The emerging role of Iran in the Middle East

Middle East

Iran officially the Islamic Republic of Iran is a country located in west Asia commonly known as the Middle East. Iran is ethnically and culturally different from the rest of the countries, especially in the region. Its geography linked with the five important subs Region starting from the Levant, the Caucasus, Central Asia, South Asia, and the Persian Gulf. It is the only Shia state in the region that does not have diplomatic ties with the U.S. Iran has a large amount of oil and natural gas resources and its economy is dominated by the oil industry.

In the contemporary world, Iran has become a major regional player in the Middle East. It is trying to upgrade its status to dominate the region. The majority of the regional issues have included due to the Iran involvement to some degree in the Middle East conflict. Infect, Iran foreign policy tendency towards regional cooperation and harmony but Iran feels the threat through hard and soft means. Iran considers its presence necessary for tackling the regional conflict. After the overthrow of Shah of Iran, Iran has been ruled by the religious leaders which are called theocracy and hardliners on the basis of the revolutionary idea of velayat-faqih (It is a Shia Islamist system of governance that justifies the rule of clergy over the state)

The foreign minister of Iran M Javad Zarif once said: “The super priorities of Iran would be focusing on economic matters and strengthening relations at the neighborhood realm and the region.” As if we examine the situation of Iran in the globe Iran as a state wants to establish peaceful relations but the structural forces compel Iran to participate in the regional conflict.

On the other hand, Gulf States has a deep concern regarding the role of Iran’s in the region as Iran’s destabilizing influence spreading which is then evidenced by its support for Bashar al-Assad the president of Syria in the civil war, military support for the Houthis in the Yemen civil war as well as the ongoing relationship with Lebanon’s Hezbollah. Iran has also repeatedly been accused of promoting unrest in the region and supporting the principally Shia opposition in Bahrain. Middle East politics is very complicated. The prominent rivals include Iran and the kingdom of Saudi Arabia always counter each other.

In the recent years, political tensions in the Middle East have been reached in heights over the intersecting crises stemming from the Syrian civil war, the unraveling of the Iran nuclear agreement, the war in Yemen, Iraq protest, the Israel conflict, Iran-Saudi Arabia proxy and the future position of Iran. Since 2012, intervention in Syria has stoked anger and anxiety in the Gulf States, which fear Iran’s regional hegemonic ambitions. In the Middle East, Arab spring play’s an important role in destabilizing the region and its social impact remains significant until today. The regional developments after the Arab Spring have brought about the new geopolitical challenges, such as the emergence of Daesh (ISIS) and increased activities of Al Qaeda affiliate groups. The changing geopolitical environment has intensified the traditional military threats of the U.S. and Israel, for Iran’s national security. These developments have also redefined the role and ambitions of Iran’s regional rivals and friends.

After the thrown of Saddam Hussain the president of Iraq and during Arab spring the Iraq influence increased toward Iran. In early 2014 when the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS or Daesh) started to intervene in Iraq’s major cities; Iran tries to help in the situation. Before 2004 Iran’s role was so minimum in Iraq due to the Sunni regime but later on after the regime changed the situation also come in the hand of Iran. Iran backed militia helped save Iraq from ISIS. Not only in the military but financially and logical support Iran was forward. Iran makes proxies to make sure their influence.

In the current situation after the death of General Qasem Soleimani who was an Iranian Major general in the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) from 1998 until his death, commander of its Quds Force, a division primarily responsible for extraterritorial military both Iran and Iraq come close to each other. One of the highest rank officers who was killed in Iraq soil in a drone attack by the US its open threat and challenge to Iran but this action also promote the war in the Middle East.

The formation of local proxies in the region by Iran was to support their ideology and national interest in the region such as Hamas and Hezbollah which are influence by Iran. Hezbollah is the Shia Islamic militant and political organization based in Lebanon. Hezbollah act as a proxy of Iran in Israel- Iran conflict. Hamas is the Sunni Islamic organization working in the Gaza strip. As the official claims, the group was founded and supported by Iran. Both groups are working for the interest of Iran against Israel in the region. Another support from Iran case is in the Syrian civil war which started after the Arab spring and still now it’s ongoing. The Islamic Republic of Iran has done amazing efforts to keep President Bashar al- Assad in power. Iran has provided significant support for the Syrian government in the civil war which includes financial, technical, and logistical as well as the training of the troops. As the main reason for supporting the Assad regime by Iran is to counter the US and Saudi Arabia. Similarly in Yemen, the proxy of Iran Houthis, in 2011 and 2012, Iran’s role began to change during the Arab Spring uprising. Tehran’s support for the Houthis increased in that period, although Iran was not a player in negotiations that led to Saleh’s resignation from the government. In the regional backdrop to the war in Yemen Iran is an important actor. Saudi Arabia has made its position clear to support the official government.

After withdrawing the United States from Nuclear deal the issue of deterring threats in the region has become more significant in Iran’s foreign policy strategy. Iran nuclear deal also plays a significant role in Middle East politics. The deal named as Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) commonly known as the Iran nuclear deal is an agreement on the Iranian nuclear program. The deal was finalized in Vienna on July 14, 2015. This deal happens between Iran and the P5+1 state. This includes the five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council, Russia, France, China, the United Kingdom, the United States and plus is Germany along with the European Union. The deal was successfully adopted by both parties. The deal took almost 20 months for finalizing. Iran ready to enriched uranium eliminate stockpile. For the next 15 years, Iran will only enrich uranium up to 3.67%. Furthermore, to monitor and verify Iran’s compliance with the agreement, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) will have regular access to all Iranian nuclear facilities. In return, Iran will receive relief from related sanctions. But now this deal is in deadlock. On May 8, 2018, President Donald J Trump announced the United States’ withdrawal from the international nuclear pact with Iran. As he stated that the deal was one-sided it did not bring peace but the other member stay in the deal. The US administration putting maximum pressure and due to economical sanctions, Iran faces huge crises. As a response Iran also playing its game through a proxy as in the recent attack in an oil refinery in Saudi Arabia by the Houthis Iran gives the message that if we cannot sell oil and gain the proceeds we will try to ensure others can’t either. In the present time, Iran also announced to end the Commitment to nuclear deal after the killing of general Coleman. The statement said by Iran officials that the Iranian government would no longer limit the enrichment of uranium so the new era of conflict will emerge. Iran also said it would still cooperate with the International Atomic Agency and reenter the nuclear deal if the sanctions are removed.  On the other hand, Iran’s towards regional cooperation has been interrupted by Saudi Arabia, Gulf countries and especially Israel as this state has close ties with the US and their main prospective goal is to involve the US in the regional issues.

Iran’s foreign policy focused on the balance and adjusts itself between the two variables of deterrence and cooperation in the world as well in the region. The emergence of ISIS in the region and the alliance against Iran by the US lead coalition moves toward strategic insecurity and Iran to focused on deterrence rather than cooperation. This deterrence also affects the Iran economy. The main objective of Iranian foreign policy is to produce national power through its geopolitical advantages as a realist approach. It is also important to maintain that state act in their own interest as the world is anarchic in nature so every state has to make sure their presence in this world.

Iran’s orientation towards regional cooperation or else deterrence is dependent on the contemporary regional situation. Iran cannot afford any absence in the regional balance of power because Iran believes that if they lack a strong regional presence will be filled by the Regional rivals.

  • The writer is a student of International Relations and Freelance journalist currently based in Islamabad, Pakistan.

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