The Middle East is in the grip of high and escalating tensions, with observers expecting a fierce war to break out in the not-too-distant future, particularly given the increasing US military buildup in the Arabian Gulf region. Initially, most observers expect a small-scale strike against Iran’s proxy militias in Iraq or against the regime’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC).
Recent days have seen angry statements from various senior Iranian regime officials. On Thursday, Heshmatollah Falahatpisheh, the chairman of the Iranian Parliament’s National Security and Foreign Policy Commission, wrote on Twitter: “Increasing US military presence would lead the region to suicide (self-destruction). Thousands of non-Iranian fighters who have lost at least one member of their family by American weapons will welcome the United States and its allies.”
Despite such angry statements, Iranian officials still refuse to tone down their rhetoric, continuing instead to issue fiery statements and to make major threats against the US, Israel and the Arabian Gulf nations, particularly Saudi Arabia and the UAE. In recent remarks on Saudi Arabia, Iran’s Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei said: “The Western nations are providing nuclear capabilities to this state, and have announced they will build a nuclear reactor and a center for producing missiles there. There is no problem as Saudi Arabia is a dependent state, and it belongs to the West. If they do this I won’t be annoyed because I know that they will be captured by the mujahideen soon.” It is clear that Khamenei was using the word “mujahideen” to refer to the militias loyal to the clerical regime in Tehran.
The threats that are heard now were first uttered by President Hassan Rouhani during a trip to Switzerland several months ago. His comments were welcomed by Khamenei and the commanders of the IRGC at the time, with various senior regime officials making a number of similar statements since.
As inferred by Khamenei, the Iranian regime continues to pursue its policy of hiding behind its proxy terrorist militias that are spread across the region, all of which implement the directives of the IRGC. Through this strategy, Iran avoids taking direct responsibility for the militias’ crimes, the most recent of which was the Houthis’ drone attack on Saudi oil facilities last week. The aim was to hike oil prices by disrupting supplies to the global market. This was a clear message from the clerical regime that, if Iran is prevented from exporting its oil, other regional countries will face the same problem.
The Iranian regime’s refusal to acknowledge its responsibility for these militias, along with the international community’s inaction toward their operations and inability to take the appropriate and necessary steps to curb their attacks, means Tehran will continue using the same strategy, which has a severely damaging effect on international safety and security. If the international community continues to turn a blind eye to these violations, it will inevitably lead the Middle East down a path toward dangerous options, which could lead to widespread destruction in the entire region, including in Iran. While the region’s countries are still honoring their commitments under global treaties and covenants, as well as pursuing policies of good neighborliness, the international community ignores Iran’s destabilizing actions and refuses to confront the regime.
The question that arises is whether the international community will perform its moral, security and military duty before it is too late? We hope so. The Iranian regime’s strategy of depending on militias requires a global response that is clear and direct, as well as focused on the proxy militias being an integral part of its apparatus and not separate from it. They are established, funded, armed and trained specifically to help Tehran implement its subversive agenda in the region. If the international community does not perform its duty and no global response is forthcoming, regional states could adopt more strident options based on reciprocity in order to force Iran’s leaders to reconsider their calculations. There is no doubt that this will be the first and least risky step, since the other options are more dangerous.
Meanwhile, the US and Israeli press have mentioned the possibility of both Switzerland and Oman mediating between Washington and Tehran to de-escalate tensions between the two countries. If any such mediation efforts are to pay off, it is vital that the resumption of negotiations be tied to practical steps on the ground by the Iranian regime as an expression of goodwill, while the negotiation period must be kept short to thwart any Iranian schemes to play for time.
The Iranian regime’s strategy is clear — it is based on procrastinating until the 2020 US elections in the hope of a more friendly president coming to power. In the meantime, the regime seeks to keep the door open for possible negotiations to ease sanctions and pressures as a tactical maneuver. Any efforts by the Trump administration to reach a better deal with Iran’s regime could result in Washington falling into Tehran’s trap, with Khamenei’s regime offering no substantial concessions.
Dr. Mohammed Al-Sulami is Head of the International Institute for Iranian Studies (Rasanah). Twitter: @mohalsulami
This article has been adapted from its original source.
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