Iran must reduce its belligerence before it is too late
The Middle East is witnessing a continuous escalation of hostility by the Iranian regime on several levels, all of them leading to a reduction in the number of peaceful options available to address Tehran’s dangerous and destabilizing behavior.
No regional country has been more patient regarding Iran’s belligerent behavior than Saudi Arabia. Since the 1979 Iranian Revolution, the leadership of the “Islamic Republic” has wanted to overthrow the regimes in Saudi Arabia and the other Gulf states. It has sought to accomplish this malign objective by different means, such as by exporting its theocratic revolution, radicalizing local Shiite minorities, setting up spy cells, and funding Shiite militias.
This mindset among the Iranian leadership was demonstrated recently, when Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei said in comments posted online that he is not concerned about Saudi Arabia developing nuclear or other missile capabilities because the mujahideen of Islam would ultimately take control of the country. Despite this continuous belligerent attitude, in the 1990s, no other country took the Iranian leadership’s gestures toward improving relations with its neighboring states more seriously than Saudi Arabia, demonstrating Riyadh’s interest in curbing tensions with Iran and turning a new page.
A number of years on, what has happened to this Arab openness toward Iran? How did the leadership in Tehran interpret this positivity from the Arab states? Did the Iranian leadership take advantage of this positivity to improve relations and enhance stability in the region? In fact, the direct opposite occurred and the revolutionary deep state in Iran, represented by the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), cynically exploited this openness from the Arab states by working to embed espionage cells, recruit citizens of Arab states as agents, and undermine the security and stability of several Arab countries, including Yemen, Sudan, Morocco, Tunisia, and Bahrain.
Khamenei openly incited Arabs, especially those living in the Gulf nations, to rebel against their governments
Dr. Mohammed Al-Sulami
Since 2011, the Iranian regime’s hostility toward its Arab neighbors has increased. Khamenei openly incited Arabs, especially those living in the Gulf nations, to rebel against their governments. This came in a lengthy speech that happened during a Friday sermon delivered in Arabic — Khamenei clearly paid no attention to the majority non-Arabic-speaking worshippers present, as his target audience was obviously those in the Arab states.
However, contradicting his calls for insurgency in the Gulf Cooperation Council states, when the protests across the region spread to Syria, headed by Iran’s ally Bashar Assad, Khamenei suddenly deemed the protests to be a conspiracy by the superpowers — aided by Israel and Saudi Arabia — to target the so-called “axis of resistance” of Iran, Assad’s Syria and the Tehran-backed Lebanese terrorist group Hezbollah. The terrible results of Tehran’s tireless support of the Syrian regime are very clear and known to the world.
Today, Lebanon and Iraq are witnessing massive popular nationwide protests involving all sects and groups. There are many similarities between the protests in these two countries, with millions chanting slogans against corruption, corrupt political elites, and Iran. Anger against Tehran is clearly evident, with protesters believing that Iran is one of the most important factors hindering economic development in their countries, through its patronage of a class of super-rich oligarchs who have hijacked the nations’ resources via massive and systemic financial and administrative corruption.
Protesters across Iraq have chanted slogans and raised banners demanding an end to the Iranian regime’s presence and its intervention in Iraqi affairs. Pictures of Khamenei and the commander of the IRGC’s elite Quds Force, Qassem Soleimani, have been torn down, stamped on and burnt. This is in addition to the name of one of the main streets in Najaf being changed — it was previously named after Ruhollah Khomeini, the late founder of the Islamic Republic of Iran.
Ultimately, we want to urge the ruling elite in Iran to drastically revise and reconsider its positions and dealings with its neighboring countries and with the world before it is too late, when it would have to pay a high price as all other possible options had been exhausted. While it seems improbable in light of the current events that we will reach a stage in the near or medium term in which Iran’s relations with the Arab world will improve, we should be pragmatic in hoping for cooler relations so that we can at least have less antagonistic relations to avoid further tensions and avert the possibility of direct or indirect conflicts.
- Dr. Mohammed Al-Sulami is Head of the International Institute for Iranian Studies (Rasanah). Twitter: @mohalsulami