Iran Is Running Out Of Steam: Its Strategic Retreat Is Most Visible At Regional Level. Tehran Is In A Perpetual Conflict With Its Neighbours By Abdulkhaleq Abdullah, Special To Gulf News

The setbacks start at home. Politically, Iran, which is gearing up for crucial parliamentary elections due on March 2, is badly polarised.

After nearly a decade of regional expansion, Iran is in for a strategic retreat. This time last year Tehran was counting its numerous regional and international gains. But from now on it seems that Iran will have to take stock of its regional and global losses, which are piling up by the day.

The setbacks start at home. Politically, Iran, which is gearing up for crucial parliamentary elections due on March 2, is badly polarised. The political division in Iran is at an all-time high and is eating into its domestic legitimacy and stability. The stimulus for this political polarisation is the simmering power struggle in the confusing, multi-layered Iranian decision-making strata. The battle between the regime’s hardline clerics headed by the Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and the dogmatic clique around the handicapped President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is serious and paralysing.

Iran is also looking very feeble economically. The financial strain is so dire that the rial has already lost more than 40 per cent of its value. As the economy flounders, business is being held back and investments are drying up. The European Union implemented last week a total ban on the import of Iranian crude oil and blocked trade in precious metals, among other steps. These measures, in addition to the unilateral sanctions already imposed by the US and the UN, are taking a big toll on Iran’s lifeblood – its oil revenue.

The usually bombastic Ahmadinejad has admitted that the current sanctions are “the heaviest economic onslaught on Iran in history … every day, all our banking and trade activities and our agreements are being monitored and blocked”. The economic sanctions and boycotts are crippling and Iran can do nothing about them except make counterproductive threats.

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Such irrational reactions have increased the country’s international isolation, which reached new heights at the start of 2012, when Brazil’s new President Dilma Rousseff refused to meet with Ahmadinejad during his visit to Latin America earlier this month. This comes on top of China’s growing frustration with Tehran’s latest threats to close the vital Strait of Hormuz. Losing close allies and old friends while making new enemies is becoming Iran’s new favourite game.

The announcement by the US Department of Justice on October 11, 2011, that two men had been charged in connection with an alleged Iranian Quds force plot to assassinate the Saudi ambassador to the United States, Adel Al Jubeir, consolidated Iran’s exclusion and its reputation as an ostracised nation.
Irreparable damage

Yet Iran’s strategic retreat is most visible at the regional level. Tehran is mired in a perpetual conflict with its immediate neighbours, the six Arab Gulf states. They have an inflated view of Iran as a deeply destabilising force in the neighbourhood. On the top of their endless concerns is Tehran’s presumed meddling in their internal affairs, i.e. Bahrain, and its “invisible hand” in agitating the sectarian divide in the Arab Gulf and throughout the region. Iraq is also suddenly feeling the same and is equally getting irritated by Iran’s flagrant interference in its domestic politics.

Most immediately, Tehran stands utterly hopeless as its strategic ally in the Arab world, the brutal Bashar Al Assad regime in Syria, enters an imminent danger zone. A politically weak Syria translates into a politically weak Iran and if the Al Assad regime collapses the whole resistance axis, which Iran invested in so heavily for the past two decades, will disappear too.

Revolutionary Iran is seen to stand on the wrong side of history. Many in the Arab world are now saying out loud ‘shame on you Iran’ for standing by a regime that has killed on average 20 of its people on a daily basis for the past 10 months. To those and other old admirers, Iran is now viewed as a counter-revolutionary force. This is causing an irreparable damage to its revolutionary credentials, which had been until now the biggest source of its soft power in the Arab world.

Few if any are thinking of Iran as role model. No one is inspired by its Islamic republic viewed as a theocratic regime run by a clerical hierarchy. In fact many Islamists are adamant about not wanting to associate themselves with the 1979 revolution.

Clearly all these setbacks amount to what Mustafa Alani has aptly described by saying ‘the party is over for Iran’. Surely these are not the best of times for Iran. The Iran of 2012 is a shrinking Iran that has already seen its golden days and is running out of steam and luck. If 2011 was a tough year for Iran, 2012 is bound to be even tougher for the typically defiant nation. Iran is a destabilising force and it is time for it to be downsized.

The process of downsizing Iran is in the best interests of regional and global peace and stability. Sanctions, covert actions and further international isolation are the way to do it. This is the duty of the entire world community and 2012 is the year to do it.

Dr Abdulkhaleq Abdullah is a Professor of Political Science. You can follow him on Twitter at

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