Al-Furat Center for Studies- Translation Department
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The 1979 Iranian revolution is considered one of the prominent events of the 20th century and a turning point in Iran’s modern history. The revolution changed the ruling system from a monarchy to an Islamic republic after confiscating the popular revolution by the Islamists led by Al-Khomeini, in which the entire spectrums and components of the Iranian people had participated.
The Iranians had always sought for changing the dictatorial regime of Shah (King/Sultan) Mohammed Reza Pahlavi, who melted all Iranian components into the crucible of Persian nationalism, drowned in the glories of his imperial ancestors, and neglected his people, who were suffering under the weight of poverty while living with his entourage and family members in an unmatched luxury life in history.
Prisons were full of political opponents during Shah’s era, too. Especially, leftists and Islamics, and the most horrendous violations were being committed in those prisons. In the meantime, the United States of America and Britain were practicing their hegemony on his regime and looting the country’s resources in return for keeping his rule and countering any attempts of a coup against him, the same way it occurred in the aftermath of the Mossadegh’s civil revolution in the early fifties of the last century, The democratically elected Prime Minister Muhammad Mossadegh at the time sought at downsizing British and American influence, nationalizing the oil industry, imposing Iranian state control over the oil sector and reducing the Shah’s powers for the benefit of the people, an issue that the Americans will take into their account when thinking about changing the Iranian regime later.
In order to understand why the clerics came to power and were able to overthrow the revolution, we must return to the role of Shiite religious authorities in the history of Iran.
There is no doubt that the Shiite religious movement led by Khomeini was one of the most prominent tendencies opposing the Shah’s rule, and as a result of Khomeini’s courage to stand against the Shah, and his exposure to arrest and exile. He gained popular charisma, as he was even before the victory of the revolution, and before he presented the idea of (Vali- a faqih)—or guardian Islamic jurist, as a model for Shiite References” who were participated in the ruling of the country with the kings and the merchant class, given its financial independence from the center, and the influence she had over the people, in which they stood by the side of the people, throughout history, and they exercised a kind of guardianship over the rule of kings and monitors the laws issued by them in accordance with Islamic law and the interests of the people. But, without interfering in the rule of the country, and any fatwa from one of the references could invalidate a law issued by the king, as happened in the “Tanbak Revolution” in 1891 Imam Mirza Hasan al-Shirazi issued a fatwa against Nasir al-Din Shah’s granting of the privilege to sell tobacco to a British company for 50 years, as it would have harmed Iranian farmers, which led to cancel of the agreement.
Transformation of the relationship to the United States and Israel
Shah Muhammad Reza Pahlavi, during his rule, was the policeman of the United States in the Persian Gulf. In return, he enjoyed unparalleled support from the Americans in consolidating his rule and arming his army, and Iran’s relationship with Israel in that era; That is, 1953-1979, it reached the ranks of strategic relations in terms of security, economic and political aspects. Israel relied heavily on Iran to secure its oil needs, as Israel was a corridor through which oil was sold to European markets, except that Iran and Israel found themselves in this relationship. An alliance against the alliances of Gamal Abdel Nasser in the Middle East, which were hostile to Tel Aviv and Tehran.
However, with the inception of the Islamic Republic, the relationship deteriorated with these two countries, and hostility to them became a slogan for it, due to their support for the former regime. There was the American hostage crisis, as students loyal to Khomeini attacked the American embassy and detained 52 American diplomats, in response to America’s refusal to hand over the Shah to Iran for his trial.
Therefore, the American-Iranian boycott began, and the United States seized Iranian assets in its banks and imposed economic sanctions on them.
The new Islamic regime did not recognize Israel as a state, and cut all diplomatic and economic relations with it; the state of antagonism had been formed, due to its alliance with the Shah and assisting him during strike processes in the oil sector. Khomeini said at the time that Israel sent Israeli workers to work in the striking Iranian oil facilities to maintain the Shah’s rule.
