When it comes to their roles within their respective regions, the Iranian regime plays a much more destabilizing and destructive role than North Korea does.
Through its military forces, the Islamic Republic is actively engaged in intervening in the domestic affairs of other nations in the Middle East. For example, in Syria, Iranian leaders have admitted that their Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) and its elite branch, the Quds Force, are fighting on the ground alongside Bashar Assad’s forces. In addition, Iran is providing financial, weapons, advisory and intelligence assistance to the Syrian regime apparatus.
Putting their direct military intervention aside, Iranian leaders have successfully formed powerful proxies and Shiite militias in Syria in order to serve the revolutionary and geopolitical interests of Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and his gilded circle.
The Iranian leaders’ plan is a long-term one — to make political realities out of these militias, ensuring Iran’s infiltration and domination of the nation in case Assad falls. In other words, Iran’s plan is to make itself a winner whether the Syrian president is toppled or remains in power, as Tehran would continue to have influence and control in the security, political and intelligence infrastructure of Syria.
In Iraq, the Iranian regime has placed many individuals in positions of power in order to guarantee that every policy passed in Baghdad serves Tehran’s interests. Through its sectarian agenda, the Iranian regime also employs the strategy of divide and conquer by exploiting the delicate line between the Shiites and Sunnis. The same policy is enacted in Bahrain and Kuwait in order to encourage dissent between communities.
Furthermore, under the aegis of the IRGC, Iran’s leaders believe they have ensured their presence in Iraq for decades to come, as well as being capable of dictating Iraq’s future policies by setting up the People’s Mobilization Forces (PMF). The PMF is a conglomerate of more than 40 Iraqi militia groups, which act in favor of the Iranian regime’s interests and enjoy close ties with the head of the Quds Force, Qassem Soleimani.
Iran’s military activities stretch beyond the boundaries of its neighboring countries. In Lebanon, Iran managed to form its proxies right after the establishment of the Islamic Republic in 1979. Even in Yemen, where Iranian leaders do not have any significant stakes to preserve, the regime intervenes. In Sanaa, the heightened and continuing crisis is mainly due to the fact that Iran persists in providing weapons and ammunition to the Houthis. Several of Iran’s shipments have been intercepted recently.
Does North Korea play the same role in East Asia? Does North Korea have military forces on the ground in China, Japan, Taiwan, the Philippines or Russia who are fighting to topple those governments? Does North Korea have militias and proxies battling and killing people in Tokyo, Seoul, Beijing, Moscow, Manila or Taipei in order to preserve the interests of Pyongyang? The answers to these questions are no.
While Pyongyang’s heated rhetoric heightens tensions in East Asia, Tehran is far more destructive as it often takes active military and political measures to destabilize its neighbors and nations throughout the region.
Dr. Majid Rafizadeh
North Korea mostly resorts to heated rhetoric from time to time that causes heightened tensions. These tensions normally subside immediately after the rhetoric is removed.
Most recently, the highest-ranking US general reinforced the argument laid out above. Gen. Joseph Dunford, chairman of the joint chiefs of staff, pointed out last week that North Korea has not really altered its military posture despite the recent heated rhetoric. “While the political space is clearly very charged right now, we haven’t seen a change in the posture of North Korean forces and we watch that very closely,” he said. “What we haven’t seen is military activity that would be reflective of the charged political environment.”
Arguing that the Iranian regime’s actions in the Middle East are similar to North Korea’s actions in East Asia is an inaccurate analogy due to the fact that it fails to depict the full picture, including the political and military agendas of these two regimes. North Korea is nowhere near as destabilizing in East Asia as Iran is in the Middle East.
North Korea mostly resorts to rhetoric that heightens tensions. But Iran forcibly and actively takes military and political measures to destabilize the region through various paths, including financing and arming its militias, as well as dispatching its military and paramilitary forces to other nations.
The Iranian regime actively intervenes in other countries and employs belligerent and imperialistic policies to achieve its regional hegemonic ambitions by dominating and controlling the political, security and intelligence systems of other countries.
North Korea talks, but the Iranian regime acts.
• Dr. Majid Rafizadeh is a Harvard-educated Iranian-American political scientist. He is a leading expert on Iran and US foreign policy, a businessman and president of the International American Council. Twitter: @Dr_Rafizadeh