Arab revolutions from Iran’s perspective

Iranian protests fell short of a revolution... until now. (Source: Aljazeera)

As the Arab spring continues to send shockwaves across the globe, regimes in the Middle East find themselves faced with unprecedented challenges. Sitting on the very edge of the Arab world, the Islamic Republic of Iran is faced with numerous burdens that could put a limit to its decade-long tide in the region, and pose a serious threat to its very existence.

The leaders of Iran, like their peers in many other oppressive regimes around the world, understand very well how this new wave of revolutions can easily spread into their border. They fear that scenes of Tahrir square in Egypt, and other Arab capitals will reignite the protests that sparked after the disputed presidential elections in 2009. They know that their nation is boiling under the surface, and are trying to maneuver their way around many internal and external challenges.

Since the invasion of Iraq by the US and British forces in 2003, which toppled Iran’s number one regional enemy, Saddam Hussein, Iran was chasing time to develop its nuclear program. Despite being surrounded from all sides by US troops in Afghanistan, Iraq, the Persian Gulf, and several US military bases on the north, the Iranians has so far succeeded in manipulating the delicate balances in world politics for their own interest. They managed to benefit from Russia’s thirst for an ally in this region to import nuclear technology and continue enriching uranium. They’ve also managed to use China’s reliance on their oil to secure prevent an attack from the US.

In the meanwhile, the Iranians have successfully utilized their religious influence among Iraqi Shia, and supported Shia militia to take bigger role on the ground, and in the political process. Some unconfirmed news emerged of pro-Iran militia assassinating Shia leaders in Iraq who oppose Iran’s influence in the country, and blaming the Sunnis for these attacks. This (along with the invaders’ interest in dividing the Iraqis) helped spark sectarian conflict in the chaotic post-Saddam country. Eventually, Iraqi Shia started to seek allegiance with Iran, either for fear of “Sunnis” or for fear of assassination. This way, Iran managed to secure its position as the single most influential player in shaping the post-Saddam Iraq, and turned an ex-enemy to a strong strategic ally!

Since then, Iran’s influence in the region was almost unchallenged. The country was using the Arab nation’s frustration with the incompetence of their leaders to portray itself as the only force in the region that is standing in the face of Bush’s insanity, and for being the defender the dignity and freedoms of the regional residents. Using its very strong propaganda it portrayed itself as the only country in the region that supports Palestinian resistance, which helped it gain the sympathy of Arab people. I have to admit that I myself was one of the people who were fooled by their propaganda!

Fortunately, the events of this year, stripped this propaganda naked, and revealed the true intentions of those on the helm of the Islamic Republic.

Arabs are waking up to a new region, where they are beginning to realize their own potential, and are taking control of their own destiny. After toppling their incompetent rulers, who favored their relations with the west to the interests of their own people, Arabs are no longer fascinated by Iran’s defiance of the US. Now that Arabs speak for themselves, they can do that if their interest is in conflict with the US. Iran can no longer play the card of the “only revolution in the region” or “the vanguard against western oppression” with Arabs.

The Palestinian issue has also witnessed many changes. Mubarak, who was supporting Fatah and isolating Hamas, is gone. Abbas is finding himself obligated to seek conciliation with Hamas, and Egypt’s new government is more open to all Palestinian factions, and is actively pursuing that conciliation between the two Palestinian rivals. Once more, Iran lost its appeal as the sole supporter of Palestinian resistance.

In Syria, the last bit of the Iranian lie was uncovered. While attempting to give a balanced language when addressing the Syrian revolution, the Iranians, like many others, where speaking to a Middle East that has already gone. They are now faced with a generation that already learned all the tricks in the political game, and knows very well how to read between the lines of carefully-worded diplomatic speeches.

By Supporting the Assad’s atrocious killing of his citizens, the Iranian regime lost its last appeal with the people of the Arab world as the guardian of their dignity. This proved to Arabs that Iran doesn’t care about their freedoms, or even their lives, and the only thing it cares about is its regional dominance.

Of course the Assad’s regime has always been loyal to Iran, and is of tremendous significance to them, and if his regime will fall, the net of Iranian influence that spreads between Afghanistan and the Mediterranean Sea will be broken. It will isolate Hezbollah in Lebanon, and make it vulnerable to Israeli attacks, or to abide by the rulings of the international criminal investigation of the death of the late Lebanese Prime Minister, Rafiq Hariri.

Beside all of these regional challenges, the economic sanctions against Iran are beginning to dig their way into the social life. The dissatisfaction over economic situation is eroding the remains of popularity for the spiritual leadership of the country. And the disputes over power in the highest posts of the regime are coming out of closed doors, and are beginning to pose another threat to Iran’s stability.

Faced with all of these challenges, Iran can’t afford to start losing its regional influence. For Iran there could not be two options when it comes to supporting the Syrian regime. It’s a matter of life or death for their oppressive regime. If the Syrian regime will crash, this will mean the beginning of the end for the “Iranian decade” in the Middle East. It could also be the beginning of the end for the whole regime of ayatollahs in Iran.

There will never be a moment in history when taming Iran’s regional influence will be this easy. Supporting the Syrian revolution will not only bring one more Arab country to join the free world, but will make the door wide open for Iran, and other countries in the region, to take the leap to democracy. A truly democratic Syria will encourage Iranian youth to stand up against their oppressors.

While puzzled with the task of inventing new sanctions to contain Iran’s nuclear ambitions, many western leaders are overlooking a historical chance to restore stability in the region that holds the most lasting oil and gas reserve in the world. If they can show the same level of support to the Syrian revolution as the one they offered in Libya, this will be the path of least resistance to end Iran’s reign over the Middle East. Acting now to support the revolution in Syria will spare the world a potential military confrontation with Iran in the near future.

If the US can do this, it will pay back Iran for what happened in Iraq, and change Syria from an enemy of the US, and an ally to Iran, to an ally of the west, and ardent enemy of Iran.

Otherwise, if the west will continue to cave in for the Chinese and Russian pressure at this moment of economic difficulties, I can’t see when they will be able to overturn this equation. And that is a scenario I do not even want to imagine.

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