemed stronger being sustained energetically by the Russians while Abadi triumphed against ISIS with the guidance of the Americans. Consequently, Iranians had partners, in both Iraq and Syria, which what was not even envisioned by Rowhani who in any case preferred the welfare of Tehran on the welfare of Assad.

So what are the prospects for 2017? And what next for Iran? Trump and his supporters do not wish to have good relations with Iran, but they want good relations with Russia. With this in mind, they will seek a political solution in Syria, with Russian cooperation, the Turkish role (and perhaps Arab) could bolster to fight ISIS in Iraq, and the Americans will still be there to fight ISIS and to create a balance between Iran and Turkey.

Iran will remain in control of the ruling elite in Baghdad. And the Kurdish alternation will continue between Iran, Turkey and the United States, Russia and Israel in Syria and Iraq.

What did Iran gain from the wars? If ruin is a measure of success, they have succeeded in sabotaging at least three Arab countries. But on the scale of nation-building, there is no doubt that the Israeli occupation of Palestine is still less bad than the Iranian occupation of Iraq and Syria.

This article is also available in Arabic.
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Radwan al Sayed is a Lebanese thinker and writer who attained a bachelor degree from the Faculty of Theology at al-Azhar University and a PhD in Philosophy from the University of Tübingen in Germany. He has been a scholar of Islamic studies for decades and is the former editor-in-chief of the quarterly al-Ijtihad magazine. Radwan is also the author of many books and has written for Arab dailies such as al-Ittihad, al-Hayat and ash-Sharq al-Awsat.

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