But, the key reason is the fact that Israel is being at the center of exporting the Islamic revolution’s theory, which adopts the theory of “defending the oppressed against the oppressors”, aiming at, in its core, hegemony on the Islamic world, subsequently, on the Middle East; it perceives the Palestinian people as oppressed and occupied by Israel, and the Islamic Republic should give advocacy to the Palestinians, in order to play on the Muslims feelings all over the world and to plant initial seeds of its soft power.
This state of hostility developed during the subsequent years, especially during the Iran-Iraq war and the United States’ support for Iraq against the Islamic Republic. Many observers believe that one of the main causes of this war was the United States’ attempt to push for a coup against the Khomeini regime, through coordination between the officers of the Khomeini regime inside the Iranian army, who were loyal to the Shah and the Iraqi army, in addition to the tankers war between Iran and America in 1988, which resulted in the destruction of half of the Iranian naval forces and many of the Iranian oil facilities, in addition to the US Navy shooting down an Iranian passenger plane and killing 290 passengers on board.
Tensions increased between Iran and Israel after Iran’s foundation of Hezbollah in southern Lebanon in 1982, by taking advantage of the presence of the Syrian army in Lebanese territory and working to strengthen its power, so that Hezbollah would be Iran’s arm to cause a headache for Israel in the region and move its card against it when necessary. Iran also supported the Palestinian movement “Hamas” with money and weapons and opened an office to represent it in Tehran in 1991.
As for Iran’s escalation steps against Israel, they were evident in the attack on the Israeli embassy in Buenos Aires in 1992 and targeting “AMIA”; the building of the Jewish Community Center in Argentina in 1994, which left 85 dead and hundreds wounded, and it is considered the largest single attack against the Jewish community in Diaspora since the Holocaust.
After that, the following escalation between Iran and Israel occurred when issued statements the Supreme Leader of the Islamic Republic of Iran, Ali Khamenei, described Israel as a “cancerous tumor” and that should be eradicated from the region in 2000. Tensions escalated between the two parties during Ahmadi Nejad’s presidency, who called for “wiping Israel off the map.”
In addition, the Iranian Revolutionary Guard’s support for Hezbollah during the 2006 Lebanon War, in return, Israeli support for the opposition People’s Mojahedin Movement of Iran.
Iranian nuclear activity has also heightened tension between Iran on one side and the United States and Israel on the other side, making the latter two aware of Iran’s intentions to control the region.
Iran’s Nuclear Program
The Iranian nuclear problem emerged to the public when the People’s Mojahedin Movement, which opposes the Iranian regime, revealed the existence of a secret nuclear activity that Iran is working on and developing.
Iran’s nuclear program dates back to the fifties of the last century when US President Eisenhower launched the “Atom for Peace” project, which was after the United States felt guilty as a result of its use of nuclear bombs in Hiroshima and Nagasaki during World War II in 1945. The United States announced its readiness to provide assistance for developing countries to use atomic energy for peaceful uses, and Iran was one of the countries that took the initiative to take advantage of the American offer, In 1957, Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi signed the “Proposed Agreement for Cooperation in the Field of Research and Peaceful Uses of Atomic Energy” with the United States, the Tehran Center for Nuclear Research was established following that, and Iran signed the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons in 1968 to allow the inspectors of the International Atomic Energy Agency to investigate and inspect Iran’s nuclear activity.
Khomeini issued a fatwa (religious order) that prohibited nuclear energy for military purposes after the victory of the Iranian revolution. According to his belief, he considered the Iranian nuclear project as part of the Shah’s senseless projects, which he was spending huge amount of money on them, therefore, work had been stopped on them until the last days of Khomeini’s rule in the end of the eighties.
It seems that the Iranian leaders came around of the necessity of arming with nuclear weapons to consolidate their rule in the face of the great powers and impose their hegemony on the region. They worked on developing the nuclear program and building secret facilities outside the agreement signed by the Shah with America. They worked on the development of Uranium and brought it to Iran via the nuclear mafia, led by Pakistani physicist Abdul Qadeer Khan, Where it worked on copies of IR1 centrifuges and made hundreds of copies, and the Mujahideen Khalq’s leak about Iran’s secret nuclear activity played a major role in drawing the attention of the West on this activity, and the inspectors of the International Atomic Energy Agency went to Iran, who felt that the latter’s activity goes beyond the old agreement between Iran and the United States, which prompted Iran to sign a temporary additional protocol in 2003, in which the inspectors of the International Atomic Energy Agency are allowed to inspect at any site and at any time.
