For three decades Khomeinist rulers in Tehran have dreamed of change in the Middle East. Now that change is really happening in much of the region, Tehran is watching with growing nervousness.
That the Khomeinist regime should have dreamt of change is no surprise.
Thirty years ago, Iran under Walayat al-Faqih or rule by a mullah looked out of place in the Middle East. Indeed, with the exception of Tibet’s government in exile under Dalai Lama, the Khomeinist set-up did not resemble any regime in the world. Like the Bolshevik regime of Russia in 1917, it had to either become like others or make all others like itself.
For a decade, under Khomeini himself, the regime tried to make the rest of region like itself by “exporting revolution”.
The results were meagre. Tehran managed to influence part of the Shi’ite community in Lebanon and create a branch of Hezbollah in that country. Tehran also succeeded in turning Syria into a client state without, however, persuading the Baathist regime to adopt Walayat al-Faqih.
In the decade that followed, under President Hashemi Rafsanjani, the regime tried to become like others, especially in the economic field. The strategy produced a class of new rich with extensive business contacts with the outside world, including the Gulf region.
In the final analysis, however, that strategy, too, failed.
Under President Muhammad Khatami, the regime tried a new version of that strategy, this time emphasising the political domain.
Known as the “Davos Strategy”, named after the Swiss village where Khatami spent time courting Western political and business leaders during the World Economic Forum, it focused on public relations. That included pseudo-intellectual speeches in Western universities and clubs, peppered with quotations from Hobbes, Locke and de Tocqueville.
Nicknamed “A Smile Under A Turban”, Khatami for a while charmed some naïve souls.
However, that strategy, too, failed because a leopard does not change by painting is spots.
By the time, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad had become president, it must have been clear to rulers in Tehran that no nation would be foolish enough to copy Walayat al-Faqih.
That was why Ahmadinejad tried to move the ball in a different court by focusing on the Israel-Palestine issue.
His calculation was based on the assumption that the issue was top of the list of priorities for Muslims, especially Arabs, throughout the world.
To that end, Ahmadinejad adopted an incendiary rhetoric to inject the classical Khomeinist discourse with a stronger dose of anti-Israel and anti-American themes.
Well, that strategy, too, has failed.
The Arab Uprising was, and is, about people rejecting brutal and corrupt military-security regimes imposed by coups d’etat and maintained by repression. It is not about religion and even less about Israel-Palestine. Nor is there much sign of anti-American sentiments, quite the contrary.
No one knows how the current tsunami may reshape the political landscape.
But one thing is certain: no one is trying to adopt the Khomeinist model.
Tehran strategists are not quite sure what is happening in the Middle East. Nevertheless, it is clear that, all in all, they are pessimistic about the outcome of the current turn in the region’s political kaleidoscope.
After 9/11, the mullahs feared that change in Afghanistan and Iraq might be extended to Iran. President George W Bush’s so-called “Freedom Agenda” for the Greater Middle East clearly included Iran.
Now we know that change in the Middle East need not come either from “export of revolution” by Iran or military invasion by the United States.
This why Tehran is nervous. Ten days ago, Esfandiar Masha’i, the key strategist in Ahmadinejad’s administration, warned against “starry-eyed assessments of the events” in Arab countries affected.
“We must not assume that the change will necessarily be in our interest,” he said.
Newspapers controlled by the “Supreme Guide” Ali Khamenei attacked Masha’i for “trying to create the impression that the Arab Uprising is not profoundly Islamic.”
However, the Islamic Majlis, Iran’s fake parliament, has just published a lengthy analysis that echoes Masha’i’s alleged “pessimism.”
It says that Libya will end up under a new government backed by the United States. Nevertheless, the Majlis rejects the idea of backing Muammar Gaddafi to prevent the US from scoring a strategic gain.
The analysis also admits that Egypt and Tunisia will end up under new pro-Western regimes backed by their respective armies. The most that Tehran could hope for is to restore diplomatic ties with Tunis and Cairo. But even that “does not look likely at present.”
The Majlis analysis insists that the Islamic Republic should deploy “strategic support” for President Bashar al-Assad’s regime in Syria to crush the popular revolt.
In that context, the analysis adds, the role of Hezbollah in Lebanon is “of special importance”. The “spread of revolt to Syrian cities” a threat to “the interests of the Islamic Republic”.
The analysis recommends hat Hezbollah units be used to affect the outcome of the current tensions, especially in Bahrain and Yemen through “asymmetric warfare.”
The Majlis report calls for using Hezbollah to “strengthen our zone of influence in Lebanon”.
The analysis also recommends the use of “clandestine operations” against Saudi Arabia and Kuwait.
Another move recommended by the analysis is to “extend and deepen relations” with Qatar as a means of dividing the Gulf states. With the fall of the Syrian regime now a possibility, the analysis recommends “strengthening relations with Nuri Al-Maliki’s government” in Iraq.
All in all, however, the analysis, predicts that Iran’s relations with the Gulf states, except Qatar, may be severed at some point in the future.
The Majlis report also predicts a popular revolt in neighbouring Azerbaijan and recommends that “contingency plans be drawn to face any eventuality.”
An prising in the former Soviet republic may quickly spread to Iran’s Azerbaijani provinces that account for almost 15 per cent of the total population.
The Islamic Republic looks like a man who, all his life, has dreamt of a big do in which he would be the heart of the party but, when the party comes in the end, he has the door shut in his face.