Opinion: The Choice Iran Faces In The Region By Amir Tahari

Rouhani’s influence on shaping Iranian policy on crucial issues, including Syria, Yemen and Iraq, is minimal at best and at worst non-existent.

Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani this week launched a stinging attack on critics of his administration’s foreign policy and reminded everyone that politics was all about choice.

“This government has chosen moderation and peaceful cooperation, and non-intervention in the affairs of other nations,” he asserted. At the same time he accused “a small minority with big microphones” in Tehran of promoting a perverted version of Iranian foreign policy with “fiery slogans” and “extremist language.”

There is no doubt that Iran has done much damage to itself and to others by overindulging in “fiery slogans” and “extremist language.” In many cases its bark has been more harmful than its bite. But in every case Iran paid a high price for the shenanigans of self-styled revolutionaries drugged by a sick ideology.

Nevertheless, to claim that the trouble is only with “fiery slogans” and “extremist language” may be a bit disingenuous.

The Khomeinist regime is also involved in actions that by no stretch of imagination could be described as “moderate” or “peaceful”.

There is no need to catalog all the harm that Khomeinist foreign policy has done to Iran, and so many other countries. This is a grim record, from the holding of hundreds of foreign hostages-ranging from Americans to Koreans passing by French and German citizens-and terrorist operations from Turkey to Argentina to the creation of militias in half a dozen countries.

What should concern us now is whether or not Rouhani is sincere in his denunciation of that “small minority with big microphones.”

That sincerity could only be tested by concrete choices and actions. In that context, two issues stand out: Yemen and Syria.

In Yemen, Rouhani no doubt realizes that the plan to re-enact the Lebanese scenario by creating a state-within-the-state based on a Yemeni version of Hezbollah has failed. There is no way Tehran could impose the Houthis as the arbiter of Yemen’s destiny. It is also clear that the international community, not to mention nations in the region, do not buy the Iranian narrative about Yemen. Tehran’s massive efforts in the region, and beyond, to garner diplomatic recognition for the Houthis have led nowhere.

In that context, Tehran’s policy of sabotaging the political process that might lead to a settlement acceptable to a majority of Yemenis simply makes no sense. The best that such a policy could achieve is to prolong the conflict, albeit on a lower scale.

The second issue is that of Syria.

The official media in Tehran now admit that the self-styled Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad now controls no more than 15 to 20 per cent of the national territory. In other words, he has been reduced to the position of one faction leader among many. The costly policy of perpetuating the fiction that Assad is president of Syria has brought no profit for Iran. By betting on a dead horse, Tehran has turned the overwhelming majority of Syrians against Iran. At the same time, it has prolonged the deadly conflict by financing and arming Assad’s losing faction.

Tehran’s “Assad-or-nothing” policy is doomed. Government sources in Tehran leak information about the increasing difficulty of bankrolling the Assad faction especially when Iran itself suffers from cash-flow problems. Tehran is also facing manpower problems with the Lebanese branch of Hezbollah, which has suffered heavy losses, reporting growing difficulties in recruiting volunteers for Syria.

Hopes that the Shiite community in Afghanistan might provide the needed cannon-fodder have also dimmed in recent weeks, despite the fact that Tehran has announced it would treat the families of Afghan “martyrs” in Syria as families of Iranian “martyrs.”

Sending Iranian “volunteers for martyrdom” in large numbers is also difficult and could risk a violent backlash at home. The regime is unable to explain why it is in Iran’s national interest to help Assad kill Syrians.

Earlier this week, even Russia, which has so far sided with Assad, indicated it was looking for other options. Last Monday, in a telephone conversation with British Prime Minister David Cameron, Russian President Vladimir Putin agreed to join a new initiative to end the Syrian tragedy. The formula according to which there is no place for Assad in the future of Syria is gaining ground both in Europe and the Middle East.

Even in realpolitik terms, it would be foolish for Iran to remain on a sinking ship.

Some analysts in Tehran believe that Rouhani is deluding himself by thinking that a deal with the US on the nuclear issue would enable Iran to assume regional leadership with tacit support from President Barack Obama. This is why he is still endorsing policies on Syria and Yemen that were developed before he became president.

It would be bad news if Rouhani were that naïve. Even if a nuclear deal is stitched at the last minute, Iran’s policy in Yemen and Syria has failed and no amount of support from a moribund Obama administration could reverse the trend.

Also, some analysts believe that Rouhani’s influence on shaping Iranian policy on crucial issues, including Syria, Yemen and Iraq, is minimal at best and at worst non-existent.

These analysts site a number of examples to back their claim. One such example came last month when Assad sent a big delegation to Tehran to demand more money and manpower.

The faction of which Rouhani is member encouraged mood music that was negative about Assad and his demands. A few days later, “Supreme Guide” Ali Khamenei sent his foreign policy adviser Ali-Akbar Velayati to Damascus to sooth an aggrieved Assad.

If that analysis is correct, Rouhani needs to put his own house in order before talking of “moderation” and “international cooperation.”

In other words, the Khomeinist regime can no longer play the role of both a responsible nation and an adventurous revolution.


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