However, the inspectors failed to find an explicit violation that would condemn Iran in this regard, due to the Iranian side’s ingenuity in maneuvering and working secretly, but they were suspicious of Iran’s nuclear activity due to the large size of its program.
After that, Iran pledged not to enrich uranium in return for providing it with the necessary support from the West and America with the quantities of enriched uranium needed for its peaceful activities. By that time, the Europeans and Americans became increasingly suspicious of Iranian intentions, and they stalled the delivery of the quantities of enriched uranium to Iran according to what was agreed upon until the turning point occurred in Iran’s nuclear program and its became out of control in 2006, where the Iranians succeeded in enriching uranium after they were convinced that the West was not fulfilling its commitments towards them, after which the controversy escalated over Iran’s nuclear intentions, and the West tried to reach agreements with it, but it did not succeed , therefore, Iran’s nuclear file had been transferred from the International Atomic Energy Agency to the UN Security Council, UN sanctions were imposed on Iran, and its assets abroad were frozen.
Iran reached with the countries (5+1), which are the permanent members of the Security Council in addition to Germany, to sign the Joint Comprehensive Action Agreement, or what is known as the Nuclear Deal with Iran on 14 July 2015, an agreement that sought to contain the Iranian nuclear threat and freeze it within 10-15 years.
The signed agreement aimed to:
- Iran’s commitment to stop at the peaceful limit of its nuclear activities after a conviction was formed that Iran could make a nuclear bomb if wanted to.
- The enrichment rate of uranium shall not exceed 3.67%.
- Not using advanced centrifuges in the enrichment process
- In return, economic sanctions against Iran will be gradually lifted and support for its peaceful program will be provided
- Freezing Iran’s nuclear activity for 10 to 15 years.
- Iran’s return to the track of global diplomacy.
Money flowed into Iran as a result of liberating its frozen assets in international banks, and its value – according to the former head of the Central Bank of Iran, Valiollah Seif – amounted to $32.6 billion, and Iranian President Hassan Rouhani made many promises to the Iranian people at the time that the agreement with the West will contribute to the recovery of the Iranian economy and resolving its crisis, but the opposite happened, as these funds were spent on developing military programs and pro-Iranian groups in the region, through which Iran seeks to establish its hegemony over it.
The United States tried to include the Iranian ballistic missile file and its regional interference within the agreement, but it did not succeed in submitting the Iranians to these two conditions.
The necessity at that time made it imperative for the Western parties to accept what had been reached, due to Iran’s possession of nuclear weapons would cause risks and open the way for a nuclear arms race in the region.
This agreement met with strong opposition from the American Republican Party, known as the (GOP) and from the allies of the United States in the region, led by Israel, and they considered it a feeble agreement that contains many shortcomings and does not stop Iran’s nuclear ambitions, and the “ Sunset term ” is a weakest point amongst these terms that included in the agreement, which states that some of the technical restrictions imposed on Iran’s nuclear activity will gradually be lifted starting in 2025, including Iran’s right to use more advanced centrifuges to enrich uranium, and concerns about a secret military program were reinforced by Tehran’s refusal to inspect military sites. Another concern of the opponents to the agreement by Americans is that if Iran commits violations – no matter how big they are- the agreement only provides for the re-imposition of economic sanctions on Iran, at which point Iran will be exempted from its nuclear obligations, in addition to placing no restrictions on Iran’s ballistic missile program and its interference in the countries of the region and destabilize them. All these reasons combined, alongside Israeli pressures, especially after the Mossad stole large amounts of documents from Iranian nuclear facilities, through which they revealed the existence of Iranian secret nuclear activity, which prompted US President Donald Trump to announce the withdrawal of the United States from the Nuclear Deal with Iran on May 8, 2018, and its imposition of historic sanctions on Iran and to exercise a policy of maximum pressure to yield Iran into sealing an agreement in a new format.
