Iran’s policy towards regional security threats

Over the past few decades, the geopolitical dynamics of the Middle East has changed in a way that made this region as a major source of instability and unrest for the rest of the world. The spillover of the region’s crises into other parts of the world especially to the European countries was another proof for the fact that in an interconnected world security is everybody’s responsibility.

Now, the question is whether the international community can rely on Iran as a trustable partner to create peace and stability for the world? The review of at least the last three or four decades of Iran’s regional behavior might provide us with an answer.

The first Gulf war which was started by the Iraq dictator Saddam Hussein against Iran in 1980, considered to be one of the longest and most destructive wars of the 20th Century, is a well-known example of how Iran responded to a threat that was about to engulf the whole region. With the financial, political and military support of the West, Saddam Hussein was able to impose a protracted war against Iran. With the direct support of the western countries Saddam was encouraged to wage a war against Iran. The huge support he received in his fight against Iran enabled and motivated him to pursue his ambition to become the unchallenged leader of the Arab world. Iran’s resistance towards Iraq dictator helped the stability of the region and for this the international community owes much to Iran. Iran warned other countries about the threat of an ambitious dictator but this warning was overlooked and no country stepped in to stop Saddam from invading Iran.

With the breakout of the second Gulf war in 1990, the region and the world experienced another security challenge. By invading Kuwait, Iraq aimed at annexing Kuwait as Iraq’s nineteenth province. It was after this war that the international community understood how dangerous Saddam could be. Thus, Iraq received a unanimous international condemnation for its attack. Iran’s response to this regional crisis was very constructive and again helped the stability of the region. Knowing Iran’s deep socio-economic problems resulted from the eight-year war, Saddam used the opportunity and invited Iran to the join him to capture Kuwait’s vast oil reserves. Iran which had all the possible motives for joining Iraq to attack Kuwait, the country that was one of the main supporters of Saddam in the first Gulf war, decided to choose ‘active Neutrality, in order to help the security of the region. Iran demanded Iraq’s withdrawal from Kuwait and that Iran will not provide its soil or sea and airspace for any attack towards Kuwait. Standing in the right side of history, Iran was the only actor in the region that had a clear and constant policy for fighting against Saddam and stopping him from the very first beginning. It took time for the international community to truly understand the threat of flooding the region with weapons. This invasion provided Iran with the opportunity to demonstrate to the West and Arab states that their policy towards the region has just paved the way for more violence and conflict in the region.

There are so many other examples of how Iran’s regional policy has contributed to the stability of the region. Among the more recent regional developments, one can see the Syrian crisis. The Syrian crisis began in 2011 is a good example of how consistent and predictable is the Iran’s policy to regional developments.

The anti-government protests in Syria, thought to be the continuation of the Arab spring, turned out to be one of the most complex and difficult challenges for the world’s security. The crisis with its outsized effect on international politics became the battlefield for different regional and trans-regional players.

One of the main contributing factors which made the Syrian crisis more complex was the constant foreign interventions, mostly led by the United States. The involvement of trans-regional powers added to the complexity of the crisis and paved the way for the growth of radicalism. Having the same experience during the Soviet Union’s invasion to Afghanistan and supporting Afghan Mujahidin to tackle the Soviet Union, United States committed the same mistake again. The U.S. support for Afghan Mujahidin which gave birth to al Qaeda and other forms of terrorist groups is a bitter fact that has been neglected by the international community and this negligence made them work with the U.S. in its intervention into the region‘s affair.

Not learning from the past mistakes, the U.S. and its European and Arab allies started a new adventure in the region with their interference in the domestic affairs of Syria. By categorizing terrorists into good (moderate) and bad (extremist), the U.S. Congress authorized the provision of assistance (both lethal and nonlethal) to the armed opposition groups in 2013 and 2014. From the CIA clandestine initiative to train opposition fighters in Syria to the leaked documents about the activities of the Department of States (both MEPI and DRL fund projects) to undermine Assad regime show that the U.S. has helped the spread of violence and terror by providing the rebel fighters with training, cash, and intelligence.

Iran’s response to the Syrian crisis was clear. From the very first day of the anti-government protests in Syria, Iran advocated for a political track and a national dialogue without any interference by the foreign countries. Iran supported the idea of respecting the territorial integrity of Syria. With a long record of fighting terrorism in the region, Iran knew that any foreign prescription for the regional crises would fire back and add to the crisis. Iran projected the idea that rhetoric like ‘Assad must go’ is just a clear violation of a country’s sovereignty. Any sustainable solution to the crisis must be inclusive and dealt with by the Syrian nationals themselves.

Iran’s policy for Syria was projected in the Astana peace talks. Iran, Russia and Turkey with the aim of contributing to international peace and stability and crafting peaceful settlement to the Syrian crisis started Astana peace talks. Several rounds of the talk helped the peace process by establishing de-escalation zones in across the country.

Iran’s policy towards regional developments has always been consistent. From fighting Saddam Hussein to counterterrorism acts against extremism and radicalism, Iran has always been the force that has consistently fought extremism and terrorism in the region. The unilateral approach of the West to solve the crises without the presence and help of influential actors like Iran has proven to be unsuccessful. The international community needs to change its view about Iran and use the opportunity to solve the Middle East problems with collaboration with Iran. Addressing common security concerns need a collective approach and in this collective approach the constructive role of Iran cannot be overlooked. The stabilizing role of Iran in combating terrorism and contributing to security is what the region and the international community need most. Taking this into consideration, the international community and Iran can cooperate to delineate a better future for the good of global security.

Mohammad Yusefvand
Mohammad Yusefvand
Mohammad Yusefvand is a regional analyst and scholar with focus on North American political affairs