By Adeel Abbas Mangi – The recent US announcement regarding the Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) has changed the course of history. Washington has defied international laws and norms by designating a de jure state army as a terrorist organization.
The ongoing rift between Washington and Tehran dates back to the 1979 Islamic Revolution that brings an end to America’s two-pillar policy in the Middle East. However, this escalation can be reassessed through the prism of regional and international realpolitik dynamics.
On February 17, Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif stated, “The demonization of my country has been a convenient cross for seven consecutive American presidents to bear and a smokescreen for America’s regional clients to hide behind.” He further proclaimed that the demise of Washington’s two-pillar policy after the Khomeini revolution of 1979 was an “earthquake” that distorted a pillar of US domination in West Asia. Furthermore, Zarif has referred to Washington’s “pathological obsession” with Iran and denounced Israeli activities against Iranian installations in Syria as a “warmongering agenda” against the Islamic republic.
In the past, Iran has been a crucial regional player in Mideast affairs and has been a resilient power, having suffered an eight-year war inflicted by Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein’s regime and unbearable sanctions that crippled its economy right after the revolution.
The rise of ISIS and its agenda of slaughtering the Iraqi Shiite majority, whom they regard as “infidels,” had inflicted a miasma of dread in the ranks of this victimized community. In 2014, Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani called on the general public in Iraq to save their country and holy sites from imminent attack by ISIS militants. In addition to this, Iran has pledged to send its Quds Force under General Qasim Suleimani’s command to wipe out ISIS in both Syria and Iraq, which is crucial to securing its own borders by establishing a defensive shield.
Washington’s unbalanced and pathological foreign policy regarding Iran has allowed the latter to increase its influence in Lebanon, Syria, Iraq and Yemen
Washington’s unbalanced and pathological foreign policy regarding Iran has allowed the latter to increase its influence in Lebanon, Syria, Iraq and Yemen. According to the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, “Iran has naturally sought to fill the numerous power vacuums that emerged in the region as a result of the US-led invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq, coupled with ongoing Arab upheavals. The cultivation of Shia foreign legions has been a critical element of this strategy.”
Right after Sistani’s call to fight ISIS, Shiite foreign legions from different regions were formed under the command of General Suleimani. Lebanon’s Hezbollah and Afghanistan’s Fatemiyoun Division volunteered to fight in Syria to protect the Sayyida Zaynab Mosque, a prominent Shiite pilgrimage site in the suburbs of Damascus. They were supported by Pakistan’s Zainabiyuon Brigade and Iraq’s Popular Mobilization Forces. PMF and Syrian Hezbollah divisions has also includes several Christian divisions that played their crusial role in fighting for liberation of their lands in both Syria and Iraq. Victor Gaetan stated that Russian and Iranian intervention in Syria and Iraq has been marked as a savior for Christians’ minorities and secured their 2000 years old faith.
These forces significantly reduced the threat posed by ISIS in both Syria and Iraq. However, the drums of victory can be heard from both the US and Iranian sides. General Suleimani has coordinated the defense of Baghdad, mobilized Shiite militias and rallied his numerous proxies in the national legislature. He likewise traveled up north to help the Kurds when ISIS threatened Irbil in August and marshaled Iranian troops and pilots, who were deployed to Iraq within hours of the ISIS rout.
According to The Wall Street Journal, there are a significant number of Iranian foreign legions fighting for Syria’s regime against ISIS and Takfiri terrorists, which is viewed by US officials as a potential Iranian military expansion across the region, a development that has also created huge concerns for other regional players such as Saudi Arabia and Israel.
One cannot rule out the fact that US President Donald Trump’s administration is now focusing on a policy of containment by building a sanctions wall against the Iranian economy and hurting Iran’s IRGC in Syria, removing it entirely from Syrian territory, which is in line with Israeli demands, for that Tel Aviv has responded since 2016 with almost 200 Airstrikes against Iranian installation and that also increased the possibility of accidental war with Iranian foreign legions and Lebanese Hezbollah. In addition to this U.S recognition of Golan heights to as Israeli territory has escalated the situation although this Washington move not endorsed by its Arab Partners.
Recent AsiaTimes report claimed that Iran and Syria has brokered a deal to lease latakia port for economic reasons that could be used as a permanent Iranian presence in the Mediterranean just few hundred kilometers away from Israel. This development rings bell in both Washington and TelAviv. Iran presence in latakia would have serious political and security concerns for Russia because of its proximity with its Hmeimim Airbase. Apart from strategic these concerns, for Tehran which is under US crippling sanctions Mediterranean footholds would give positive momentum for economic boom and also a game changer for its long-term stability in west-Asia. According to Joshua landis (Professor at Oklahoma University)
“Iran dreams of building a strong regional economy based on trade, highways and pipelines that cross from Iran to the Mediterranean. Helping to build up Syrian ports is only one element in a much larger vision of prosperity and shared interests. Most important will be the day that Iran can sell its oil and gas to Europe by transporting across Iraq and Syria,”
On the international front, the growing strategic partnership between Russia and Iran has also impacted both regional and international players. The Iranian bid for the acquisition of the Russian S-300 missile system poses challenges for the Trump administration, in terms of European allies’ support for the Iranian P5+1 nuclear deal.
Tehran’s successful ballistic missile tests is one of the key concerns for Washington and its allied partners in the Gulf Cooperation Council.
According to Anthony H Cordesman, “At present, the Trump administration’s actions have largely succeeded in alienating America’s European allies through the US withdrawal from the JCPOA nuclear agreement with Iran. They also seem to be undermining popular Iranian support for what passes as Iranian moderates – along with potentially arousing Iranian popular nationalist hostility to the US.”
All in all, Apart from these concerns, The growing sphere of influence of IRGC in the Mideast and beyond has been relatively more ideological in nature and has Counter-Productive manifestations as compared to any aspirations of militarization endures in the region. Confrontational policies in the volatile Middle East would not be a beneficial option for either Washington or Tehran; therefore both states must exercise restraint and formulate a conducive approach through diplomatic means to mitigate tensions. According to Colin P Clarke and Ariane M Tabatabai (Rand Corporation), “Tehran is preparing to interpret the US designation of the IRGC as an attack and to respond accordingly and both states are entering a new era of competition in key strategic theaters – including Afghanistan, Iraq and Syria.”
Adeel Abbas Mangi is an Independent Researcher, Master’s in international relations, Quaid e Azam University Islamabad – Independent Researcher and frequently writing for Asia Times, Eurasia Review, Moderndiplomacy.eu, National Herald Tribune, Global village space, SMT studies Centre and SouthAsian Monitor.