This policy led to Iranian reactions; Iran categorically refused to yield to the list of American demands and intensified the activities of groups loyal to it against American interests and its allies, and practiced a policy of “maximum escalation,” launching attacks on oil tankers in the Persian Gulf and bombing the Saudi Aramco facility. Iran increased the spread and station of these groups, especially on Israel’s southern border in Syria, supported them with precision-guided missiles and drones, and repeated targeting of American bases in Iraq and Syria, and the frequency of these attacks increased after the assassination of the second man in Iran, Qassem Soleimani near Baghdad airport in early January 2020.
Simultaneously, Iran reduced its nuclear commitments and increased the rate of uranium enrichment at an increasing pace, until the enrichment rate passed 60%, and this was considered alarming by (IAEA), and warned that Iran is on the threshold of a nuclear bomb.
Israel and the policy of War amongst Wars (Shadow War)
Israel is well aware that the Iranian threat has surrounded it from all sides, as Iran seeks to acquire a nuclear bomb, this way it constitutes a major threat to Israel’s security in light of the state of hostility between the two countries for more than four decades. It is also aware that the Iranian project in the region, in the first place, targets its existence and it has been working on this for years, and this is represented in establishing a circle of fire around Israel, represented in the “Shiite Crescent,” which is called in the Iranian military doctrine “the policy of lack of access” or “strategic depth. Iran seeks to be present in the vital and sensitive areas of the “enemy” and pose a permanent state of threat to it, and taking advantage of this presence via its proxies, to wage an asymmetric and unconventional war in case the United States and Israel decided to launch a military attack on Iran.
Israel is taking advantage of Iran’s critical situation and the pressures it confronts at all levels, and it is wages an undeclared war on the Iranian presence in Syria and inside Iran.
This was demonstrated by:
- Targeting Iranian sites to prevent them from turning into military bases that launch attacks against them, and the number of attacks reached more than 500 air and missile strikes within 2020.
- Intelligence penetration into the Iranian interior by the Mossad, and the assassination of Iranian nuclear scientists, the last one who had been assassinated was the father of the Iranian nuclear program, Mohsen Fakhrizadeh.
- Conducting strikes on Iranian nuclear facilities and vital sites deep inside Iran.
- Positioning inside the territory of its ally Azerbaijan, which is considered an intelligence eye on Iran.
The Biden administration and the diplomacy path that is full of obstacles with Iran
Since taking office, the administration of US President Joe Biden has chosen the diplomatic path to resolve the crisis of the nuclear deal with Iran, which has become meaningless for the time being.
Despite the Biden administration’s dissatisfaction with the policy of former President Donald Trump in dealing with the Iranian problem, and its bearing of the consequences of the unilateral withdrawal from the Nuclear Deal and the massive escalation against Iran, which generated tension in the region owing to Iranian reactions, but it maintains a significant part of Trump’s legacy, especially in terms of not lifting sanctions on Iran, and its insistence on expanding the agreement signed in 2015 with the Obama administration.
Perhaps the most prominent reason for the new US administration’s unwillingness to be satisfied with returning Iran to its nuclear magic bottle, despite of the danger of this problem, is the difference and the dangerous accelerating development in the region, due to the Iranian escalation.
The danger of the Iranian missile program, Iran’s influence in the region via its proxies, and its control over the decisions of several Arab states, in addition to the arsenal of drones that it handed over to its proxies, have become a major concern for the United States and its allies, and the need to find a way out of the complex game is something imperative, in which Iran has trapped itself and other relevant countries with the Iranian crisis.
Hence, the European Union initiative to revive the Nuclear Deal and to try to reach solutions between the United States and Iran that would defuse the crisis between them.
The first rounds of the Vienna talks were held between Iran and the group of (4+1) countries, namely Germany, Britain, France, Russia and China, on April 6, 2021, after Iran rejected a European proposal for the participation of the United States directly in these talks.
