What Iran loses by rejecting real peace
What would be at stake if Tehran committed itself to a real peace deal?
No, I am not talking about the mutilated travesty currently on the table between Iran and world powers, which would merely slow Iran’s nuclear advancements, while leaving all its other war-making mechanisms in place. I am talking about a real, far-reaching deal that would put Tehran’s theocratic leaders on a path toward peace with the region, the wider world — and perhaps even their own citizens.
Iran’s ayatollahs currently waste billions of dollars bankrolling foreign militias, along with billions more developing ballistic missiles and nuclear weapons. A member of the Iranian parliament’s foreign policy commission estimated that Tehran had lavished $20-30 billion on the Syrian conflict by 2020. Although the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps’ budgetary allocation was recently doubled, it is impossible to know how many billions are diverted for external subversion and warmongering, because about 65 percent of the budget is channeled through opaque institutions.
Needless to say, such vast expenditure is unaffordable. An increasingly large proportion of Iran’s population is sliding into abject poverty. Diminishing living standards and a crumbling health sector allowed the coronavirus pandemic to rage through the country like a forest fire. Yet, Iran is one of the three states with the largest oil wealth, and its people should be living at a standard commensurate with the wealthiest Gulf states.
If the hundreds of billions of dollars spent on overseas war-making, or frozen abroad, or lost to sanctions was diverted internally and poured like gushing water from a dam into welfare programs, education, health and national infrastructure, would the ayatollahs need to live in fear of their citizens rising against them? Iranian demonstrators consistently chant that the nation’s wealth must not go to Hezbollah and the Houthis.
Iran and many Arab nations enjoyed excellent relations under the shah. During the 1990s and early 2000s, Iran, with its independent foreign policy and anti-Israel rhetoric, was viewed with a degree of admiration in the Arab and Muslim world. President Mohammad Khatami, an ever-smiling, softly spoken academic, was nobody’s idea of a threatening dictator. Before the 2003 eruption of the nuclear issue, some form of normalization with the US seemed achievable. Of course, much of this was a mirage, and since that time Iran’s leadership has moved in a decisively belligerent direction, putting the regime on a collision course with the civilized world.
The regime’s offers to release hostages if given favorable terms on the nuclear deal illustrate the toxicity of Tehran’s mentality. A deal based on such premises would say to this criminal regime that “hostage taking works” and serves as an invitation to go out and abduct as many Westerners as possible ahead of any future round of brinkmanship.
The most favorable version of this current nuclear deal for Iran would not eradicate the substantial US sanctions related to the regime’s support for terrorism — a key step if major banks and corporations are to properly engage with Iran’s economy. But here is a radical suggestion: What if the ayatollahs actually stopped supporting terrorism?
What if Tehran renounced terrorist groups such as Hezbollah, which has completely wrecked Lebanon in all possible ways? Instead of strengthening Iran’s influence, this has actually caused most Lebanese to hate Iran. Likewise, in Yemen, Syria and Iraq, malnourished and victimized citizens have suffered terribly through Iranian interference.
In last week’s article, I discussed the billions of dollars of Iranian investments buying up Syrian land and properties in the cause of demographic engineering. Such money is pure wastage: Iran’s Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei is deluded if he believes he can usurp the fundamentally Arab Sunni character of these central Syrian areas in even a hundred years. In the meantime, Tehran has dragged these once-proud Arab nations to the brink of failed statehood. For how much longer can the region tolerate this?
Iran’s ayatollahs waste billions of dollars bankrolling foreign militias, along with billions more developing ballistic missiles.
Just like Al-Qaeda and Daesh, Iran’s theocratic regime pretends to be acting on behalf of Muslims, yet in reality these three entities — through sectarian conflict, proxy wars and terrorism — have been responsible for the wholesale slaughter of hundreds of thousands of innocent Muslims. Nobody in the Islamic world would have a problem if Tehran really wanted to act on behalf of Muslim interests and Muslim unity.
Although the prospect of the ayatollahs embracing peace is a total fantasy, it bears consideration because it shows how much Iran has turned its back on by rejecting this path. Too many shadowy figures in the IRGC and elites make immense fortunes from weapons proliferation, narco-trafficking, corrupt off-the-books paramilitary budgets and sanctions-busting smuggling operations. However, there would be vastly more money to go around if these sanctions did not exist at all.
Reuters calculated that Setad, the economic conglomerate personally controlled by Khamenei, is worth around $95 billion. Only last week Khamenei defended IRGC leaders implicated by a leaked recording in a $3 billion embezzlement scandal. Leaked documents show that in just one 2016 hostage deal involving Qatar, the late Qassem Soleimani had been earmarked $50 million.
The same Al-Hashd Al-Shaabi militias that brokered this deal have systematically moved into economic activities, extortion and organized crime. Iraqi Finance Minister Ali Al-Alawi estimated that around 90 percent of customs revenue due to the treasury — billions of dollars — was being creamed off by these militias and their Quds Force handlers via illegal checkpoints and other scams. For Hezbollah and the Assads there are billions to be made from the global narcotics trade.
In recent weeks, UAE efforts to put out feelers toward dialogue with Iran were met with strikes by Iranian rockets and drones against Abu Dhabi’s strategic infrastructure. Iranian foreign policy officials talk in vague terms about desiring regional cooperation and understanding, but Iran-made missiles keep falling inside Saudi Arabia. However, recent GCC amelioration of relationships with Qatar, Turkey and even Israel proves the foreign policy dictum that in diplomacy there are no permanent enemies, only permanent interests.
There is no fundamental long-term obstacle to Arab states extending the hand of friendship to Iran, yet this will never happen while knowing that this hand is likely to be bitten. The steps that the regime would have to take to quit being a rogue state and rejoin the civilized community of nations are all too obvious.
However, this criminal, terrorist regime is so deeply invested in its rogue state status — and, indeed, so proud of being a rogue state — that it appears unable to conceive of any alternative global role that would allow it to stop being a menace to its citizens and other nations.
• Baria Alamuddin is an award-winning journalist and broadcaster in the Middle East and the UK. She is editor of the Media Services Syndicate and has interviewed numerous heads of state.