West’s view of Iran’s ‘balancing’ role now obsolete
There seems to be an undeclared Western foreign policy rule of avoiding direct confrontation or war with Iran. No matter the Iranian regime’s destabilizing actions in the Middle East, war is always to be avoided. In short, for the same actions taken by Saddam Hussein or Muammar Qaddafi, Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei will never face the same destiny as these despots. Both met the violent end of their actions. The Iranian regime, which operates within the same rules, has been able to avoid this outcome.
The main reason for this seems to be a Western view that the Iranian regime, no matter how badly it behaves, is needed to maintain balance in the Middle East. Western policymakers believe that, without Iran, there would be more extremism in the region. The Iranian regime is aware of this equation and has used it to its advantage.
Indeed, this Western desire for balance has been broken by this regime, yielding the opposite result. This regime does not bring more stability, but rather pushes toward more extremism and insecurity. The Iranian regime’s expansionist policies and support for proxies all over the region has created a favorable environment for other non-state actors. It has exacerbated extremism on all sides and, as a result, made the region less stable and less prosperous. The actions of Hezbollah in Lebanon and Syria and of Al-Hashd Al-Shaabi in Iraq have increased Sunni extremism in these countries and put all other minorities in danger.
It has also become clear that Iran has chosen to make the rest of the region its enemy, and is pushing for this enemy to be represented by extremism. Despite its so-called hatred of the West and the US in particular, the Iranian regime is trying to send a message that it represents stability and is a mature partner, whereas the Sunni Arab side is uncontrollable and led by extremists. It is amusing that, for a country that declares its rejection of Western influence, it has quite a lot of lobbyists in Washington and the European capitals promoting this message.
One should also investigate the capacity of the Iranian regime to infiltrate terrorist organizations such as Daesh and push them toward greater extremism. Indeed, what is the reason for the presence of Al-Qaeda members in Iran? What is the relationship between the Iranian regime and some Sunni extremists in Tripoli, Lebanon? The answer relates to Iran choosing its enemy and sending a message to the West.
The Western approach is, therefore, flawed and should be amended. If we look back at the geopolitical order of the 1980s, one might say that Iran was indeed surrounded by enemies, with Saddam in Iraq and a hostile regime in Afghanistan. This could justify keeping the balance by allowing an aggressive Iranian policy to ensure regional interests. However, this gave way to the export of the Iranian revolution in the most aggressive manner possible. Today, the region has changed, as the regimes in Iraq and Afghanistan are now favorable to Iran, but one can only notice that the Iranian regime has not changed or adapted its policy. Quite the opposite, in fact, as even the trust-building Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action nuclear deal made it even more emboldened and aggressive, sending support and troops beyond its borders and destabilizing entire Arab countries.
This regime’s leitmotif has always been a catalyst for less cooperation and more instability in the region, under the declared mission to protect Shiite minorities. However, do Shiites in Iran or the Arab world need Tehran’s protection today? The answer is clearly no. Has the regime made Shiites’ lives better in Iran or the Arab world? Also no.
This regime’s leitmotif has always been a catalyst for less cooperation and more instability in the region.
Khaled Abou Zahr
Clear examples for this are Lebanon and Iraq. In Lebanon, a country of equal minorities, Hezbollah is continuously challenging the state’s sovereignty and holding its community and the entire country hostage. Iraq is an even clearer example of the Iranian regime’s true objectives. It is also a country of minorities, in which the Shiites are the largest group, but Iran has not helped protect the Shiite community or bring stability to Iraq. It has exclusively supported its own proxies and eliminated all other lines of thought from within the Shiite community. Its objective is to challenge the state’s sovereignty and keep the country under its control. It is not seeking positive bilateral relations with a stable Iraq; it is simply seeking domination.
I will not absolve Arabs and Sunnis from all wrongdoing. It is true that we have also made mistakes. Yet, when one looks at the direction Arab countries have taken, they have moved forward from the 1980s’ geopolitical tit-for-tat deadlock and have put forward their national interests and the interests of their entire population regardless of ethnicity and religion. Spending on building better infrastructure and social programs that are for all their citizens are clear examples.
This contrasts with the cash-strapped Iranian regime, which chooses to send financial support to its extremist proxies all over the region instead of spending on its own citizens. Moreover, the only countries where minorities are threatened by extremists on all sides are the ones where the Iranian regime has a strong foothold, such as Iraq, Syria, Lebanon and Yemen.
It is, in that sense, clear that the Western approach to Iran is obsolete. The Iranian regime is using the desire for balance to its own advantage, with the sole objective of receiving a Western green light for regional domination and nuclear military power. The Middle East is badly in need of a great reset, and Arab countries are open to this. Will the Iranian regime change its line of action and choose to integrate a new Middle Eastern architecture of cooperation? The answer will be key to the region’s stability, especially as some regional powers might now challenge this Western concept of balance.
- Khaled Abou Zahr is CEO of Eurabia, a media and tech company. He is also the editor of Al-Watan Al-Arabi.