Despite the fact that these talks have reached their eighth round, and contradictory statements issued all the time by officials of the countries participating in the talks, ambiguity still surrounds these discussions, and it is still difficult to predict the outcome of this new agreement.
However, according to the leaks and analysts’ monitoring, it seems that both sides i.e. the American and the Iranian try to push each other to make concessions that will strengthen their position.
The United States calls on Iran to return to its pledged nuclear commitments in 2015, in which the level of uranium enrichment is lowered to the agreed-upon percentage for peaceful purposes and to return to using unsophisticated centrifuges in enrichment operations and does not impede inspections by the International Atomic Energy Agency, in return for lifting part of the sanctions imposed on Iran, which are only related to the nuclear file. Whereas, Iran demands that the United States should lift all sanctions imposed on it by the Trump administration without preconditions, so that Iran can return to its obligations, including those related to Iranian interference in the region and human rights, closing the inspections of secret facilities’ file, banking and oil sanctions and removing the Revolutionary Guards from the terror list.
The US also calls on Iran to put in place a mechanism to verify the lifting of all sanctions, in addition to the most important condition that Iran requires, which is to ensure that the upcoming US administrations do not withdraw from any agreement reached, which the United States considers an impossible condition, because it contradicts US laws that stipulate that any new administration has the right to cancel such agreements.
In the context of being able to find a gap in the solution wall of the Iranian nuclear problem, Iran also rejected a draft interim agreement submitted by Russia, which stipulates that Iran would stop enriching uranium at 60% and hand over its stockpile of highly enriched uranium to Russia, in exchange for Iran receiving billions of dollars of its frozen revenues of oil in international banks, including South Korea.
The Iranians exert a kind of pressure on the Americans to obtain the greatest gains through these talks. This is evident in the statements of the Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesperson, Saeed Khatibzadeh: “We agree on everything or nothing.” Iranian pressure is based on the complexity of its conflict with the United States, amid spillover of this conflict’s impact on the entire regional and international situation. One of these conflicts is the complexity of the crises of the countries of the region, in which Iran has military influence, and the constant threats to Israel, threatening the security of the Gulf and maritime navigation in its waters. In addition to the manifestation of Iran’s policy of heading towards the east, signing a strategic cooperation agreement with China for 25 years, and seeking to conclude a similar agreement with Russia, thus sending messages that it has other options in the event that no settlement is reached that satisfies it with the United States and the West.
But, Iran also faces great challenges, and it is in a position that does not allow it to move forward with the policy of “maximum escalation” that it pursued in response to the US policy of “maximum sanctions” during the Trump era, and it has become clear that the United States is not about to make substantial concessions to Iran or bargain over the security of its bases and the security of its allies, especially since the new US administration has succeeded in bringing about a tangible change in the positions of European countries, and is also putting pressure on Iran to return to its commitments in the Nuclear Deal after it perceived the danger in Iran’s pursuit of increasing uranium enrichment.
We cannot fail to note here that the European Troika countries (France, Britain and Germany) set out to stand up to the United States and stand in the side of Iran, after the first unilaterally withdrew from the Nuclear Deal, when it demanded the UN Security Council to re-impose UN sanctions on Iran and to extend the arms embargo on it, There was consensus from the major powers in the Security Council that the United States faces legal problems in activating the “trigger mechanism” that provides for the re-imposition of pre-2015 sanctions on Iran, because it is no longer a party to the agreement.
Therefore, we have concluded that the United States has begun to mobilize international forces against Iran, and has already succeeded in imposing its vision on European countries, and even on Russia, in which Iran was depending on it inside the Security Council, and the Ukraine card in its hand is now more effective than before. Russia should either abandon Iran or use its influence to put pressure on it to sign an agreement according to American conditions, or it will face a long-term war of attrition in Ukraine and face the fate that the former Soviet Union faced in Afghanistan, and European countries face the Russian threat, and they must re-arrange its cards and line up with the United States’ strategy course.
