Iran’s hunger for regional hegemony
The dispute with Iran is old. Some of it has been inherited, and most is the result of a policy followed by Iran’s leadership, which does not hide its aspiration to expand and export its revolution to the region. Despite the enthusiasm and propaganda, it took Iran 34 years to expand. As such, its gains have been humble given the long period.
Riyadh and Tehran previously met in the wake of confronting Saddam Hussein’s invasion of Kuwait, and reached a reconciliation agreement under Iranian President Hashemi Rafsanjani. Tensions did end, but reconciliation did not last more than five years, after the Saudis realized that Iran had not stopped its expansionism.
Iran is currently in an offensive state, the likes of which we have not seen in modern history. It is directly fighting in Syria and Iraq, and has proxies in Lebanon, Gaza, Yemen and elsewhere. It also has a presence in Sudan, although President Omar Bashir claims he has shut down all Iranian offices.
Yemen is the latest Iranian venture, but Tehran is incapable of succeeding there. Regardless of how much effort it makes via the Houthi rebels and ousted President Ali Abdullah Saleh, Yemen remains socially and politically close to Saudi Arabia.
Yemen will cost Iran more than it thinks as time passes and as the struggle worsens. Foreign parties, such as western countries, will realize that Iran’s expansionist appetite is not only a threat to countries in the region but it also targets areas of stability and supports violent groups that threaten the world.
This has been the nature of the Iranian regime since the 1980s. It imitates the old Soviet model by supporting what it calls “liberation movements in the Third World,” for the sake of harming regimes that do not agree with its political path.
Iran also focuses on supporting certain groups in the region against central governments. In Lebanon, it supports Hezbollah and has weakened the central government, although the latter does not oppose Iran in Lebanon’s surroundings.
Similarly, Iran has supported Hamas against the Palestinian Authority, although the latter was never against Tehran. Iran has supported the Houthis for years, although Saleh’s regime then had good relations with Tehran.
In Iraq, Iran’s policy and involvement is much clearer. It supports militias and parties more than it supports the central government. Tehran supports the so-called popular mobilization forces in Iraq as an alternative to the national army, parts of which do not agree with Iran.
In this context, and that of an arms race, all parties are re-evaluating their military capabilities and looking to strengthen them. If Iran does not end its incursions in the Gulf and beyond, and if it continues to reject solutions to major struggles such as Syria’s, then confrontations will increase and their severity will worsen.
It will become harder to control disputes and their repercussions. Why do we ask Iran, and not Saudi Arabia, to stop? Because Tehran is always on the offensive while Riyadh is on the defensive, just like what is happening in Yemen.
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