Middle-east Arab News Opinion | Asharq Al-awsat

The Iranian Cold War | ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive 2005 -2017
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Before heading to Tehran, Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu warned of a “sectarian cold war”, stressing that “the consequences of such a war may last for decades.” He added that his country is against “all forms of polarization in the political sense between Iran and the Arabs, as well as in the sense of forming an axis” (Asharq al-Awsat, 5 January 2012).

Political statements in the region have a greater impact if they are issued explicitly, rather than implicitly, and when politicians call things by their true names. It is crucially important that there is clarity in the policies and stances of regional and world countries towards what is happening in the Middle East, especially in such a historic moment of much uncertainty.

Davutoglu warned of a sectarian cold war, yet perhaps due to his concern about Turkish-Iranian interests, he seems to have forgotten that this war has been ongoing ever since the eruption of the Islamic Revolution in Iran, which has subsequently stressed the principle of “exporting the revolution.” In its endeavour to “export the revolution”, Iran has not focussed on its eastern border with Pakistan – even if indeed had a role in Afghanistan – nor has it attempted to export to its northern border, adjacent to the Central Asian states such as Turkmenistan, Azerbaijan, Armenia and Turkey. Rather, Iran’s has specifically targeted the Gulf region and other Arab states.

Indeed the Gulf states did not initiate any antagonism towards Iran; they have displayed no aggressive reactions, and have always sought to maintain calm relations. Yet, in view of Iran’s continual interference in their internal affairs – sometimes through the military occupation of Emirati islands, sometimes through issuing hostile statements towards Bahrain and interfering in its internal affairs, sometimes through mobilizing its followers in the eastern province of Saudi Arabia, and sometimes through deploying espionage networks in Kuwait – the Gulf region has been forced to invoke its most basic rights to adopt policies to defend itself and maintain the stability of its states.

Ruhollah Khomeini had long sought to export the revolution by the force of arms and by backing Shiite groups in the Gulf to conduct sabotage. However, Ali Khamenei came and managed to maintain the process of exporting the revolution using more cunning and patient tactics, hence abandoning the force of arms. He devised new methods of exporting the revolution whereby Iran could simply plant and nurture political and Islamic groups loyal to it and the Islamic revolution, groups that worked efficiently in Arab countries which did not consider Iran’s violation of their sovereignty to be hostile. For Iran, within the scope of its expansionist policy, it considered such intervention to be its natural right to expand its influence in the region.

In Iraq, the Islamic Dawa party, the State of the Law party, the Sadrist trend and other smaller groups all adhere to Iran, its policies and endeavours. In Lebanon, the story of Iranian-backed Hezbollah needs no explanation, and in Palestine, even if Iran did not contribute to the growth of the Hamas movement, it exploited it in its expansionist project and its cold war against the Arabs. In Yemen, Iran supported the Houthis to provoke riots in Saudi Arabia and Yemen, and their story is well known as well. It also made a similar endeavour in Egypt by attempting to establish special relations with the Muslim Brotherhood.

In Iraq, Yemen and Afghanistan, Iran entered into an alliance with al-Qaeda by giving shelter to its leaders and elements. It also assisted al-Qaeda’s followers in these countries and used them as a bargaining chip in its negotiations with the West.

In this regard, Iran has benefited greatly from the so-called “political Shiism”, meaning a state of absolute loyalty towards Iran’s policies and the Islamic Revolution, even from groups that are not affiliated to the Shiite sect. This has happened in Egypt, Yemen, Morocco, and in all the aforementioned states.

The Iranian media machine promoted its cold war against the Arabs and Arab states under the slogan of “resistance” [against Israel]; a slogan which the recent Arab events, especially in Syria, have exposed to be nothing more than a gross lie.

The Iranian cold war is not a political tactic but rather a fixed strategy enshrined in Iran’s foreign policy and the Islamic Revolution, as stipulated by its constitution. According to the “Constitution of the Islamic Republic of Iran”, as published by the Iranian Islamic Culture and Relations Organization, “the Constitution provides the necessary basis for ensuring the continuation of the Revolution at home and abroad.”(p. 12). Under the title “An Ideological Army”, the constitution reads: “The Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps are…responsible not only for guarding and preserving the frontiers of the country, but also for fulfilling the ideological mission of jihad in God’s way; that is, extending the sovereignty of God’s law throughout the world.” (p.16)

The scene is different today because Iran is facing some of the hardest times in its history: a throttling economic crisis impacting upon the Iranian people, further aggravated by international sanctions. Iran is now seeking assistance from Iraq’s rising economy in order to derive two substantial benefits: Firstly to alleviate its internal economic crisis, and secondly to provide greater support to its major ally in the region, the al-Assad regime, which is facing the most dangerous crisis in its history and is threatened with being overthrown. Hence the changeable stance of Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki – when shifting from a position where he once accused the al-Assad regime of backing terrorist operations and requested an international tribunal in 2009, to a position where he has become an advocate and a supporter of the same regime in 2011 – is understandable.

The new political role played by the Gulf Cooperation Council’s leadership in defining Arab positions – through the Arab League – with regards to Libya, Yemen, and recently Syria, is a cause for concern for Iran and a warning that the cold war will not be one-way.

Another source of intimidation for Iran is the fact that at a time when Iran is suffers a debilitating economic crisis, the Gulf states, on the contrary, are witnessing a boom in their economies. These states will likely achieve a further economic and political boost when King Abdullah Bin Abdul-Aziz’s call for the Gulf Cooperation Council to become a “union” is fulfilled.

As we monitor and recall Iran’s policies towards the Gulf region and Arab states, observers and decision-makers should compare what Iran is doing to the definition of a cold war: “an idiom coined to express the state of heightened tension between the United States the Soviet Union in the wake of World War II until 1989 – 1990. With the exception of the direct use of weapons, all other measures are used including propaganda, accusations, provocations, threats and political manoeuvres.”