In conjunction with this serious challenge that Iran faces, the United States has set a deadline for Iran to return to its commitments to the Nuclear Deal within days, or the termination of the Nuclear Deal will be announced. there is no doubt this would have great consequences on Iran if it insisted on obstinacy, and its file may be referred to the UN Security Council, and decisive decisions will be taken against it with an international consensus.
The US State Department spokesman, Ned Price, confirmed this on first of the March, by saying that they are “ready to withdraw from the nuclear talks if Iran hardens its stance and that the United States and its allies and partners will pursue alternative options if Iran is not willing to treat in good faith.”
This leads us to the fact that a large and effective part of the former US President Trump’s legacy is still there and is being worked on in the new administration, and we remember how Trump said after withdrawing from the agreement with Iran that he would force Iran to conclude a better agreement than the previous one.
The roots of their alliance between Iran and Syria
Syria has a very important place within the Iranian military doctrine, as it is an important link for it to complete its project, which extends from Tehran to Iraq, Syria, and Lebanon, in order to curb the American spheres of influence and besiege Israel, with an army of groups loyal to Iran, capable of running a proxy war against Israel over wide-area of geography.
The roots of relations between Syria and Iran go back to 1979, i.e. after the victory of the Iranian revolution, and the structural differences between the two regimes did not stand in the way of forming this strategic alliance. The Syrian regime is a secular regime and is based on the principles of the Baath Party supporting Arabism, while the Iranian regime is an Islamic hard-liner regime and anti-Arab.
There were objective reasons for the emergence of this alliance, as Iran suffered international isolation at the time, and in the same year, Egypt signed a peace agreement with Israel. Syria was also afraid of isolation after losing its Egyptian ally in the face of Israel; therefore, such an alliance was necessary for both countries.
This alliance was strengthened during the Iran-Iraq war, when Syria sided with Iran against Iraq, because Iraq was an adversary for both sides, and because of the common hostility of Hafez al-Assad and Khomeini to Saddam Hussein.
The strengthening of this alliance increased after the American war on Iraq in 2003 due to the two countries’ concerns about a similar fate. After the fall of Saddam Hussein’s regime, Syria became a corridor for smuggling weapons and Iranian military experts to Hezbollah, which was established in Lebanon in 1982 in cooperation between Syria and Iran, to promote Khomeini’s ideology. In addition, to serve as a spearhead for their common enemy, Israel.
The Syrian crisis and the Iranian intervention
As the demonstrations erupted in Syria in 2011, Iran sensed the danger of a fire that broke out in an important part of what it considers its “strategic depth,” this is why it rushed to support the regular forces to suppress and control the demonstrations.
Aiming at regime change, the popular movement began to armament itself and the formation of armed opposition factions backed by Gulf states, including Saudi Arabia, Iran’s involvement in the Syrian conflict has increased via the foreign arm of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard, the Quds Force, and its associated militias, given Iran’s firm conviction that it is being targeted in this conflict by these countries, which found in the change of the Syrian regime an opportunity for them to confront the Iranian expansion in the region.
Iran lost thousands of soldiers, including senior leaders in the Revolutionary Guards during the Syrian war, and it spent nearly $30 billion in order to repel the armed opposition and enhance its influence in the country and in the security and military institutions and decision-making centers, and it has succeeded to a large extent in expanding its control on Syrian territory, especially in the Syrian south, Deir ez-Zor and the central regions, which entitles it to take advantage of the Syrian card in confronting its opponents, thus turning the Syrian internal conflict into a cycle of its regional and international conflict, and this was one of the most important reasons for the complexity of the Syrian crisis and the failure to find solutions to it.
After the Syrian armed opposition was able to regain a large area of Syrian territory, Russia entered the line of the Syrian conflict, according to an official request submitted by Damascus to Moscow to support it. The Russian air force intervened and conducted air strikes against the sites of ISIS and the Syrian opposition factions, supported by Iranian forces and Syrian regular forces on the ground. The cities under the control of the opposition had successively been restored. This intervention came in coordination with the Iranians to achieve the common Iranian-Russian goal, which is to prevent the toppling of the Syrian regime. Despite reports that the Russian intervention took place after the then commander of the Quds Force, Qassem Soleimani, persuaded Russian President Putin in his secret visit to Russia on July 24, 2015, to intervene in Syria and change the equation on the ground.
