Wednesday,19 September, 2018
Current issue | Issue 1280, (28 January - 3 February 2016)
Wednesday,19 September, 2018
Issue 1280, (28 January - 3 February 2016)

Ahram Weekly

The Iranian threat

Iran’s foreign policy aims to place large parts of the Middle East under the thumb of the ayatollahs, writes Khaled Okasha

Al-Ahram Weekly

“We will export our revolution to the entire world. So that everyone may know why we carried out the revolution.”

These were the words of Iran’s new leader, Ayatollah Khomeini, speaking on 11 February 1980 before hundreds of thousands of his supporters in Tehran, as he pledged to export the Islamic Revolution to other nations.

“Our goal was independence and freedom from constraints and from subjugation to the East and West,” he said. “The Islamic Republic strives to help Iranians to achieve their dream of creating a government based on Islam and democracy.”

Iran’s new leader added that exporting the revolution was not an act of military aggression, but an effort to “let the world know the reasons for our revolution and understand our objectives.”

Such was the new vision of Iran. According to Khomeini, Iran would export its revolution to the world not to conquer other nations, but to receive their well-deserved sympathy.

“The major powers do not want us to do this. For if the people of the world knew what we stood for, they would defend us and would not fall for the tricks of the imperialist media,” the ayatollah said.

In order to consolidate the power of his allies at home, Khomeini introduced another idea, that of the velayat-e faqih, or guardianship of Islamic jurists. This idea, which is now a mainstay of Iran’s Shia doctrine, allows a clique of close-knit scholars to have the final say on Iranian policy, whether domestic or foreign.

When Khomeini came up with this idea, many Iranian scholars opposed it. Eventually, they were defeated and either relegated to the outer edges of authority or banished from the country altogether.

“When we say that our revolution must be exported to the whole world, this does not mean we want to conquer other nations,” Khomeini insisted. “All Muslim countries are of value, and all must remain as they are. The exporting of the revolution merely means that all nations must wake up and all governments must wake up,” he said.

But Iran had a curious way of having other nations “wake up.” Speaking on 13 January 2016, during a memorial service for one of the Iranian military commanders killed in Lebanon, Mohamed Ali Jafari, commander of Iran’s powerful Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), boasted that he had 200,000 men under arms in Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan and Yemen.

We want to “encourage the third generation of the revolution” to support the supreme leader in Iran, Jafari said.

His remarks were more than bluster. The IRGC is now taking an active part in military operations in more than one Arab country. The Al-Quds Force, viewed by many as the elite section of the IRGC, is also designing tactics, training fighters, handling logistics and paying for war in several areas, including Syria.

Qasem Soleimani, the commander of the Al-Quds Force, is a key player on Syria’s military scene. Under his command, the Force has grown in size and capabilities. Many say that Soleimani, and not Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad, is now the one calling the shots in the battles between the regime and the opposition.

The IRGC is also expanding its operations. It has reinforced its operations with a cyberspace division that Western officials see as a potential threat to “civilian and military networks,” according to Flash//CRITIC Cyber Threat News, a US website specialising in cyber affairs.

The IRGC has been operating in Syria since late 2011. Its military advisers are often the ones running the regime’s operations rooms. IRGC fighters are believed to have directed or taken part in several major battles in Syria, including those in the towns of Qoseir and Zabadani. They are also in charge of protecting the regime’s stronghold in Latakia.

In Iraq, the Iranian presence is also prominent. The IRGC is running the Iraqi paramilitary, an Iranian-led force that has recruited nearly 25,000 local Shia volunteers.

The IRGC trains its own Shia militia in the governorates of Wasit, Imara and Muthanna. The IRGC-led militia is now crucial to any security arrangement and is also engaged in the fight against the Islamic State (IS) group. More significantly, the IRGC is also the one paying the volunteers’ salaries.

Iran’s nuclear deal with the West has done little to change the US outlook on Iran. A US Department of State report published in mid-2015 considers Iran to be a “major sponsor” of terror in the region and the world. According to the report, Iran pressed on with its terror activities in 2014, backing terror groups in Syria, Lebanon and Iraq.

Iran, the report adds, is using the Al-Quds Force to further its foreign policy, conduct espionage operations and spread instability in the region. Iranian terrorist activities are also not confined to the Middle East, but cover parts of Africa, Asia and Latin America as well.

According to the US newspaper the Washington Times, Iran is using a substantial part of its $14 billion to $30 billion annual defence budget to support terrorist and rebel groups around the region.

A US Congressional Research Service report written at the request of Senator Mark Kirk says that Iran spends some $100 million to $200 million annually to bolster the Al-Assad regime, another $12 million to $26 million to finance Shia militias in Syria and Iraq, between $10 million and $20 million to help the Houthi rebels in Yemen, and $20 million to support the Palestinian group Hamas.

The Washington Times claims that Iran pays pro-Al-Assad fighters in Syria a monthly salary of between $1,000 and $2,000 each. Afghan fighters operating in Syria say they have received training in Iran and receive their salaries from IRGC commanders.

In other words, Iran is acting in total disregard of international law and diplomatic norms. Its policy, forever faithful to the hardline ideas of Khomeini, aims to redraw the map of the region and bring large parts of it under the thumb of the ayatollahs.

The writer is director of the Cairo-based National Centre for Security Studies.

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