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How Iran today resembles its past

Khairallah Khairallah

Published: Updated:

There’s no significance worth mentioning regarding the victory of any candidate in the upcoming Iranian presidential elections. It does not matter who will win as what’s more important here, is for Iran’s domestic and foreign policy to change. As Iran needs to quit playing the role of the regional dominating power that has led itself and the region towards sectarian strife and destruction.

Iran, with its current regime which was established by Ayatollah Khomeini in 1979, cannot continue to play this game because it does not have a model to present inside or outside its borders. Iran can seek destruction and make the region’s countries depend more on foreign powers, including America, “The Great Satan.”

There hasn’t been any change in Iran and there will not be any as long as Khamenei controls Iran as the guardian of the jurist. Iran will continue to be a state that dreams of playing a role that exceeds its size and capabilities while ignoring that the world is changing much faster than it thinks it is

Khairallah Khairallah

However, it cannot be a power that builds because this will require more harmony among the region’s communities and it will mean investing in resources to serve citizens instead of squandering huge sums of money to buy weapons. Will Iran still be needed if it plays a constructive role and be useless to America or any other country?

Who plays the strings?

The experience of Iranian President Hassan Rowhani who was elected four years ago is the best proof that the Iranian president does not have a role. Many said Rowhani was a reformist and thought he will change Iran. In the end it turned out that hardliners used him during a certain phase to convince former president Barack Obama that it’s possible to play the Iranian card and resume negotiations regarding Iran’s nuclear program to reach an agreement.

A deal was in fact reached and signed by the P5+1 group and Iran in the summer of 2015. Iran received American aid worth hundreds of millions of dollars. It desperately needed this aid especially considering the decline of oil prices. Nothing changed on the regional level. On the contrary, Iran’s hostility increased towards everything related to Arabs in the region. It did not play any positive role in the Middle East and Gulf countries. Iran continued adopting a policy of sectarian mobilization. The latter is still Iran’s only investment outside its territories.

Before Rowhani assumed power, “reformist” Mohammed Khatami was president for 8 years, from 1997 until 2005. How did this influence Iran’s foreign policy? What is certain is that Khatami was an educated and knowledgeable man. He had good intentions towards neighboring countries and other countries. However, one judges another based on results. Iran, during Khatami’s terms and afterwards, continued to interfere in Arab domestic affairs. Iran’s interferences rather increased and Tehran became more hostile especially after it directly participated in the American war on Iraq in the spring of 2003.

A history of hostility

As time passed by, we realized how insightful Jordanian King Abdullah II was when he spoke about the Shiite Crescent which Iran seeks to establish after controlling Baghdad. The Jordanian king coined this term during an interview with the Washington Post in October 2004. The king did not mean to offend the Shiites especially that Hashemites consider themselves part of Ahl al-Bayt and they have never distinguished between Sunnis and Shiites. King Abdullah meant that Iran wants to control a region that extends from Tehran to Beirut and that it wants to achieve this aim through the use of sectarianism. This region includes Iraq, Syria and Lebanon which is controlled by Hezbollah, a party that’s affiliated with Iran and that is merely a barricade in the Iranian Revolutionary Guards.

In a recent interview with the Washington Post, King Abdullah II said Iran has not changed. As seen through its response to the Jordanian king’s recent interview, Iran seems upset with Donald Trump’s administration and with the latter’s orientations towards it. Iran’s hostility towards a peaceful country that maintained its domestic stability, like Jordan, has thus increased.

Iranian officials made insulting statements in response to the Jordanian king’s interview. They did so although he only described the situation as it is without making any exaggerations. What is Iran doing in Iraq? What is it doing in Syria? What pushes it to bet on sectarian militias in Lebanon to harm the country’s economy, destroy state institutions and sever relations between it and Gulf countries? Of course, there is no need to wonder what Iran is doing in Yemen and why there is such grudge against Bahrain or why it intervenes in Kuwaiti affairs.

Iranian Supreme Guide Ali Khamenei exploited the post of the president of the Islamic Republic in Iran to suit certain phases which called for having a specific type of president. When the domestic and international situations called for a “reformist” president, a “reformist” president was suddenly elected! The world thought Iran will adopt a policy that’s based on openness and that it will stop supporting terrorism in all its forms! And of course, whenever they need a “hardliner,” someone like Ahmedinejad is miraculously brought into power!

Signs of change

There hasn’t been any change in Iran and there will not be any as long as Khamenei controls Iran as the guardian of the jurist. Iran will continue to be a state that dreams of playing a role that exceeds its size and capabilities while ignoring that the world is changing much faster than it thinks it is. Tehran also continues to ignore that the only beneficial investment it can make is investing in domestic projects that benefit the Iranians whom more than half of them live below poverty line.

The first round of Iranian presidential elections will be held on May 19. All we can note on this occasion is how much today resembles yesterday! During this time in 2013, Rowhani was elected president. The only one who thought Iran changed was Obama and his team which sacrificed the Syrian people who had revolted against injustice and dictatorship. Obama overlooked Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s use of chemical weapons in order to satisfy Iran. He was completely concerned over not upsetting Iran even when more than 1,000 Syrians were killed in August 2013 in a chemical attack on Damascus’ Ghouta.

It’s not a president who can change Iran. What may currently change it is a different American policy. It is only a matter of weeks and after that we will see whether Trump and his team will say it’s time for each regional and international party to know its real size on the map.

There is no doubt that the American strike on the Syrian al-Shayrat air base indicates a change in American policy – a change that Iran has begun to sense. However caution remains necessary before reaching a final conclusion regarding the future of relations between Tehran and Washington. Iran in the end has provided major countless services to America when it set the basis for a sectarian rift that has primarily changed the priorities of Arab countries, particularly Gulf countries.

This article is also available in Arabic

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Khairallah Khairallah is an Arab columnist who was formerly Annahar’s foreign editor (1976-1988) and Al-Hayat’s managing editor (1988-1998).

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