But the audio leaks of Muhammad Javad Zarif confirm that Putin had decided to enter the Syrian war before Soleimani visited him, and he believed that the Russians were the ones who dragged the Iranian ground forces to intervene in Syria on a large scale, at a time when the Iranian presence was via Syrian, Arab and Afghan groups and other volunteers, according to Zarif, who clarified that the Russians’ goal is to Iran’s involvement in Syria was to undermine the Iranian Nuclear Deal with Western powers.
Based on that, it may become clear to us that the Russians used the Iranians as a double card; the first one was the survival of the Syrian regime, and the second one was managing their conflict with the United States by allowing the Iranians to position themselves in Syria and making trouble for America with Iranian expansion in the region, which eventually ended with America’s withdrawal from the agreement. Plus, the increase in tension between the two parties, after Soleimani’s killing and the repercussions that resulted from the bombing of American bases and the threat to Israel’s security in the region by Iran’s proxies in Iraq and Syria, and the Russian role in Syria gaining importance for Israel. Throughout joint coordination between them in targeting Iranian sites inside Syria. Thus, Israel sought to convince the United States of the importance of this role in warding off the Iranian threat from its borders, which ended in the formation of the core of the American-Russian balance in Syria and considering the Russian presence in any decision related to the Syrian crisis.
The influence struggle between Iran and Russia in Syria
The Russian-Iranian conflict began floating on the surface after defeating the armed Syrian opposition and the Syrian regime’s control over large areas of Syrian territory. Both parties (the Russian-Iranian) seek to achieve economic gains to compensate for the huge expenses they spent during the war that they fought and to get benefit from reconstruction projects, by consolidating their presence.
Despite the tactical alliance that arose between the two countries in Syria aiming at the confrontation of Western interference, however, the struggle for influence and the difference in point of view regarding the Syrian crisis increased the rift between the two parties and which can be summarized in the following points:
- Russia seeks to solve the regime’s problems with its Arab sphere, which is of great importance to Russia, on the contrary, Iran works on widening the gap between the Syrian regime and its Arab incubator and see in destabilizing the country and the region in general as a consolidation of its presence. Iran is convinced that the more region’s crises continue without solutions, the more regional gains it gets.
- Russia’s dispute with Iran regarding the latter’s organizing of many militias in Syria that support the Syrian regular army, as Russia’s focus is on maintaining the central Syrian government and supporting and arming the army to ensure that it does not fall into a state of chaos that would be difficult to control and the establishment of the Fifth Corps was by Russia to downsize the role of the Iranian militias in Syria.
- Iran considers Assad’s survival in power as its main objective, while Russia’s interest is focused on the survival of the Syrian state and its legitimate institutions and on reaching a political settlement between the regime and the opposition in agreement with the international community.
- Iran’s resentment with all the agreements reached via Russia with the actors in the Syrian crisis, such as the 2016 “cessation of hostilities” agreement with the United States, and the “de-escalation” agreement reached in the “Astana 4” negotiations between Russia, Turkey and Iran.
- The Russian-Israeli relationship in Syria and their coordination to target Iranian sites on Syrian territory.
- The Russian position on the Kurdish issue in Syria, and Russia’s attempts to find solutions with the Damascus government, at a time when Iran fears the formation of an official Kurdish entity in Syria, and its impact on the Kurdish issue inside Iran, and even the issues of other ethnic components on its lands that are in a state of friction against the Iranian regime.
- Russia’s concerned about Iran’s competition with it in the global energy market by the latter’s ambition to reach the Mediterranean to export natural gas to the world.
But all these controversial reasons, which pose a major challenge to Russian ambitions in Syria will not push Russia to abandon the Iranian card, and it will have parallel attempts to limit Iranian influence while maintaining it, as long as Western powers, led by the United States, are present in the Syrian crisis, and we might face a greater escalation against Iranian influence in the event of the withdrawal of these forces from Syria.
From all of the above mentioned, it is obvious that Iran views itself as an important regional state in the region and believes that it should have a prominent role in its region’s issues, and it harnesses all its tools in order to consolidate this role, starting with the development of its nuclear power to form a deterrent force against its opponents, its trans-Iranian military project, and the development of ballistic missiles and drone programs, which are being developed in underground cities, according to what the Iranian Revolutionary Guard recently confirmed, with the presence of two underground cities for them, and the range of some of the drones reaches 2,000 km.
Iran also resorts to soft power in the countries it wants to dominate, which is represented in promoting Shiism culture and Iranian Islamic civilization and establishing a loyal Shiite popular incubator via demographic change processes, as is the case in several regions in Syria, including Eastern Ghouta and Homs province’s countryside, and settling Iraqi Shiite families. This ambition of the domination of the region naturally collides with the strategies of the superpowers seeking to impose comprehensive hegemony on the region, thus creating crises and escalating tensions between them and these countries.
As the Russian-Ukrainian war erupted on February 24, which was in parallel with the stalemate of the solution in the Vienna talks, we believe that Iran will encounter several possibilities, which can be summarized as follows:
- The United States might get benefit from the Ukraine war by imposing conditions on Russia to abandon its support for Iran and not to use a veto in any UN resolution against it, subsequently, Iran end up losing a major ally it had relied on in the Security Council, and hoping to purchase advanced weapons from it in the near term.
- Iran will be more isolated after changing the rules of the game, and the greater American pressure today on European countries, after these countries’ urgent need for American protection from the Russian threat; Iran has always strengthened by the position of the Europeans who have been supporting Iran for a long time, because:
a- Their unsatisfied tacit stance with the American hegemony over global decision-making.
b- Their dissatisfaction with the US sanctions that harmed the interests of its companies in Iran.
c- Their concerns about the outbreak of a war that would damage the energy supply lines in the Persian Gulf, and flood its lands with new flows of refugees.
- Pressure will increase on Iran in the Vienna talks, and Iran will be ready to succumb to the fait accompli and resort to what it calls “heroic leniency.” that is what the Iranian Supreme leader indicated in one of his recent speeches in terms of the possibility of dealing with the “Enemies” which means making concessions to the United States and return to its nuclear commitments without achieving the conditions it had imposed in the talks.
- Iran might also get benefit from reaching an agreement in Vienna, reviving the Nuclear Deal, and competing with Russia to export oil to the countries of the world after the lifting of sanctions and the transfer of these sanctions are being imposed on Russia, which in turn, might increase the gap between Iran and Russia, subsequently, achieving the American objective of striking this relationship between Russia and Iran, which they are looking forward to strengthening and developing within the framework of the eastern axis with China. The effects of this escalation between them may be reflected in terms of Iranian concerns in Syria, including increasing coordination with Israel to target Iranian bases, and pushing forward the negotiations between the Autonomous Administration in North and East of Syria from one side and the Syrian government from the other side.
- In case of the failure announcement of the Vienna talks and the death of the Nuclear Deal with Iran, and the inability of the United States to subdue Russia to its demand with regard to Iran, subsequently, continue the war of attrition against Russia in Ukraine by prolonging the conflict, we might see a strengthened relation between Russia-Iran and the emergence of advanced Russian arms sales explicitly to Iran. Therefore, it would be logical to expect a decline in Russian-Israeli coordination against Iran in Syria, and consequently, an increase in the Israeli-Iranian confrontation, which might prompt Israel to launch military strikes against Iran, which in turn, could announce withdrawal from the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. Subsequently, it will work to obtain nuclear weapons without any restrictions, and this is likely to push the United States into this conflict, this way Russia would return the ball to the American court and would succeed in spurring a clash between the United States and Iran and bringing America into an unconventional war of attrition that is taking place in a very sensitive and crucial wide geographical area to the United States and its allies. This would be a prolonged war and would have great consequences overall region. It will have a great impact on many countries, especially the countries of the region, and this might result in the emergence of new world order, based on the rubble of the precedent order.